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The Singular White Rose : A Bare-Root-Season Guide to an Unjustly Overlooked Gem

January 25, 1987|TEDDY COLBERT | Teddy Colbert is working on her first book, "Magic in My Garden."

It is said that a single white rose is the only rose a lady may give and a gentleman may accept. The message is "I am worthy of you." White roses symbolize wisdom, joy, purity. White roses also integrate busy gardens and mixed bouquets, though this is seldom remembered at the nursery, where more colorful choices beckon. But consider these.

'Madame Alfred Carriere'is a climbing white rose that is also intensely fragrant. One of a group with the romantic name of Noisettes, it is the easiest of all of them to grow in Southern California, according to Claire G. Martin III, head rose gardener at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Noisettes originated in the southern United States and prefer high, even temperatures, says Martin; however, Madame Alfred Carriere is the most tolerant of the temperature fluctuations between day and night in this region. When Vita Sackville-West (a passionate gardener and garden columnist for London's Observer from 1946 to 1951) lived at Sissinghurst Castle, Madame Alfred Carriere was a favorite in her famous white-flower garden; she planted it beneath her bedroom window.

Sackville-West's masterpiece garden also featured the rugged 'Iceberg.' A floribunda introduced in 1958, Iceberg is apparently Southern California's favorite white rose; among white roses, it's also the first choice of many rose experts. Gracefully formed and generously repeating, it harmonizes with perennials or stands alone as a flowering hedge or accent in a container. Iceberg's fragrant, long-lasting but deceptively fragile-looking flowers are also ideal for bouquets; an occasional silver touch around the neck of the flowers adds an ethereal patina. Patricia Stemmler Wiley, owner of Roses of Yesterday and Today, an old-rose mail-order nursery, extols Iceberg and other white roses to unify mixed-rose arrangements. Some of her classic bouquets are seen on the collector-quality cover photographs of her catalogues.

Iceberg seems to bear the adversity of mildew well, good news for coastal gardeners. One ocean-side specimen thrives in the raised-bed garden outside the historic Adamson House on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

After Iceberg, the most popular white rose seems to be the tall hybrid tea 'Honor,' a recipient of the All-America Rose Selections (AARS) award for excellence in 1980. Hybridized by William A. Warriner of Jackson & Perkins, Honor has large flowers, stands royally in the rear of a garden, tolerates partial shade and has exceptionally healthy dark green foliage. If there is a complaint, it is that there are never enough of the large, gleaming white, high-

centered blooms.

Another Warriner creation with a 1980 AARS award is the floribunda 'French Lace.' Its color occasionally draws mixed regard, however: Some think that it's not really white. Nevertheless, the robust creamy white flowers that tinge pink in cool weather graciously repeat themselves. A hedge of French Lace at the Huntington Botanical Gardens surrounds the rotunda holding the statue " L'Amour Captif de la Jeunesse . "

Rose gardeners sometimes overlook 'Pascali,' although this valued hybrid tea received a 1969 AARS award and top European honors. Last spring, a waif bush growing in an abandoned garden destined for hospital expansion was rescued from a wrecking crew by Sister Mary de Sales of Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica. Not knowing its name, but drawn to its urn-shaped, thick-petaled white buds with a green cast against healthy dark green foliage, she transplanted Pascali to a container and grew it outside the convent dining room. At its new location it produces a bounty of bloom.

Another overlooked white hybrid tea is the stately, larger-flowered 'Paloma,' introduced in 1968 by hybridizers Ollie L. Weeks, former owner of Weeks Wholesale Rose Growers, and Herbert C. Swim. In the northeast section of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, a handsome stand of Paloma grows behind the rich-red 1961 floribunda 'Lilli Marlene.'

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