'Souvenir de la Malmaison'
by Marilyn Wellan, ARS past President 2003-2006
Photos submitted by Marilyn Wellan
Editor Rita Perwich has given me a tough assignment. Should I choose as my favorite the rose I most often promote and recommend; a rose that is classic in form, with lots of quiet pink petals, and so easy to grow? That rose is Dr. Robert Bayse’s shrub rose, ‘Belinda’s Dream’.
Or should I choose the regal rose in my favorite rose color—white—the rose that accidentally introduced me to old garden roses, or heritage roses, as I like to call them. It was sold to me almost 40 years ago as the hybrid tea ‘Miss All American Beauty’ but she didn’t grow like the other eleven hybrid teas that were my very first rose purchases. My research proved it to be Peter Lambert’s hybrid perpetual ‘Frau Karl Druschki’ created in 1901 and once thought of as the “Queen of the White Roses”. She has been in my garden since 1982 when I became passionate about roses.
You might think I would name ‘Marilyn Wellan’ my favorite because the rose has meant so much to me in my rose world! She was presented to me by the hybridizer on my birthday during my ARS presidency at a national ARS convention event at the Memphis Zoo. What an exciting event that was! Eddie Edwards created this rose at the height of his hybridizing career; he first named it “Fatal Attraction” and called the color “maraschino red”. Like me, the rose has had a good run, but I think she might be beyond her prime, as so many great exhibition roses have since come on the market.
In this process, I carefully recalled other possible favorites but I came back, as I always do, to my “all-time favorite rose”, the Bourbon rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’. No rose touches me as this one does. Her exquisite form, fragrance, hardiness and willingness to bloom in our hot summers are some of the reasons “Souvenir” is irresistible to me. She is classed as a light pink rose, but descriptively, her color has been said to be “light flesh-white”; visually she is mostly white in my garden (Zone 8b) except in cooler weather. “Souvenir” is a hardy rose, rated 8.6 in the ARS Handbook for Selecting Roses; and rated for growing in Zones 6-9. She is among the top ten winners of the ARS Dowager Queen Award.
My rose’s grand and romantic history is a large part of her allure. Malmaison was the name of the palace of the Empress Josephine Bonaparte; in her gardens at Malmaison she amassed the most complete collection of roses in the world until her death in 1814. The rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ was introduced in 1843 by the Lyon, France horticulturalist Jean Beluze, the name being reminiscent of that glorious and historic garden and rose collection. Accolades for Beluze’s new rose were fitting of its beauty:
“Flesh colour, very large and full; form compact; growth vigorous. A magnificent Rose.” William Paul.
“Altogether the most perfect and superb rose of this or any other class . . Its flowers are cupped, and of very perfect form, very double, with thick velvety petals. . Its large and very luxuriant foliage, compact habit, and flowers of exceeding beauty, render this one of the very finest roses known.” Samuel B. Parsons.
“Inimitable. . Always beautiful, always ravishing.” Journal des Roses by Cochet and Bernardin.
“As yet unrivalled in its noble flowers, so delicate in colour and so truly beautiful.” Thomas Rivers.
“Its beauty suggests a blending of the finest sculpture and the loveliest feminine complexion.” The Horticulturist.
“The perfume is delicious . . The purity and exquisite loveliness of this old variety is unsurpassed.” W.D. Prior.
“Magnificent foliage—very large and distinct—a superb rose . . The flowers are frequently immensely large, borne on erect stout footstalks, with broad and beautiful foliage deeply serrated, giving to the whole plant a remarkably noble appearance.” Henry Curtis in Beauties of the Rose.
These great rose men of the past speak for me of the grandeur and enduring beauty of my favorite rose, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’.
Souvenir de La Malmaison: Photos in order of appearance: photo credit Marilyn Wellan, a photo of the painting by Henry Curtis from his book Beauties of the Rose, and photo credit Claude Graves.