The Churchills and their roses
The Churchills' love of nature and beauty is no more evident than in the constant presence of roses in their lives together. From the earliest days of their courtship to their latter years together, Clementine's favourite flower was an almost constant feature in their lives together.
Archive records include countless examples of related expenditure from buying Valentine’s flowers (red and white roses being the most common choice), Clementine stocking up on rose-scented perfumes, accounts with suppliers to fill their flower beds and more thank you letters for floral-related gifts than it’s possible to count.
Perhaps most movingly, are how the flower became intertwined with the most special moments of their lives. If there was an occasion in which the Churchills’ love was being celebrated, there would always be roses.
Having courted since the spring of 1908, a party was arranged at Blenheim Palace in August, to which Clementine was invited to attend. At the end of the first day of the party, Winston asked Clementine if the pair could go for a walk in the rose garden the following morning after breakfast. His choice of location was well chosen, combining the beauty and romance of the location with Clementine’s known love of the flowers.
A lifelong habit of poor-timekeeping on his part, however, meant he missed breakfast and was late to meet her. A torrential rainstorm began and instead the pair had to seek shelter in the Temple of Diana, above which read the words:
" To thee bright Goddess, these flowers I bring"
It was there that he proposed and she accepted.
The big day
For any lover of flowers, the planning of a wedding provides the perfect opportunity to show your taste and personality in floral form. Their Church, St Margaret’s in Westminster was filled with palms and ferns with white lilies throughout.
Wearing a white satin gown, Clementine’s bouquet was one of white tuberoses whilst, according to Churchill’s cousin, Clare Frewen, ‘We bridesmaids wore amber satin dresses and carried cream roses’.
Her brother, Oswald later recalled, ‘At Clare’s suggestion we strewed the petals of the roses from the bridesmaid’s bouquets over the Bride and Bridegroom and their path instead of the usual rice’.
Their life together as man and wife began to cheers from the onlooking crowds and in a flurry of cream rose petals.
Fifty years on
The Churchills spent their golden wedding anniversary at their friend Lord Beaverbrook’s villa in Cap-d’Ail. Hundreds of gifts and letters of congratulations were sent to them there, including a bouquet of red roses from local residents.
The day at begun with their granddaughter Arabella reciting ‘The Garden of Malagea of Gadera’, a poem with a distinct rose-garden theme. She alongside her father, the Churchills’ only son Randolph, presented the happy couple with their golden wedding present from him, his siblings and their families. An avenue of golden roses was to be planted at Chartwell to be in bloom for the following summer. It would contain 29 different varieties deemed to be ‘golden’.
According to the Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary, ‘We took golden to range from creamy yellow right through to delicate orange’.
As the avenue itself couldn’t yet be installed, their gift on the day was a beautiful book of 29 paintings, created by a variety of artists ranging from professionals to friends who were amateur artists. Produced in just five weeks, the beautiful vellum book is today on permanent display at Chartwell in the Dining Room. Within its pages includes a verse by the poet Paul Jennings which reads:
‘Once golden words transmuted leaden gloom and fired all England to a golden age;
Now golden roses for you two shall bloom
whose golden peace turns one more private page’
The golden rose avenue remains to this day within the Walled Garden at Chartwell. Seen today by thousands of visitors every year, it provides a floral monument to the Churchills’ remarkable marriage and a love that lasted a lifetime.