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English Roses with a Literary Bent

English Rose ‘Eustacia Vye’

Gardeners who are fond of English literature will appreciate David Austin Roses’ two beautiful and intensely fragrant English Rose introductions for North America in Spring 2021. Both are named for characters created by 19th century British novelist Thomas Hardy:

  • English Rose ‘Eustacia Vye’, with delicately ruffled, pink-apricot blooms, is named after the beautiful but flawed heroine from Hardy’s 1878 novel, The Return of the Native;
  • English Rose ‘Gabriel Oak’, with voluptuous, deep-pink flowers and mulberry-purple stems, is named after a beloved character from Hardy’s 1874 novel, Far from the Madding Crowd.

Newest English Rose Names Part of a Long Tradition

British rose hybridizer David C. H. Austin, founder of David Austin Roses Ltd in Shropshire, England, who died at 92 in December 2018, was himself a writer, a poet and a prodigious reader known to read and reread the books he loved. While his interests were wide and varied, he had a special fondness for English classics. Over the years, he and his team named many English Roses for British literary works, characters and authors.

English Rose ‘Gabriel Oak’

A quick perusal of Austin’s U.S. and Canadian mail-order website, davidaustinroses.com, reveals a wide selection of repeat-blooming English Roses with connections to British literature. In addition to the 2021 introductions, Mr. Austin’s enthusiasm for Thomas Hardy is reflected in other varieties named for Hardy characters, including: apricot-colored ‘Bathsheba’ (Far from the Madding Crowd), deep-red ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ (Tess of the D’Urbervilles) and soft-yellow ‘Jude the Obscure’ (Jude the Obscure).

Shakespeare was another favorite and tributes to The Bard include the white English Rose ‘Desdemona’ (Othello), light-pink ‘Gentle Hermione’ (The Winter’s Tale) and blush pink ‘Scepter’d Isle’ (Richard II). Mr. Austin’s love of poetry is celebrated, too, with English Roses that include pale-pink ‘The Lady of the Lake’ (from the poem by Sir Walter Scott); orange ‘Lady of Shalott’ (the heroine of the eponymous Alfred Tennyson poem); mid-pink ‘The Ancient Mariner’ (the central figure of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous ballad The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and soft-yellow ‘The Pilgrim’ (honoring the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales).

English Rose ‘Lady of Shalott’

Authors themselves are represented by apricot-pink ‘Emily Brontë’ (Wuthering Heights); apricot ‘Roald Dahl’ (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda); and bright-pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (famed British garden writer and designer). Pale-yellow ‘Vanessa Bell’ is named for the early 20th century influencer and artist who was a founding member of Britain’s famous Bloomsbury Group (1905-1920) of artists, writers and intellectuals, among them Ms. Bell’s sister, the writer Virginia Woolf.

Mr. Austin was the author of several well-received books. His first book The Heritage of the Rose, was published in 1988. In 1993 he published The English Roses, which remains the definitive work on the subject. He especially loved poetry and, in 2014, Enitharmon Editions published a collection of his poems entitled The Breathing Earth, describing it as a philosophical, meditative “account of a career and a life spent in contemplation of the natural world and human behaviour.”

As in the past, the world of English literature will continue to be an important — though not exclusive — source of inspiration in the naming of David Austin English Roses.