Don’t you sometimes speculate about the women whose names adorn some of the most voluptuous roses of the summer? They are nearly all French. I wish we had their portraits. Did Madame Grégoire Staechelin blush (or droop) like her namesake rose? Was Monsieur Staechelin the bristly buttoned-up individual his name seems to suggest?
Can you form a mental picture of Madame Lauriol de Barny? A plump and pleasing, rather artless young woman, I rather fancy, apt to put her foot in it. Madeleine Selzer (marital status unknown) was self-evidently a fizzer. La Séduisante (name unknown) needed careful handling. And what does Madame Isaac Pereire conjure up for you? I see a severe and stately lady in black holding her luscious magenta cabbage of a rose at waist level to avoid suffocation in its dangerously sweet perfume.
The ladies parade before us, all décolleté and bustle, with no shortage of artful ribbons. Are some lovesick? Is Madame Bovary an unchristened rose? ‘When first open on a cool clear day’, says Graham Stuart Thomas, ‘Madame Pierre Oger is of a soft warm creamy flesh’. The Nymphe émue even lets us see her blushing thigh.
We know that Caroline Testout was a couturier from Grenoble, and that Madame Sancy de Parabère was a general’s daughter and lady in waiting to the Empress Eugenie, who would not have been amused by her bothy moniker of ‘Saucy de Paramour’. Nor, I fancy, would Madame Alfred Carrière, patroness of the loveliest of pale blushing climbers, have answered happily to ‘Mad Alf’, the name I heard a gardener give her.
In this rosiest of seasons, in the first warm days after unending rain, the fleshy fragrant presence of these women is inescapable. Climbing Lady Hillingdon is pressing her soft orange globes against my bedroom window. Surely this can’t be, as Robin Lane Fox tells us, the Lady Hillingdon who closed her eyes and thought of England.