Gallica Gems

By Suzanne Verrier

Suzanne Verrier, of Portland, Maine, who created, owned and operated Forevergreen Farm in North Yarmouth, Maine(1983-1993) has written a book entitled ROSA GALLICA. Her previous book ROSA RUGOSA has been very popular and the first book to be devoted to a single class of old rose varieties. She has written for various publications and is a lecturer on old roses. She has spoken at both the New York Horticulture Show and the annual New England Area A.R.S. regional meeting.

Having been a rose nursery person, I've had the opportunity to become acquainted with a goodly number of roses and from various perspectives. Hundreds grew in my display gardens, thousands reposed in cold storage before being shipped out or potted up. And then these roses were planted throughout this country and even further, whereupon comments and critiques filtered back to the nursery.

But I've also come to know all these roses, and most intimately, as an impetuous and enthusiastic gardener. `A gardener of least resistance' - I call myself. One won't find any caution, symmetrical schemes, neatly pruned shrubs or even color themes in my gardens but rather roses and complementary flora doing pretty much as they see fit without doting assistance from this gardener. Organic methods are de rigueur: no sprays of any kind, only natural fertilizers, and no winter protection, etc., etc. Obviously the roses I choose to grow must be a hardy, healthy lot. Those that are not - roses with weak constitutions - are unceremoniously discarded. The tenets stand firm.

Not surprisingly the Gallica rose and I found each other early on in my gardening career, and we've been contented gardening companions ever since. The Gallicas always living up to my artistic and horticultural expectations and exhibiting great tenacity and tolerance - often enough in sites where many other roses might succumb or at best sulk.

Gallicas are older roses (their heyday being the first half of the 19th century) their genetic background is relatively simple compared to the majority of modern roses. And generally speaking the simpler a rose, or closer to the species, the more tolerant of diverse or less than ideal conditions. The Gallicas abide by this rule of thumb, tolerating fewer hours of sunlight, windy sites, dry sites, dubious soils, frigid temperatures, extreme fluctuations, neglect and a host of other horticultural horrors.

Still other considerations for growing the Gallicas might be longevity, disease-free constitutions, exemplary pest resistance, fine and relatively harmless prickles, attractive foliage and manageable, compatible shrub size, discreet vigor - to name but a portion of Gallica attributes. One plus worth mentioning for gardeners beleaguered with Japanese beetles is that the Gallicas bloom has graced our gardens and retired before the beetles commence their annual rose gluttony.

But if I were asked to reveal the honest to goodness, dear to the heart reason I grow the Gallicas it would be for the glorious profusion of intoxicatingly perfumed blossoms in forms finely and aesthetically fashioned of another era - deeply stained in intense hues, tinted ethereal shades or dusted ephemeral colors of antique silks. From deep reds brushed with ebony to complex pinks, to mauves and lavenders and even greys, to the most delicate translucent blush - the colors of the Gallicas grace my garden, changing like chameleons and always giving this gardener boundless pleasure and reward.