A Growing Tribute

The Nelson Mandela Rose celebrates the love of gardening that sustained South Africa's iconic leader throughout his life. Mila Crewe-Brown speaks to the creators and explains why you'll want one in your garden. 

References to his love of gardening crop up regularly throughout Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. A passion that he picked up while at school at Clarkebury Boarding Institute in Ngcobo, he famously grew food for other prisoners and guards during his incarceration on Robben Island and at Pollsmoor. So it’s fitting that a new rose has been cultivated and named in his honour, as part of the year-long celebration of 100 years since his birth.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation revealed the rose to the public in February, at a naming ceremony attended by the horticulturists Ludwig Taschner, who created the rose, and Keith Kirsten, who led its development. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and a Nelson Mandela Foundation representative also attended, and all the available plants were sold out days after the event. Naming a rose after someone is no small feat. The criterion for this particular rose was a list of traits specific to the character of this great leader, traits that he will forever be admired for. “The stipulation by the foundation was that it should be a bright orange colour, free-flowering floribunda type ideal for landscaping, mass plantings and private gardens,” says Taschner. The colour was a challenge as it had to be unique, Taschner explains, neither red nor yellow but something in between, and striking. Furthermore, it had to be eco-chic: a term used to describe its disease-hardiness, strong root system and lack of a need for chemical pesticides.

Finally, the rose had to be able to grow in climates outside of South Africa, as far afield as Europe. Scouring the globe for a rose that would hit just the right notes, horticulturist Kirsten searched for over a year and came back with a selection of roses to be presented to a panel which included Madiba’s widow, Graìa Machel. “A rose is something very tangible and allows every South African and anyone in the world who loved and appreciated Nelson Mandela to plant one in their homes, serving as a reminder of his legacy and all that he stood for,” explains Kirsten. Like Mandela, he continues, the resulting rose is tall and sturdy, producing a mass of semi-double orange vermillion blooms quite unlike the classic tighter rose – not unlike Madiba’s iconic and informal choice of floral shirts worn to formal occasions. When asked about the influence of naming a rose after a personality, Taschner says: “Rose names have a real impact on marketing. For instance, it was a real challenge selling the rose – Naas Botha – in KwaZulu-Natal when he was captain of the Blue Bulls, although now it’s okay,” he jokes, highlighting the influence that a name has on buyer psychology.

“Looking at a flowering Nelson Mandela in one’s own garden will hopefully recall the memory of the man in a positive light.” Since rose-naming has been in practice for more than two centuries, Taschner is quick to point out that for those varieties still available, the people behind the rose names are still very much with us in memory. Surely then, a rose by any other name than this would never smell as sweet.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 467207591
Image: ©Shutterstock - 467207591

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