Soft hummocks Posted on June 4, 2010

The most fragrant job in the garden today is pulling the goose grass out of the Scots briars. You have to stand chest-deep in them and their prickles to get a good straight pull, steady or they break off. The roses are right under your nose, and does any rose have a sweeter smell?

Scots briars are hardly the height of fashion today, but if they have ever grown in your ground they are probably still there. They are the roses of, among other places, the sort of sand dunes that become links; thrifty, low-growing with slender stems, advancing gradually by root-suckers to colonize new ground with soft hummocks of tiny leaves.

They are the prickliest of all roses. Their name of Rosa spinosissima describes the dense fuzz of spines and bristles up every stem, certainly calling for gloves but not quite substantial enough to wound you.

Their other name (do they really need two?) of R. pimpinellifolia points out the resemblance of their leaves to salad burnet; Sanguisorba major, or indeed minor.
Burnet is yet another old name for the rose which the French, incidentally, call pimprenelle (or sometimes pimpernelle); nothing to do with the scarlet pimpernel, which is Anagallis arvensis, or indeed Sir Percy Blakeney.

You smell the genes, as it were, of Scots briars in some excellent hybrids. The tallpale yellow Fruhlingsgold has a fragrance that seems related, and so does Stanwell Perpetual, a seedling of unknown parents that seems to have popped up in the 1830s at Stanwell in the outskirts of Colchester. Stanwell Perpetual is a soft pale bush with complex pale pink flowers and again that swooning-sweet smell just tinged with lemon.

At one point in the19th century, I read, there were many hundreds of Scots briars and their near relations listed in catalogues. Does anyone collect them now? The little white-flowering original in my photo (if that’s what it is) is good enough for me.

If weeding their thicket is a particular pleasure, guaranteed to be repeated every spring (how can you definitively clean the ground in a thicket of thorns?) it is not alone. The weeding season is going well. There was enough rain last week to loosen up the roots of many old adversaries. Deadnettle and goose grass have been surrendering with little struggle. Ground elder never surrenders, but a bunch of its fibrous roots at least feels like a minor trophy. One warm dry spell, though, and they will be locked down. Hard ground makes them unassailable.

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