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Lady Ashcombe's Roses of Sudelely Castle

PUBLISHED: 12:11 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013

Queen's Garden

Queen's Garden

Lady Ashcombe's reverie of roses is rudely interrupted by another distinctive scent

The Sudeley Castle Gardens will soon explode in a firework display of roses with their subtle variety of colours, textures and fragrances and will again weave their enchantment for all to enjoy and marvel at. I love roses and I love this time of year in the garden.

The history of the rose stretches back to the dawn of civilisation and man's fascination with this glorious species has continued to the present day. I am not alone in choosing the rose as my favourite flower. However, when asked which is my favourite rose, I'm at a loss amongst the abundance of choice, except that I feel honour- bound to mention the Tudor Rose which has become Sudeley's emblem.

Twenty years ago, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, a reknowned authority on roses, and I embarked on an ambitious project - to recreate a Rose Garden on the original Tudor parterre which had been laid for Queen Katherine Parr when she came to live at Sudeley after marrying Sir Thomas Seymour. .The hundreds of roses which we then selected for what is now the Queen's Garden reflect every period of the Castle's history from the time when Katherine and Lady Jane Grey strolled the petal strewn paths until the present day..

Roses evoke different reactions in different people depending on which particular aspect captures their imagination. The universal attraction of the species and its history is a subject too great to tackle in this short article, but for me its greatest charm is the variety of scents, from the most subtle to the most complex and sumptuously perfumed. Fragrance, it has been said, is the 'soul' of the rose and is too elusive to pin down, as it has no tangible substance. It seems to exist in some other dimension.

While musing on this ethereal idea, I was rudely brought back from my reverie by my dog Kola, who burst into the room, full of enthusiasm and the joys of spring. It didn't take long to realise why she was so pleased with herself. Her favourite country pursuit, handed down from primitive ancestors, was painfully obvious. She had been having a good roll in some foul and undesirable substance and wanted to share the pleasure of this exotic perfume with her mistress. It must have been disappointing when without praise or congratulation she was sharply invited to leave the house and sent to be hosed down in cold water.

With this interruption my theme of scent was challengingly brought into focus, but continuing along the original lines I began some research on the secret of the rose's hidden knowledge of fragrance. There appears to be no answer to this intriguing question.

Nature is a skilled perfumier having worked its art through hundreds of years of cross breeding. The repertoire of scents it creates is unending; from the unique spicy aroma of a myrrh-scented rose such as St. Cecilia to the luxurious sweet smelling Gertrude Jekyll, or the fresh fragrance of English Roses to the sharp fruity smell of a rambler rose like Rambling Rector.

Scents have great power to move us emotionally, working on deep associations in our memory, but it is hard to find appropriate words to describe the subtle variations in smell that the nose recognises. Animals have a highly evolved sense of smell, thousands of times more powerful than our own, but even so, we too can get the most sublime pleasure from the sweet smell of a rose.

Kola is now back, looking and smelling more presentable, and all is forgiven. I see that she was just indulging in the seductive attraction of scent, very much the same as my ramblings in the last few paragraphs.

I hope readers who are as fascinated by roses as I am will visit the Sudeley Gardens this summer. I don't think you will be disappointed.


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