Harkness Roses is one of those grand old rose nurseries that seem to have been around for ever - 130 years, actually - and since 1959 they've been breeding new varieties. Ever since I started going to the Chelsea Flower Show, many years ago, they've used the show to launch their newcomers and this year they have an especially interesting crop.
This year, the stars are undoubtedly their Persian Mystery series - Persian Mystery (‘Hartroy'), The Sun and the Heart (‘Hartyre') and Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia (‘Hardison') - with new blood from a species formerly called Hulthemia persica. Now known correctly as Rosa persica, this species brings new qualities including resistance to the extremes of heat, drought and cold plus, in terms of flower colour, bold crimson marks at the base of the petals.
It began back in 1967 when rose breeder Alec Cocker suggested to Jack Harkness, who started rose breeding at Harkness, that it would be interesting to use this rare species to create modern roses. Ten years later he introduced three such varieties, but these were much closer to Rosa persica than familiar garden roses.
Now Harkness have three newcomers with all the repeat blooming, easy-to-grow qualities of modern roses but with the best of Rosa persica added.
When Persian Mystery (‘Hartroy') starts to open its pink buds they look like those of other roses, but as the flower opens the rich maroon stain at the base of the petal is revealed. With excellent garden qualities it also has a good scent.
The Sun and the Heart (‘Hartyre') is neat in growth, 60cm/2ft, bushy and very free flowering its many-petalled yellow flowers stained crimson at their hearts. It has a good scent and its modest growth looks to give it wide potential in the garden, including containers.
Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia (‘Hardison') has fewer petals, more of a semi-double flower, opening cream then becoming more pink and opening to show off the vivid two tone centre of the fragrant flower. In growth this more like a shrub rose and also easy and dependable in the garden.
You can order these exciting new roses at the show or from the Harkness Roses website. It's forty two years since Alec Cocker and Jack Harkness first discussed this project, these three new roses prove they had the right idea.
I'll tell you about the other Hardness roses launched at the show before the Show closes.