Rare plant of the month, March 2021 – Rosa ‘Sir Winston Churchill’

When John Moore was looking for plants named for Churchill College’s namesake, Sir Winston Churchill, he never imagined the search would take him to the far side of the planet. 

Rosa ‘Sir Winston Churchill’

Churchill College, Cambridge is the National and Commonwealth Memorial to Winston Churchill and holds the archive of his papers. Included in these are correspondence with those seeking to name plants after him.  Churchill liked to give the nod of approval to any plant that was to bear his name, and he was concerned with both the reputation of the grower and the quality of the plant. John Moore, Head Gardener of Churchill College, wanted to find the 30 plants that have been named after Churchill, to create a ‘living’ archive to go alongside the paper one. 

One of these plants is Rosa ‘Sir Winston Churchill’. Bred by Alexander Dickson III in 1955 at Dickson Nurseries in Northern Ireland, this Hybrid Tea rose of salmon pink shaded orange may well have passed the nose of Churchill before going on to receive a Gold Medal from the then National Rose Society. 

Despite its association with such a well known figure, over the years it dropped out of nursery catalogues. When our Collection Holder took up the hunt, it was neither for sale, nor in any of the eleven National Collections of roses. Word went around rose groups around the world until contact was made with the David Ruston Garden in Australia. This garden has over 50,000 roses and it was here that ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ was finally found. 

Continuing the globetrotting theme, propagation material then had to make its way through customs checks in Australia, Hong Kong, Germany then finally the UK. They then had to cope with the rapid switch in seasons and survive being budded, but eventually, 28 new plants were produced by Peter Beales Roses.

Now growing in the new National Plant Collection of ‘Plants named after Sir Winston Churchill’, its future in the UK looks more secure. Moreso for the fact that plants have been shared with Cambridge Botanic Garden and Blenheim Palace. Having this in a National Collection that is so closely associated with the Churchill archive and memorial will ensure that the next person looking for this plant doesn’t have to go to the ends of the earth to find it.  

A selection of the plants in the National Collection, all named after Sir Winston Churchill

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