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The Color Purple
by Sean McCann
Reproduced here with kind permission from Sean McCann

My color in roses is purple - and all associated shades such as mauve, lavender, violet, plum, magenta, amethyst and lilac. Yes you can call it what you like - this is my color.

I don't know where I first began to really appreciate roses in this color but I feel it must have been with an old rambler called Veilchenblau. It has a soft, acceptable color that I find is even tolerable to those who say they hate the purple shades in roses. I suppose in coloring it would be regarded as soft lilac even going to gray. It has also been called violet blue...and I think that both of those color suggestions give a good idea of what there is in this color range.

Strangely it is a color that has not tempted too many European hybridizers to bring it into the general line of available roses and there is only a handful of varieties available within the description. But when I go to America I glory in the long list of lovely roses you have available and I drool over such beauties as Stainless Steel, Silverado, Lagerfeld and Royal Amethyst. Two other great American roses in these shades, Angel Face and Paradise, never made it to the British market either.

I do have a personal association with the color - a purple miniature shrub that I bred , Stolen Moment (Justice Roses), has been called “the best purple miniature ever.” In fact a couple of years ago the Horizon Checklist of Roses said very nice things about it: “ A beautiful, rich, almost single petalled mauve beauty 'Reine des Violettes'that puts out great sprays. A real beauty.” So that comment provided for me a truly great stolen moment..

One fairly recent rose that I like is Purple Tiger. Recently I saw Sam McGredy call this very unusual lavender and silver striped variety a wonderful break-through in roses. And there is no doubt that it is so - but like many roses that are the first of a line this one is not the mightiest of growers. But it is a variety that will always provide a great talking point.

Purple is a color that is more often associated with old garden roses than with modern types. Varieties like Reine des Violettes with its flat, medium sized blooms is a mixture of lilac and purple and its almost thornless stems is one to wonder over especially as it is accompanied by a sort of grayish foliage. But it is a rose that needs the best of growing conditions to get it to show its wonderful characteristics.

Then there is Cardinal de Richelieu, extremely attractive in a rich royal purple. The flower is big in the old fashioned style and the blooms open lighter but then grow into a much deeper color. A more recent 'Cardinal de Richelieu'churchman to have a rose named for him is the late Cardinal Hume. from London's Westminster Cathedral. This rich purple shrub was bred by Harkness and it builds itself into a very neat rounded bush with flowers that begin late but go on and on over a long period. A lower bush from the same hybridizer is International Herald Tribune, a long winded name that probably has not done much for the popularity of the rose (however I would never condemn the name as it was the first international paper to publish my work). But name or not this one is a really worthy garden subject . The cupped, semi-double purple flowers do fade a little as they age but still hold their attractiveness.

It is not easy to find the roses of these shades in catalogs because breeders don't seem too keen on the color - no doubt they will say that this is a public preference and if the public won't buy a rose of this color then it will have to be called something else. That is why you will often see them called a lilac shade of pink, cerise-crimson, dark rich crimson and so on.

'Cardinal Hume'However there is a quite a number of roses in this coloring available - not least in the collection of Austin, no doubt because breeding with old roses gives hybridizers that better chance of getting the color in among their seedlings.

During recent years I have been enchanted with the darkest richest color imaginable of The Prince. This is a low growing rose in the old fashioned style - worth growing even though it needs a constant feeding to get itself up to vigorous growth. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is one that I really like but wish that the flowers could be held up in a nobler manner. It tends to be weak around the neck in my garden - but what a marvelous fragrance it has as well as a beautiful soft pale lilac color.

A great number of roses introduced into this category disappeared very quickly from the catalogs. Jack Harkness, for instance, seemed to have a special feeling for this coloring but the roses that he brought into commerce, like Atlantis, Lake Como, only lasted a couple of years each. One special variety, the lilac floribunda with a lovely scent , Harry Edland , which was introduced around about 1975 is still to be found in some catalogs but not as many as it should. 'The Prince'

Of course it was the hand of Edward Le Grice in Norfolk, England who gave the world a whole bevy of unusual purple, mauve and even lilac-grey roses most of which can still be found today. I'm sure that News , despite a tendency to fall victim to rust, is one rose that is widely still being grown while enthusiasts will recommend Lilac Charm as a floribunda that is really worth growing. there is the almost gray, Great News.

Then, of course, there is Blue Moon, still a standard among hybrid tea growers although it too is often plagued by rust. And after that there are many newer ones like Blue Bayou, a very pretty floribunda that is softness itself, as well as many other varieties that I have not mentioned. But I do hope that those I have named give an idea of favorite color.

Yes, you can make mine a mauve any day.

Sean McCann

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This article © copyright 2000 Sean McCann
All other original photographs and site content © Paul Barden 1996-2000