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STYLE: GARDENS : Renaissance Roses

September 05, 1993|ROBERT SMAUS

If not for modern-day "rose rustlers" on the lookout for forgotten specimens, the muted colors and subtle fragrance of Noisettes might have been lost forever. But thanks to the Huntington Botanical Gardens, a clone from the very first Noisette was recently discovered in the cemetery of a California gold-mining town. 'Champneys' Pink Cluster', developed in 1811, was a significant find because it was the first repeat-blooming rose bred from a cross between once-blooming European roses and China roses.

Clair Martin, curator of roses at the Huntington in San Marino, has amassed an impressive array of Noisettes, which he predicts will again become popular garden plants. They are too tender to grow well throughout much of the country, Martin says, but they thrive in Southern California's mild climate. And few roses, particularly climbers, flower all the way from early spring to Christmas.

One of the prettiest, pale apricot 'Crepuscule' (shown here), was created in 1904. It flourishes in a West Los Angeles garden, in a smattering of shade and with support from a small eucalyptus. It blooms in March, along with fall-planted Antique Shades pansies and Lady Bird poppies. Like the soft yellow 'Alister Stella Gray' bred in 1894, it is a small Noisette, nearly thornless and close to evergreen. Both can be trained upward into a tree or trellised against a fence.

These and about two dozen other Noisettes are in the catalogue/reference guide of the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Tex. The larger vines, which grow to 15 or 20 feet, are perfect for arbors because genetically weak stems cause blossoms to hang down. The future of these roses, no longer growing unnoticed and unappreciated, is definitely looking up.

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