Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Blanc or Philemon?

There are near white roses and there are almost completely white roses, and there are really, really white roses.  And then, according to most renowned rose experts, there is the white of Rugosa hybrid 'Blanc Double de Coubert'.    In the Rugosa family, I grow three white roses; 'Blanc', an offspring or sport of 'Blanc' named 'Souvenir de Philemon Cochet', and 'Sir Thomas Lipton', the latter of which I've written about before.  All are periodically remonant here ('Philemon' may be the most frequent bloomer) and are reliably cold-hardy in my former Zone 5B climate.

'Blanc Double de Coubert'
'Blanc Double de Coubert' is an 1893 hybrid Rugosa shrub bred by Charles Pierre Marie Cochet-Cochet (what a mouthful of a name!).   The semi-double, 3-inch blooms are indeed very white, she's very thorny, and the foliage is indeed rugose and healthy, but agreement about this shrub rose seems to end there.  Some sources say she has strong fragrance while others describe a moderate fragrance, like "Pond's Cold Cream".  Some sources say it produces fabulous red hips each fall, while a few state that it rarely produces hips.  Cochet-Cochet introduced it as a breeding of 'Sombreil' and Rugosa alba, but many experts suspect it is simply a sport of the Rugosa species. 

I can only say that, in Kansas, the tallest I've seen 'Blanc' is about 3 foot tall, and I wouldn't have labeled her as very vigorous. I'll flat out state that I'm not very fond of her at all. She seems to do better in full sunlight and without neighbors than she does in a hedge of other roses.  She has a pleasing and moderately strong fragrance, but I rarely see her set hips, and to me, a rose without hips is like a woman without....curves.  I've never seen blackspot on the leaves, but the shrub has an unfortunate tendency to shrivel up and die suddenly on me, probably indicating some dissatisfaction with my placements of her.  Oh, and I agree that she's white, but I don't believe that the white of 'Blanc' is any more pure than many other roses or other plants.  Gertrude Jekyll, herself, labeled 'Blanc' the "whitest white rose of all," and this statement gets repeated often since no one dares to argue with the blind Ms. Jekyll even long after her death, but if one accepts her statement, we have to also accept that breeders never did as well or better in the 119 years since 'Blanc' was introduced.  I, for one, think Sir Thomas Lipton is just as white and is a much more vigorous rose than 'Blanc', although 'Lipton' admittedly lacks the fragrance of 'Blanc'. 
'Souvenir de Philemon Cochet'
The controversy seems to continue with 'Souvenir de Philemon Cochet', which is simultaneously described  as either a sport or a seedling of 'Blanc'.  I'm personally a believer in the latter provenance, because my 'Philemon' has a distinct pink blush in cooler weather, which you can see in the picture at the left, that I have never seen in 'Blanc'.  Regardless of parentage, I firmly believe 'Philemon' is a better rose for Kansas than 'Blanc'.   It reaches about the same height, 3 foot, but is a bit more vigorous and spreads into a broader bush than 'Blanc'.  I love the very double and larger (4 1/2 inch)  blooms and the fragrance is equal, if not better than 'Blanc'.  Bred by Philemon Cochet and introduced in 1899 by Charles Pierre Marie Cochet-Cochet, it has never set a hip for me, but it does retain the thorny nature of its parent.  According to Paul Barden's website, although I think the article was written by rosarian Suzy Verrier, Souvenir de Philemon Cochet may be particularly shade tolerant, growing slightly taller in the shade, and I believe I would agree with that assessment.

So, how does one choose between these roses? If you must  grow a classic, and have the time to baby it, then I suppose 'Blanc Double de Coubert' is your woman.  If you want a more trouble-free, waist-high, almost white rose, then take Mr. 'Souvenir de Philemon Cochet' as your new rose.  And if you want an impenetrable 7 foot high hedge that repels dogs and teenagers alike, than 'Sir Thomas Lipton' would get my recommendation.   All three are starting to bloom today here in my Kansas garden.


  1. Souvenir de Philemon Cochet has the distinction of being the first rose that I ever discarded. I had two of them ... they grew and bloomed well ... but I couldn't put up with the fact that Philemon held onto his brown, dead flowers like he did. I dug them up, put them in pots, and offered them on GardenWeb, where they were snatched up pretty quickly.

    I DO love Sir Thomas Lipton. He grows beside Sarah Van Fleet, and they are a good match. Both of them are about 6 feet tall, and just beginning to bloom!

  2. I've heard the same complaint about 'Blanc'...that the dead white flowers become an eyesore. Mine is in such a shrub rose border that I never see them.

  3. I am happy with Blanc here in Vermont. It has a habit of popping up a few feet away from the parent plant so I keep getting more to enjoy.


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