France commune

Fascinating historical tales behind Gallica roses


I’ve crossed all the numbers possible so that this summer and fall will see a return to some sort of normalcy – but I don’t know yet. Like many of you, I moved to rural France to pursue my love of gardening and the outdoor life in the sun – convinced that because I was so self-sufficient, I could only thrive.

Yet I cannot be the only English speaker living in rural France who has been made to realize the rich value of daily human contact, no matter how small.

I duly built a small social network around me – not family, but dear friends and acquaintances met weekly through choir, orchestra, village events. These were mostly group activities.

Sometimes I resented these summer activities a lot because they took me away from my precious garden. But suddenly, in March 2020, these enriching (and sometimes strained!) Relations disappeared, and there remained only masked greetings at Aldi, Lidl or Intermarché … from French. Back to square one!

As I learned to love people again, I have always valued connections with real, historical people and events in my garden plants. , especially three favorites in my garden: ‘Rosa Mundi’, ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’ and ‘Belle de Crécy’.

Our native French rose has received the epithet “officinalis” because it has been part of human pharmacy for centuries, also known as the “apothecary’s rose”. Rosa Gallica var. officinalis was cultivated by the Greeks and Romans, for perfumery, festive occasions and use in cooking, but it was the Dutch (we owe them so much!) who began breeding in the 17th century.

The Gallicas also play a big role in our public landscaping. Anywhere you see a bank of fragrant roses, pinks, reds or dark purple reaching around a meter tall in your local commune, you look (most likely) Gallicas.

Tough and drought tolerant, they sport orange-red hips rich in vitamin C that make them as cheerful in the fall sun as they do on the long days of June and July. They also have a tendency to sucker or ‘run’, making them ideal subjects for covering in the wilder areas of the garden.

The large, semi-double rose-splashed flowers of ‘Rosa Mundi’ are said to have been named in honor of Fair Rosamund, aka Rosamund Clifford, the mistress of Henry II of England who was the husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Unproven myths that she was killed by Eleanor first arose in the 14th century, long after Rosamund’s death around 1176.

Perhaps the splashes of dark rose on the white petals reminded those who discovered the rose, “Rosa Mundi” in a 15th century Norfolk garden, of that mythical murder?

It’s definitely a smooth-flowing rose – and I find it thrives quite well in a light shade, where the coloring of the petals becomes even more mysteriously haunting. The Rosamund Fair in the Woodstock Maze?

Cardinal Richelieu, a rather unpleasant and Machiavellian character, was very important to my own village, since it was his French troops who sacked Châtillon-sur-Saône in 1635, when it was prosperous and stable after its Renaissance flowering.

I love the rose, but the name reminds me that its namesake left the village deserted for almost 100 years, so weeds grew in the empty streets in front of rather large (so small) aristocratic “hotels”. Deep purplish red, I didn’t notice any sign of this “running” rose, but when flowering its branches are so heavy that it will definitely need support. A circle of hazel stems, cut from the garden in February, then intertwined with braided willow to provide stability and a resting place for the branches should do the trick.

“The town of Crécy need not recall its importance in Anglo-French relations, although the rose was only named in 1848 and is not at all linked to the historic battle near Calais”

However, there are enticing rumors of a connection with the rose grower, Julien-Alexandre Hardy, and the grounds of Madame de Pompadour’s castle (destroyed after the Revolution), at Crécy-Couvé in Eure-et-Loir.

This little rose is one of the sweetest of all the Gallicas, if you can forgive it for its fierce racing habit (it grows everywhere now in the borders where I planted it). If you have slopes in areas that are difficult to garden, it will make you proud of its ability to cover and suffocate! Give it a little time to really get into your hair. You have to love that tired purple and crushed velvet look that is typical of many Gallicas.

People and plants are inextricable. If you haven’t already, maybe at the end of 2021 and into 2022 you could mix the two in the most satisfying way by volunteering to open your garden for charity through Open Gardens?

The people you will find are the best: French and English speakers unite to share a common love.

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