‘In a rich flower-bed where thousands upon thousands of flowers
Wantonly displayed colours joyous and lush
A rose was queen, proud of her calyx-cup
Wherein gleamed a brilliant pink blush …’
Planted in Victor Hugo’s own garden at Hauteville House, the rose is featured throughout Hugo’s work, sometimes as an example of the kind of fashionable and gaudy plant he disliked, at other times evoked as the luxuriant and scented bloom, archetype of feminine beauty, typical of 19th-century poetry. Occasionally he will call on the simple eglantine, or sweetbriar, that grew in the hedgerows. Hugo has had at least four cultivated roses named after him, but only the most modern of those was available to us, Meilland’s 1985 Victor Hugo® Meivestal; old varieties of rose named for his friends and his oeuvre are still in catalogues, however, and we were able to obtain them from Roses Loubert in France. Other varieties came from David Austin Roses in the UK.
Rosa VICTOR HUGO® Meivestal
‘Un grand nom pour une grande rose’. ‘A grand name for a grand rose’. There have been at least four roses named for Victor Hugo; all except ‘Souvenir de Victor Hugo’, a salmon-pink climber, have been red.
‘O sisters of the shining petals,
Daughters of the light, you bees!’ …
‘We fly, born of the azure blue,
Over the open mouths of the roses …’
Les Chansons des rues et des bois, [June 1853?]
The first ‘Victor Hugo’ rose, named for the author in the nineteenth century, was velvety red and highly perfumed. This bush hybrid tea, bred by Meilland in France in 1985 for the centenary of Hugo’s death, has the same characteristics. Vigorous and disease-resistant, its strong dark green leaves contrast most effectively with its typical hybrid tea flowers. Suitable for garden planting and as a cut flower, the variety won the Prix de Parfum at the Hague in 1985. Around a metre tall and flowering throughout the summer and autumn, this rose is planted informally throughout the middle section of the garden, forming a brilliant backdrop for Hugo’s statue, and in the Versailles tubs on the terrace. It was obtained directly from the original breeders, Meilland Richardier in France.
The Sparrow: (To a white butterfly that is circling a faded rose) ‘… Child, leave that old girl alone. She is yesterday morning’s.’
The Rose: ‘How uncouth this age is!’
La Forêt mouillée, (play) [May 1854]