Musk Roses and Black Flowers

Hybrid musk rose ‘Ballerina’

I’m in love with a ballerina.

A ‘Ballerina’ rose, that is.

‘Ballerina’ is a hybrid musk rose and hybrid musks, for reasons beyond comprehension, are seldom seen in the nursery trade. Hybrid musks are shrub roses that produce abundant blooms from now until very late fall. Depending on variety, the fragrance of hybrid musk roses is mild to strong. Connoisseurs of scent claim that hybrid musk rose fragrance is unsurpassed among every other rose fragrance. Hybrid musk is a fragrance that is often described as “pure rose” or “essence of roses.”

Although ‘Ballerina’ is actually among the mild scented hybrid musks, if it had no fragrance at all it would still be worthy of a gardener’s attention. When you first see a ‘Ballerina’ in bloom, you could easily mistake it for a hydrangea. As many as several dozen single roses are clustered together at the end of a shoot. Point of information: single roses have only one layer of petals as opposed to roses typically seen, that have double, triple, or more layers of petals, exceeding a hundred petals per flower in some varieties. There are other single roses of note, but most of them bloom in spring only and most hybrid musks bloom on and off or even non-stop until the fall. It should be noted that many hybrid musks have double-layered blooms.

In most spheres of life, history has demonstrated that individuals can make a significant difference. This is eminently true when it comes to horticulture.

It was through the efforts of one man, for example, that hybrid musk roses came to be. His name was Joseph Pemberton and he lived outside of London. Between 1912 and 1926, he brought 25 hybrid musks into being. After his death, his sister, his assistant and, finally, his assistant’s widow, brought out another 10 varieties, but all came from hybrid seedlings that were created through Pemberton’s efforts. Of these 35 varieties, only twenty are available in the nursery trade today. Many hybrid musk rose varieties have been bred subsequently and, although purists swear by the originals, some of the more recent arrivals are worthy of consideration, especially ‘Darlow’s Enigma,’ a single white.

‘Ballerina’ is grown by Otto & Sons in Fillmore. If you want to order online, you can find ‘Penelope’ at and ‘Felicia’ at Annie describes ‘Felicia’ as follows: “Almost ever-blooming, strongly fragrant and completely disease free. I love her strong, sturdy shape, glossy foliage and awfully romantic, fully double, mid-sized, soft pink blooms held in clusters. Old-rose guides describe her as a fast, repeat bloomer but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her out of bloom. A well-behaved grower to 7’ high by 6’ wide and easily pruned for a smaller size.” Last but not least, grows 17 different hybrid musk roses. Quality online roses are priced for those whose horticultural passion eclipses concerns about price. A ‘Felicia’ rose in a 4“ pot is $12.95 through Annie’s Annuals, while the hybrid musks available through Heirloom Roses start at $40 for a one gallon plant.

In addition to the fact that hybrid musks are in bloom through the fall season, they can handle some shade. They are also sometimes trained onto fences or trellises as climbing specimens, reaching ten feet in height or taller.

We are in the midst of the peak bloom period for roses. Even regarding repeat bloomers, nothing can compare to the first wave of roses that washes over our gardens in the spring. There are three outstanding local venues where you can ogle roses: The Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Descanso Gardens in La Canada, and The Exposition Park Rose Garden in downtown Los Angeles.

It takes an extraordinary plant to earn “rosea” as its species name, but such is the case with hollyhock (Alcea rosea). Yet hollyhocks are a far cry from roses, being among the most self-reliant pioneers in the entire plant world. For example, it is not unusual to see a hollyhock sprout up from an infinitesimal crack at the base of a block wall where it meets the sidewalk. No plant is easier to grow from seed. Just scatter a packet of hollyhock seeds on the soil surface, cover with a little compost, and water.

Hollyhock is a member of the mallow family. The word “mallow” is derived from the French “mauve,” and refers to the pale purple to lavender color found in the flowers of several mallow family members. “Hock” is another word for mallow, a family that includes hibiscus, abutilon, cotton, okra, tree mallow (Lavatera spp.) and that ever present cheeseweed (Malva parviflora), whose seed capsules resemble cheese wheels.

Holly, a misspelling of holy, was added to hock because of the medicinal properties of its mucilaginous sap. Being a curative plant gave it a holy status, enhanced by the fact that it was thought to have originated in the Land of Israel, the Holy Land.

volunteer hollyhock

Tip of the Week: Some people have a thing about black blooms. They craft a large share of their flower gardens out of nothing but black. Hollyhock is the dominant presence in such gardens, with its height of up to ten feet and heavy blooming habit. In truth, black flowers are often deep marooon or dark purple and it depends on the time of day as to weather the maroon, the purple, or the black predominates. Other such black or blackish flowers include varieties of pansy, iris, tulip, dahlia, butterfly bush, hellebore, gladiolus, calla lily, dianthus, and columbine. As for vegetables, you can find nearly black varieties of tomato, bell pepper, and corn. And then, of course, there’s always eggplant.

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