Monday, May 28, 2012

Disappointing Maiden

Warning: For those Old Garden Rose fans who just can't stand a bad review on any rose born prior to 1867, it might be best for your mental health if you stop reading NOW. 

'Maiden's Blush' at best, but a little balled up.
Okay, if you're still reading by this time, I'm going to assume that you either relish hearing about the deficiencies of a former queen of the garden, or at least that you've braced for the worst.

I confess that I was once in love with the venerated Alba 'Maiden's Blush', but the veils of infatuation have been lifted from my sight over time and she has fallen from grace.  Here in the Kansas climate, years of evidence has convinced me that she has turned out to be a faithless lass, cool and demure and virtuous in a rare year, but more commonly crumpled and nasty and worn. 

The soiled dove
Many readers here are likely familiar with Michael Pollan's Second Nature, and what he has to say about his experiences with Old Garden Roses and 'Maiden's Blush' in particular.  Michael waxed so eloquent, and marginally pornographic, about 'Maiden's Blush' that she was impossible for me to resist.  I've had her in my garden about 11 years and she is now a massive shrub in my beds, around 6 feet tall and broad.  In the early years of the 21st century, I had some good times with her, even including her in my own book, Garden Musings, as the seventh in a group of my ten favorite roses (pages 59-60).  But, over time, I've come to realize that, at best, a lot of her blossoms will be damaged by a little botrytis blight, and at worst, many of them turn brown and don't open at all.  Don't get me wrong, I treasure the exquisiteness of the occasional perfect blossom;  the creamy petals, blushed with pink in colder years, opening to a delicate picture of coyness.  But I would estimate only 10% of her blooms make it to that perfection.  The rest, well, let us just say that a soiled dove still has its beauty, if can you look past the blemishes.   Every year, I look at the buds coming on and think "wow, 'Maiden's Blush' is going to have a great year."  And then, even in dry years, a rain and a little cold weather comes at the wrong time during her budding and she simply molds at the edges.  To be fair, I think the same thing happens to many of my Albas, like, for instance 'Leda', but that's a story for another time.

Bush form of 'Maiden's Blush' at peak bloom 2012
When she's good, this ancient rose (prior to 1400) is very good.  Intensively fragrant, very double, and solidly hardy in Kansas, she doesn't suffer from blackspot or mildew in the southern exposure I've given her.  The bush is rangy, with occasional bare legs, and not very thorny, so there are both positive and negative aspects to her overall form.  She goes by many names, this one, so don't be confused if you see her listed as 'Great Maiden's Blush', 'Cuisse de Nymphe' (translates to "thigh of nymph"), 'Incarnata', 'La Virginale' or others.

I'm going to keep her as a part of my own garden because I simply can't give up those times when she is warm and friendly and gives me her all.  But I can no longer recommend to my fellow Kansans that she be allowed to trifle with the affections of any except the most dedicated rose fanatics.


  1. I've often wondered if your ten favorites list changed over time. The fall from grace of Maiden's Blush should inspire you to write about the many other roses you've never devoted an essay's attention to. There must be plenty of newer (or older) stars waiting in the wings.

  2. I myself love old roses! Would love to have you share this information over here at Fishtail Cottage's Thursday garden party?!? Hopetosee you....xoxo, tracie

  3. Yes Frankcoldwater, I'm going to keep adding more roses to the blog over time. But it's going to take awhile to get them all :)


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