The old roses of Knysna have always fascinated me: where do they come from, who planted them and how did they come to grow in the most obscure places? One can only assume that the Knysna’s early settlers brought cuttings with them, either from the Cape of Good Hope or the Eastern Cape. It is known that roses were first grown in the Cape in the 17th century: Jan van Riebeeck picked the first Dutch Rose on 1st Novmber 1657. The 1820 British settlers to the Eastern Cape brought many favourite cottage plants with them, amongst them roses and medicinal plants.
In my own garden I have 3 varieties, none of them planted by me or by the previous owner. Somehow they just appear, growing in the coastal forest and in between the hedges. On the fence between our property and the neighbour we had a vigorous climber, “Albéric Barbier”, armed with the most aggressive thorns I’ve ever seen. Between us, (rose not neighbour) we had a personal battle for 8 years.This love-hate relationship came to an end when I had enough of cutting off shoots that grew overnight at an alarming rate just to attack me the next morning when I was hanging up the washing. I do miss the lemony-musky fragrance, the glossy foliage and the bees foraging in its blooms for pollen. “Albéric Barbier” also grows in profusion on the empty plot just opposite Garden Gates. Every year it gets mowed down by brush cutters, but come early summer the profusion of the blooms delight many travelling up the road. Stephanie tells me that a substantial colony can be seen flowering on the N2 towards Plett.
Rosa lavitigata must have appeared at the same time as the Scutia myrtina (small coastal forest tree) in my garden judging from the thickness of its stem. Scutia’s berries are favoured by fruit eating birds, and it is possible that the hip of Rosa lavitigata was eaten by the birds and deposited where it is growing now. This shade-tolerant rose is seen all over Paradise, climbing up trees and mingling with Wisteria sinensis to the delight of many travelling up Circular Drive.
“Dorothy Perkins” appeared from nowhere three years ago at the edge of my ‘forest’. The somewhat mildewy specimen surprised us in spring with a profusion of dainty pink blooms. In Gwen Fagan’s book, ‘Roses of the Cape of Good Hope’ is a lovely photograph of “Dorothy Perkins” growing as a ground-cover near the Knysna Lagoon.
Other ‘oldies’ include “Natal Briar” growing on a fence in front of Berns Toyota; it can also be seen at Mother Holly’s near Goudveld. On the back fence of the Anglican Church growing amongst “Albertine’”and “Albéric Barbier”, is a yellow Bracteata hybrid by the name of “Mermaid”. There is also a small specimen of “Lauré Davoust”.
With spring just around the corner, keep an eye out for these incredible survivors – against all odds they continue to thrive and reward us with their bounty of beauty.
Many thanks to Stephanie Seydack who pointed out the areas where the roses can be seen.