Rare plant of the month – May 2020

Rosa ‘Lime Kiln’ 

At the Plant Heritage annual Plant Exchange 2019 in Sussex, I was told the story in conversation about a rose in the Exchange that it was hoped would be returning to the house where it had originally been named.

Rosa 'Lime Kiln' cc A. Penny
Rosa ‘Lime Kiln’  A.Penny


That alone was lovely to hear, but asking further I found a remarkable story of a man and his overwhelming passion for roses.



Lime Kiln is the name of a house in Suffolk, owned from the late 1960’s by Humphrey Brooke. An art historian (previously deputy director of the Tate Gallery and Secretary of the Royal Academy from 1956-68 ), ill health and depression meant early retirement, and move away from London to Suffolk. Although suffering for the rest of his life with depression, he had a passion for roses, becoming an acknowledged rose expert. He ultimately collected over 500 in his garden, and creating what he called the first ‘rosarium in Britain’. He opened the garden to the public in 1971, famously growing roses that were never pruned, sprayed or fed.

Rosa ‘Lime Kiln’ is a rambler named by Brooke and although not grown commercially the house itself is mentioned in Peter Beales ‘Classic Roses’ (1985 Collins Harvill)

Rosa 'Lime Kiln' 2 cc A. Penny
Rosa ‘Lime Kiln’  A.Penny


Catherine Penny, National Collection Holder of Pemberton Roses*, was then growing roses at her nursery, Stydd Nursery, in Ribchester, Lancashire. She told us more of the story:


‘I don’t know the origins of the giant rambler Brooke raised, which he named after his house. He was a friend of Peter Beales and considered himself a good rosarian, so I think it will have genuinely been his own production. It is distinct from most of the other giant white ramblers that I grow, because it has very red stems.

As far as I know Peter Beales never grew ‘Lime Kiln’ – or at least never listed it.  When we started our rose nursery in 1979 we used to ask people if they had roses which we could come and get bud-wood from.   We had a customer very keen on the giant ramblers who went to Suffolk in the early 1980’s and visited Lime Kiln, persuading Humphrey Brooke to let him have some stems to take back to Lancashire to be budded.  I can still remember the phone call, “I have got this rose for you to grow for me, I will bring it straight to you”  Fortunately we managed to grow some and so I am sure that the rose came from the original source.’

When Catherine sold her nursery, ‘it ceased to be a specialist rose nursery growing its own plants and so any varieties which were unique to us immediately dropped out of commerce.’ This is a good illustration of how interesting cultivars become threatened and also how the Plant Guardians scheme and Plant Exchange help to keep individual rare plants in cultivation.

Another rose associated with the house Lime Kiln, is R. ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’. Before Brooke and his wife Nathalie Beckendorff moved there, Lime Kiln had belonged to her grandmother Sophie. Married to the last Imperial Russian ambassador to Great Britain,  Alexander von Benckendorff, it was Sophie who created the original garden at Lime Kiln after settling in Suffolk. One of the many roses that remained in the garden since her death in 1928, was an unknown china rose. Brooke named it ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’ in her honour. Although better known than R. ‘Lime Kiln’ and not rare, Rosa ‘Sophie’s Perpetual’ is Brooke’s legacy to another passionate gardener. (ref: National Rose Society Journal, 1974)

Our thanks to Catherine Penny for sharing her story and knowledge, also members of the Suffolk Group of Plant Heritage for the original conversation.

*  National Collection Rosa (hybrid musk introduced by Pemberton & Bentall 1912-1939) More details about this collection are on our website: https://bit.ly/2ATt3l1

See also: https://www.plantheritage.org.uk/conservation/plant-guardians/