How do you choose a favourite plant in June? It’s simply impossible to select just one from the range of superstars all revving up right now. So instead, I’m going to write about one of my stalwarts, not a dazzler by any means, but a good solid prop of a plant: Rosa Cecile Brunner. The strength of this rose is not in its size or shape, and indeed one bush standing alone risks paling into insignificance, but a collection of three together creates a very pleasing group with a froth of silvery pink blossoms, held high and clear in delicate sprays which appear to float above the plant.
Sometimes known as the ‘Sweetheart Rose, first seen in 1881, it is a cross of Mignonette and a Tea Rose named Madame de Tartas and was named after the daughter of Swiss Rosarian Ulrich Brünner. Seldom out of flower from spring through to the frosts, and with a height and spread of less than a metre, this rose has the added blessing of being almost thornless. The main flowering period is June, followed by occasional flushes of flowers over the summer and autumn.
The flowers deserve special mention, tiny pink buds sheathed in soft green emerge into scrolled petals, like sugar rosebuds on a wedding cake, and gradually open out into double flowers which fade to white as they age. The perfume is not a typical rose one, being more faintly peppery than one might expect (though this may be because I have phlox growing with it), but I grow it for its mass of flower and let other roses nearby take care of the fragrance.
It is an easy-care rose of the best sort, resistant to moulds, rusts and black spot, puts up with sun and shade, will welcome an occasional feed, and does not even need much in the way of deadheading – I just pull off the spent flowers and wait for the next flush. When flowering does finally come to an end there are pretty red hips to enjoy over the winter until stripped by the birds.
So much for the shrub version – Cecile Brunner also comes as a climber and to my mind, this adds another desirable dimension to the garden. There is one big proviso here – she needs space as she climbs vigorously and the standard tying down along wires does not really suit her nature, though it can be done if space is limited. Mine started off in the conventional way being grown up and along a fence but when she got to the top, launched long green wands into the maple tree next door and now, some years on, not only clothes my fence in soft pink, but also the tree, which is enchanting. Rigorous pruning needs to be exercised to keep this rose under control, but not too harshly or her enthusiasm may be curbed too much. Just remove any crossing stems and damaged or diseased growth, and if the plant becomes congested you may want to take out the oldest stem in spring, but it is easiest to prune little and regularly rather than trying a full renovation project. Having said that, mine is so vigorous that even a small prune requires ladders, loppers, gloves and somehow it feels easier just to let her run.
Planting companions should be selected to complement but not crowd the roses – I grow the pretty blue Clematis integrifolia in the middle of my group of shrub roses and enjoy the combination of blue bells and pink buds together. Nearby are Phlox, a white Veronicastrum, silver Artemisia and some Penstemon, with Verbena Bonariensis high above. The bed basically takes care of itself apart from dead-heading and the occasional can of water and feed – and with so much else to do in the garden at this time of year, this is all good news.
Often seen in cottage gardens, grown up screens and over pergolas, this little rose punches way above its weight and is well worth trying in your own garden.