This is the Rosa mundi of antiquity and it has a great deal of interesting history. It is a sport of the red apothecary, or Provins rose (Rosa gallica var. officinalis).
Provins is a medieval town in northern France, where these roses have been grown commercially for cosmetic, medicinal and culinary purposes since the 13th century. Rosa gallica var. officinalis is an ancestor of the damask, alba and centifolia rose groups. It was also known as the ‘Red Damask’ which was adopted as an emblem for the house of Lancaster which became embroiled in the War of the Roses in the late 15th century.
Rosa gallica 'Versicolor' AGM is a sport of officinalis and was first described in 1583, however, according to legend, it was named after Rosamund Clifford, the beautiful mistress of Henry II, after it was discovered near her grave. It is a small shrub of bushy, compact habit, with greyish-green leaves. It produces profuse, highly fragrant, semi-double blooms that are blush-pink striped and spotted with crimson.
As with most roses it is best grown in full sun in fertile, humus-rich, moist but well drained soil. However, if you cannot meet those conditions, then it is still worth trying, as this rose is tolerant of shade and poor soil. For best flowering, apply a balanced fertiliser and mulch in late winter or early spring.
Growing up to a height and spread of 1m (3ft), it is suitable as a hedge and can be grown in large containers. It is perfect in a cottage garden, or, as at Rosemoor, in the herb garden where we grow this rose with oregano, lavender, teucrium (germander), and Marrubium vulgare (white horehound).
June sees the beginning of Rosemoor’s month long rose festival (6 June – 10 July) when we will be celebrating this iconic English flower. Our new trail will highlight the huge variety of roses that grow well in the South West. If you love roses, this promises to be an event not to be missed. Our plant centre will be stocking roses featured on the trail including Rosa gallica 'Versicolor'.