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The history of roses at Chartwell

A view of the path through the Golden Rose Avenue with flowers in bloom on either side at Chartwell, Kent
Golden Rose Avenue at Chartwell, Kent | © National Trust Images / Nina Elliot Newman

Roses have long been associated with the Churchills and their family home, Chartwell in Kent. The flower was a part of Winston and Clementine's love story from the very beginning. Every year the roses unfurl across the Golden Rose Avenue and Lady Clementine's Rose Garden, reaching their peak in mid-June, blossoming all summer long and well into early autumn. Read about how these blooms have played such an important part in the lives of the Churchill family and the story of Chartwell.

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 later years together, Clementine's favourite flower was an almost constant feature in their lives together.

Perhaps most movingly is how this 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.

A betrothal

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.

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.

Wearing a white satin gown, Clementine’s bouquet was one of white tuberoses whilst, according to Churchill’s cousin, Clare Frewen, the 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 husband and wife began to cheers from the onlooking crowds, and a flurry of cream rose petals.

View of the house along a path in the Rose Garden
View of the house along a lavender-edged path in the Rose Garden | © National Trust Images/David Sellman

Lady Clementine's Rose Garden

The present walled rose garden, on the north side of the house, was designed by Clementine's close friend and cousin Venetia Montagu. Together they created a traditional, formal English rose garden.

Divided by paths into four beds, the striking display is softened by a mass of perennials and shrubs in gentle colours. The Rose Garden was Clementine's pride and joy and became the part of the garden she loved the most.

Recreating the Garden

The National Trust have tried, where possible, to use roses like the ones Lady Churchill would have used such as ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘Pink Parfait’. In 2017 two hybrid tea rose varieties were replanted: 'Lovely Lady', with classic pink blooms, and 'Pascali', with creamy-white petals. These replaced a variety called Rosa ‘Royal William, a red cultivar that was not in keeping with the original design.

A number of the ‘Royal William’ plants have been saved and transferred to the cut flower beds in the walled garden where they will be used for displays in the house throughout the summer.

The Golden Rose Avenue

Running through the centre of the Walled Garden is one of the most romantic features of Chartwell - the Golden Rose Avenue.

It dates from 1958, the year of Winston and Clementine's golden wedding anniversary, when their children had the idea of giving them a collection of golden-coloured standard roses to mark the occasion.

A special celebration

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 began with their granddaughter Arabella reciting ‘The Garden of Malagea of Gadera’, a poem with a distinct rose-garden theme. She, alongside her father 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’.

A book of rose paintings

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. Produced in just five weeks, the beautiful vellum book is today on permanent display at Chartwell in the Dining Room.

A vintage quality

In the years since 1958 many of the original roses died away and were subsequently replaced by modern varieties of golden roses.

The gardeners at Chartwell decided it was time to go back to the old ways and in 2015 they began the task of taking out the modern roses and replacing them with the original vintage varieties detailed in the Churchill's album of paintings.

Climbing roses above a bench bearing Churchill's name at Chartwell, Kent
Climbing roses above a bench bearing Churchill's name at Chartwell, Kent | © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

The Churchill Rose

As part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, Churchill College in Cambridge commissioned the eponymous Churchill rose.

In order to select the perfect species, Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter, Lady Mary Soames, was invited to choose a rose from a number of new varieties being bred by the Peter Beales nursery in Norfolk.

She settled on a beautiful shrub rose with apricot blooms that fade to paler shades of peach and yellow as they open. The dainty colour of the Churchill rose is elevated by a semi-double cupped flower, and a light, sweet fragrance.

A Chelsea Flower Show launch

Officially launched at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2011, the Churchill rose was gifted to just four places across the UK.

  1. No. 10 Downing Street, in honour of Churchill’s political achievements.
  2. Cambridge Botanic Gardens, in the Sir Winston Churchill border.
  3. The Masters’ and Fellows’ Garden at Cambridge University.
  4. Chartwell, in Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden.

Planted in the Rose Garden

Planted by Lady Mary Soames in June 2011, the two Churchill roses that now occupy Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden continue to be one of its highlights. Although they look their most magnificent around June, they remain in flower throughout the year, so be sure to stop by on your next visit.

The 'Peace' rose

The 'Peace' rose is a very popular variety thanks to its resilience to diseases. It has large, pale, golden-yellow and white petals with lightly ruffled pink edges.

The history of the peace rose

The origin of this rose can be traced back to French horticulturist Francis Meiland in 1935. When Meiland saw in 1939 that the German invasion of France was inevitable and his nursery was under threat of destruction, he sent cuttings to his friends in Italy, Turkey, Germany and the United States to keep them safe.

A symbol of peace

As the various recipients of these cuttings couldn’t communicate with each other during the war, they each gave different names to the rose; the original being ‘Madame A. Meiland’ in homage to its breeder. Eventually the rose became known as the ‘Peace’ rose. This official name was announced on 29 April 1945 in California, the same day that Berlin fell to Allied forces.

Just a few days later, on the 8 May 1945, when Germany signed its surrender, the 49 delegates who met to form the United Nations in San Francisco, were each presented with a bloom of ‘Peace’, alongside the following message from the secretary of the American Society: ‘We hope the 'Peace' rose will influence men’s thoughts for everlasting world peace’.

A long view of the red brick house at Chartwell in Kent with a sweeping lawn running up to the terrace of the house and trees surrounding the grounds

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