It is the ultimate romantic image: a young man encircled by delicate wild roses leaning against a tree with his hand on his heart. Nicholas Hilliard’s famous miniature, Young Man Among Roses has come to epitomise the love-torn hero of the Shakespearean sonnet but the idea of a scented, sheltered bower, a place to sit and dream, is timelessly seductive.
Art historians have held for years that the white rose in this exquisite palm-size watercolour is the eglantine rose or sweet briar, the personal flower of Elizabeth I and therefore a symbol of the young man’s secret passion for his Queen. The eglantine rose, Rosa rubiginosa is in fact pale pink (the field rose, Rosa arvensis would be a better colour match) but it is a particular lovely species rose prized for its fine, apple-scented foliage. The sweet apple fragrance becomes more intense in the rain, making it even more suitable for a poetic soul.
In practice the eglantine which has thorny, if graceful stems and produces wonderful, long-lasting deep orange hips in late summer is better for a garden hedge or used to frame the windows of a Gothic ruin (should you have one) as Dan Pearson as done in his seductively planted Garden in the Ruins at Lowther Castle in Cumbria.
To create an arbour of your own the ideal rose will be as thornless as possible and have flexible stems which you can spiral around the supporting structure to encouraging the production of side-shoots so that the rose will flower from the base of the plant. You need a rose that will not overwhelm the size of your arch and although the poet in you might be seduced by the idea of one glorious flush of roses in June and July, the most satisfying choice might be a repeat flowering rose which goes on all summer . Delicious scent is of course essential.
Ready-made arches are easy to find. Harrod Horticultural has a sturdy, classic arch made from rusted steel and Classic Garden Elements has a range of fine iron structures for roses including the ‘Bagatelle Round-Top ‘which has lattice work sides which makes training easy. In his book Gardens with Atmosphere, Arne Maynard shows us a broad square arch you could perhaps make yourself from 4” x 4” pressure treated timber. His arch is painted pea green, hung with a lantern and trained over it is the strongly scented pale apricot rose Gloire de Dijon and the vine Vitis coignetiae which will turn a fiery claret in autumn
A simple arch spilling over with roses with a seat beneath will surely become the most inviting place in your garden. A neighbour has managed to squeeze a slim bench and rose-smothered arch into the dividing hedge of his Victorian terraced front garden. It is his own private moment where he catches the morning sun under a canopy of palest pink and eats his porridge oblivious to the world outside.
My absolute favourites for a romantic rose arbour are:
- Rosa ‘Phyllis Bide’- a reliably repeat flowering rambler bred in the 20’s with elegant sprays of small apricot-pink lowers flushed with pale yellow – the colour of fading antique silk – and a lovely sweet fragrance.
- Rosa ‘The Generous Gardner’ – An abundant rose with voluptuous, old-fashioned palest pink flowers which nod gracefully on the stems and a delicious fragrance with notes of Old Rose, musk and myrrh.
- Rosa ‘Adélaide D’Orléans – dainty sprays of gracefully hanging blooms – almost like cherry blossom – which open from tiny pink buds. Easy to train and almost evergreen.