‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ and ‘Buff Beauty’ are the best of friends. Tough, resilient roses, they’ve been neighbours in our garden for more than 25 years. Mrs Fisher has graceful single petals around long red-orange stamens, ‘Buff Beauty’ has clusters of double and semi-double blooms. Their buds emerge and open in hues of deepest apricot, then gradually become paler as they age, finishing up soft cream.
When we bought our house in inner Melbourne there was no garden, just a sea of rank grass, ivy and blackberries. We cleared this, and on one side of the house put in a driveway and a stretch of lawn, adding two orange (fruit) trees.
By the mid-1980s one tree had died, the other had been moved, and the space looked bleak and empty. I was getting into garden writing and historic roses were all the go. So we reshaped the lawn into planting beds where – still thinking in terms of orange – I planted ‘Buff Beauty’, a hybrid musk rose (1939) that I spotted at a nearby nursery.
Then ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ arrived. One day I mentioned to a nurseryman on the Mornington Peninsula that I was looking for a rose to sit alongside ‘Buff Beauty’. A week later he walked down our driveway. ‘Here’s one for you to try!’ he said. ‘The colours match beautifully but the style and shape are quite different ….’
Mrs Fisher is a hybrid tea rose (1921). Never have I encountered such an energetic plant! She flowers from early spring to late autumn. Her burgundy-coloured new shoots make an interesting contrast to the apricot blooms. These come in groups of up to eight pointed flowerheads, which gradually unfurl to reveal those alluring red stamens. The bees can’t stay away. And when the petals fall off, the stamens stay on for a while – delicate geometry that stops you in your tracks.
Mrs Fisher and ‘Buff Beauty’ are like sisters – similar in some respects, quite different in others. They resemble each other in flower colour and scent, but not in habit. ‘Buff Beauty’ throws out graceful arching branches that are easily tidied, Mrs Fisher shoots up vertically and needs regular stern pruning. Each ‘Buff Beauty’ flower boasts up to 50 close-set petals, Mrs Fisher’s have between five and seven. ‘Buff Beauty’ doesn’t get black spot (much), Mrs Fisher does. ‘Buff Beauty’ is easy to work around, Mrs Fisher’s thorns are long, hooked and nasty.
The delight is in the fact that each is rarely without bloom. In between the main flowering seasons in spring and autumn, there’s always a head – or several heads – of buds emerging, promising the scent and the relaxed beauty that’s an integral part of these lovely old roses.