I love a good period piece and truly, I’m not a snob about them although I know I am probably going to sound like one. No, really! I’m not one of those people who can’t enjoy something because it didn’t happen exactly like that. Braveheart–good example. Not quite historically accurate but a really good film and I’ve seen it a bunch of times. So, in The White Queen mini-series (the books of which I happened to enjoy), I was willing to overlook the zipper on the back of Elizabeth Woodville’s gown and that King Edward IV looked as though he just stepped out of a Abercrombie ad. But when the entire Woodville clan came out to meet Edward wearing fat Hybrid Tea roses on their lapels to signify their support for the York cause I shut it down. (I mean, c’mon they looked like they were bought right from the grocery store–did anyone do their research?) Huge, corsage-type Hybrid Teas (about 400 years out of place) where a wild-looking single petaled rose should have been really broke down the 4th wall for this ol’ gardener.
I promise I am going somewhere with this. I’m sure you already know about “The Cousins’ War” or “The War of the Roses,” that tumultuous period in 15th century England, and are familiar with the heraldic roses of both York and Lancaster, white and red, respectively, so I won’t bore you with a history lesson. For myself, being particularly interested in Medieval history and a bit of a collector of old roses, I was pretty much obsessed with growing R. alba semi-plena, or Alba Semi-plena, considered by some to be the actual White Rose of York. I was on a waiting list to purchase one from High Country Roses, and when they finally emailed me to let me know one was ready, the elation can only be compared to what it felt like in the 80’s being informed a Cabbage Patch Kid was back in stock.
(Incidentally, some believe that Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’, otherwise know as ‘The Apothecary’s Rose‘, could be the Red Rose of Lancaster. I haven’t been studying roses long enough to have an opinion either way but I’m a romantic and like to believe it’s true.)
In our garden, we’ve started a small collection of Albas, and I’m seeing why so many rosarians rave about them. Their delicate-looking white/pale pink flowers and blue/grey foliage are so lovely and they seem to just shrug off pests and disease as if it ain’t no thang. Last summer, with the midge, they stood out as being particularly resistant, and wait until I tell you about ‘Petite Lisette’, an Alba-Damask rose that knocked my socks off. But I’ll save that one for later…
Like other Albas, ‘Alba Semi-plena’ is pretty hardy–to zone 3 if I’m not mistaken–but gosh darn if we didn’t just have the coldest winter I can remember since moving back to Pennsylvania (think surface of Mars cold) and already I have seen that about 10 of our modern shrub roses didn’t make it. Our semi-plena was put in a protective “enclosure” last autumn, since it is still so itty-bitty, but a bit of cane that is poking out from the shredded leaves is blackened. I’m worried of what I might find when I remove the enclosure this spring. Cross your fingers for me!
‘Alba Semi-plena’ bears fragrant, semi-double, pure white blossoms with prominent yellow stamens and produces hips in autumn. It gets quite large, reaching heights of 6-9′ with a 4-5′ spread, according to HMF. The rose seen in these photos was about 5′-6′ tall. ARS rating of 8.9!