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THE CALIFORNIA GARDEN

Tall and lovely, it's a real climber

The Noisette rose thrives just about year-round. And its prolific blooms have a country feel, putting any garden at ease.

August 28, 2003|Robert Smaus | Special to The Times

I have a rose named 'Crepuscule' that has climbed about 12 feet up a slender eucalyptus by draping its canes over the tree's branches. The name of this rose translates as "twilight" or "dusk" and refers to the color of the blooms, which are several shades past sunset, a good apricot in humid weather or a muted yellow in dry. When it's in full spring bloom it's explosive, looking a bit like a Fourth of July sparkler stuck in my frontyard. But even out of bloom, it's almost never without flowers, no matter what time of year.

The 'Crepuscule' belongs to an almost forgotten class of roses known as Noisettes that are free flowering and delicately scented (like tea leaves). The rac came into being when Phillipe Noisette, a florist in Charleston, S.C., sent a seedling he had raised to his brother Louis in Paris in 1814. The French went on to hybridize hundreds, and Noisettes eventually became the rage in American gardens -- especially in the South and in California. But by the early 1900s they had vanished from most gardens, pushed aside like so many other lovely old roses by brash newcomers with bigger flowers and more powerful scents. In "Climbing Roses of the World" (Timber Press, 2003) English authority Charles Quest-Ritson, says -- perhaps rather boldly -- that Noisettes "remain by far the most beautiful and satisfactory climbing roses for hot climates," mentioning, in particular, California.

Upland rose hybridizer Tom Carruth might not go that far, but he still is a big appreciator. Carruth, who developed some of the most distinctive modern climbing roses, such as the vivid apricot 'Spice So Nice' and the wildly striped 'Fourth of July,' points out that although modern roses are more floriferous, they also tend to be "stiffer" in flower form and growth. "Noisettes have that relaxed, country-garden feel," he says.

That's exactly what drew retired pediatrician Maureen McMorrow to them when, three years ago, she replaced a frail, ivy-burdened fence in her South Pasadena garden, designed by landscape architect Shirley Kerins, with a sturdy new one now abundant with Noisette blooms. The half a dozen she grows were chosen because the colors all were different "but somehow went together," she says, and because they are what she calls "mannerly," meaning they grow to a manageable size, something Noisettes are known for. Very few will get taller than about 12 feet, which is where mine seems to have stopped 10 years after planting. And most will bloom.

McMorrow's favorite Noisette is the frilly, pale peach 'Gloire de Dijon,' which spills from the little arbor that connects the fence to her Craftsman-era bungalow. Its handsome pointed buds, almost like a hybrid tea's, open suddenly to reveal "tons of petals," she says, and do not fall apart quickly.

'Marechal Niel' is another with "rows and rows and rows of petals, as old-fashioned as grandma's hat," McMorrow says. It also has the largest flowers of those she grows. 'Duchesse d'Auerstadt' has elaborate flowers colored "a bit like lemon chiffon," she says, which open from buds so fat they almost look deformed. 'Alister Stella Gray,' with its white pompom-like flowers, is a real "flower factory" that produces such full bunches that "one clip with the shears and you've got a vase-full," McMorrow says. 'Crepuscule,' the Noisette I grow, is another that makes an instant bouquet. 'Climbing Maman Cochet' is a tea-noisette with pale pink petals tipped with a darker shade on purplish stems that go nicely with the blooms. 'Climbing White Maman Cochet' is a white version.

All of these climbing roses are tied to four wires, spaced about 18 inches apart, that run horizontally along the fence.

"They don't just stick to the fence," McMorrow says, explaining that the roses are tied to the wires with clear plastic plant tape instead of the more usual green because she "didn't want a lot of green tape showing." The Noisettes are watered and fertilized pretty much like other roses in her garden, and she prunes them to a sturdy vine-like fan of branches in winter. It's important to train branches horizontally, because they will produce the most flowers; upright branches bloom only at the ends. She also prunes in summer, which is something a number of good gardeners do in the hot inland valleys.

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