Red roses for Christmas

Etoile de Hollande
Etoile de Hollande

Forget the sprigs of artificial holly. Stop fooling yourself that poinsettia and pohutukawa look Christmasy simply because they’re red. Masses of fresh red roses, rich and velvety, are needed. You can do it the easy way, and buy bunches of long-stemmed, scentless hothouse lovelies — or you can grow your own.

Christmas is the time when red roses flower their hearts out — a good time to choose your special rose — or maybe succumb to their seductive charms and buy several!

Blood-red Dublin Bay is understandably one of New Zealand’s most popular red roses. Bred by Sam McGredy in 1976, she flowers throughout spring, summer and autumn, and can be used as a big shrub, a moderate climber, or a pillar rose. The foliage is large, glossy and disease resistant, and flowers last a long time in water. Almost perfect?! Not quite, but we can forgive the lack of perfume from this splendid rose. Just visualise a big bowl of bright red blooms, maybe combined with trails of ivy, on the Christmas table – pretty amazing (hopefully amazing enough for guests to forgive the overcooked turkey!)

Ena Harkness was bred in the 1940s, and looks lovely on a Christmas mantelpiece with her big, bright velvety blooms. This rose has given me much pleasure over the years — the buds are shapely and pointed, and the flowers, although rather droopy, smell divine. They need a spot where they can be looked up to — hence the mantelpiece. I like to put mine on a high shelf on a dresser or bookcase — it’s a small fault in one so lovely! Although the rose can be grown as a bush or climber, it is better used as a climber, where the weak neck is an asset.

Another red favourite of mine is Altissimo. It flowers for ages especially if the dead heads are removed, and the large, single flowers are an intense scarlet-red colour — a lovely contrast with the deep gold stamens. I have grown mine as a free-standing bush (quite big – three-four metres), but Altissmo also looks good as a pillar rose on verandah posts. The flowers keep well when picked, and look good arranged with driftwood – you could even sprinkle a few festive chocolate goodies around as well. Sadly, there is very little fragrance.

No list of red roses would be complete without the famous Etoile de Hollande, a dark and dusty red climber from the 1930s. The flowers have a strong, delicious damask fragrance, which probably accounts for its continual popularity. This is a rose that repeats well, has excellent disease resistance, and produces masses of soft green foliage. It is a good choice for planting near the house where its perfume can be appreciated.

So, there you have it. Bring on the red roses in all their velvet lushness – be they sultry scarlet, crimson or fiercely flaming. Give yourself a Christmas treat and plant a red rose, or give one as a present.