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Singular Beauty

Patsy Cunningham 

(Reprint from the Rhode Island Rose Review, November 2003, edited by Angelina P. Chute)

        
     When the word “rose” is spoken, most people have an immediate picture in their mind of a classic hybrid tea, with its many petals and high center.   Few think of a fully open flower with just a handful of petals.  Yet, the hybrid tea form only came into existence in 1867, with the first hybrid tea, LaFrance.  While it is true that other multi-petalled roses had been known in the history of the cultivated rose, most wild (or species) roses are singles, and have their own beauty.  The natural beauty of the single rose has also been appreciated, and captured, in a number of roses throughout history.  These single roses were well loved and played an important part in culture and art.  For example, when in the Middle Ages two English factions were looking for a symbol of their cause, they both used single roses with five petals in their design.  The House of Lancaster chose a red rose and the House of York chose a white.  When their houses finally joined, the two five petalled roses were superimposed on each other to form the Tudor Rose design.   

  First let’s try to define a single rose.  Single flowers in botanical terms are supposed to have one row of petals around their central disc.  With “single” roses, this is not always so, some petals may overlap.  The current ARS “Handbook for Judging Roses” defines a single rose as one having 5-12 petals.   However, the newest ARS registration forms in Modern Roses 11  changes that to 4-11 petals, while 12-16 petals is considered semi-double.  The change to 4 petals was to accommodate the species rose R. Sericea, the only rose with 4 petals.

One special attraction of single roses is that since the petals overlap little or not at all, the sunlight can often shine through, showing their subtleties of color and shape in a way a full rose could not. Some single roses have an almost ethereal appearance because of this.

Most species roses are single, very often with the typical 5 petal shape.  A small pink five petalled rose can look so similar to an apple blossom that it’s not too surprising to learn that they are in the same family.  As apple blossoms are among my favorite flowers, you can see why I’d be fond of single roses. 

The pink single rose that just about everyone knows is Dainty Bess, a hybrid tea bred in 1925.  Archer’s choice of hybrid tea as the classification puts Dainty Bess at a disadvantage in a rose show, as it could never win best of class, i.e.  Queen of Show, with its 4-11 petalled form.  Its beautiful deep maroon stamens and disc along with its golden to chocolate colored pollen against the pale pink are very elegant. Add to that a tea fragrance and you have a very desirable rose.
        The next single that many of you are familiar with is Altissimo, a seven petalled climber.  This is a rose that stops people dead in their tracks with its enormous, blood red blooms.  The petals have extraordinary substance and look very much like velvet or sueded silk.  It has a prominent golden disc in its center. There is so much pollen that it often looks like gold has been dusted on the petals.  The blooms are long lasting on the bush and form enormous hips if not deadheaded.  Be aware that it is a very stiff climber, and the young canes should be swiftly bent and tied before they become impossible to train. 
It has been in first or second place for the last 3 years for winning the most Best of Classes in the climbing category, along with Fourth of July, an “almost single” with 10-16 petals.

 
 Playboy and Playgirl are also high on the list of must-have single roses.  They are both floribundas and also very popular in rose shows.  Playgirl has large hot pink blooms with golden stamens.  The petals are very full and ruffled, and sometimes irregular lacy edges.  The fragrance is strong, as it has Angel Face as a pollen parent. 
Playboy was its pod parent.  Playboy is even more playful in its coloration than the hot pink Playgirl.  It is a mixture of red, orange and yellow on each bloom, on a disease resistant bush.

  Knockout, another single,  is an extraordinarily disease resistant shrub with red to deep pink petals.  It looks like a loose double flower but really has only 5 to 11 petals.  It doesn’t have that elegant open shape that most singles have, but it practically glows in the early evening.  Knockout does well with as little as four hours of sunlight, which brings up another point about single roses.
Many single roses do not require as much sun or heat to open their blooms. With so few petals, they open swiftly and easily.  They differ from full roses also in that they can actually close back up on a cool night and maybe in an air conditioned rose show hall.  Reportedly, single roses can also rebloom more readily, since these blooms require less energy from the plant.
Sally Holmes and Ballerina, being hybrid musks, are two other singles that tolerate some shade.  Ballerina can be washed out if planted in full sun; try it in partial shade to add some pink to the blooms. Neither is grown so much for its individual blooms as for their unending masses of closely grouped flowers; in fact, Sally Holmes is described by many as resembling a hydrangea.

      One of our favorite singles here at the Roger Williams Park Victorian Rose Garden is Nearly Wild.  This is a bushy floribunda bred by Dr. and Mrs. Walter Brownell in Little Compton, Rhode Island back in 1941.  It is deep pink shading to white in the center. The petals can have a crinkly appearance, and indeed look “nearly wild”.  One of our members grows a hedge of this rose and found they tolerated being soaked by the ocean and tossed out of their beds by a hurricane without permanent damage.  Nearly Wild is one of the few Brownells easily obtained all over the country.

                   

          

    

            Going on to less well known singles, Poulsen’s Pearl (Poulsen, 1949) is a great shrub-like floribunda to grow.  It has large trusses of pale pink five-petalled blooms with very striking magenta colored stamens.  It's disease resistant and forms an attractive rounded shrub.  Golden Wings is a shrub bred in 1956 from Soeur Therese crossed with a R. Spinosissima seedling.  It has enormous pale yellow flowers with deep orange red stamens.  Dairy Maid by LeGrice is somewhat similar, but with smaller flowers and a more prominent center.   Dusky Maiden, also by LeGrice, is an attractive dark red with some fragrance; surprisingly, this single rose is in the ancestry of many of David Austin’s roses.   My favorite climbing single is Summer Wine, introduced in 1985 by Kordes. The flowers on this extremely vigorous climber are variable in color depending on the weather, from deep pink, to coral, sometimes even a touch of orange.  The bases of their stamens are magenta in color.  The blooms have an apple fragrance.  Keep it well deadheaded for good rebloom.  It can be mail-ordered on its own roots and will establish itself quickly.

            Discussing single Old Garden Roses or Species roses would require a full book, but I can’t finish without mentioning my favorite species rose.  Rosa Glauca is a vigorous once-flowering rose, with small rich pink five petalled blooms fading to white at the center.  Despite blooming only once, the bush is attractive all year because of its neat narrow blue-green foliage and the hips it sets.  It’s also known as Rosa Rubrifolia  since the leaves can have a reddish tinge as well.  It is popular with flower arrangers because the foliage is so much more delicate and graceful than typical rose foliage, and, of course, because of the unusual color.  When the blooms first open and are fresh, they are like little jewels.  This freshness is the key to exhibiting any single in a rose show.  If the blooms have been open more than a day, chances are that their pollen has dried up and their stamens are darkening and dehydrating.

            Miniature roses also have some attractive singles, but so far none I have seen  have the grace that I associate with single roses.  Baby Love, a yellow single mini, stands out with its incredible health and huge abundance of blooms.    

            So add some single roses to your garden for elegance and delicate beauty.  Once you’ve had a chance to really know them, bet you won’t stop with just a single single in your garden.

 

 

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