The Killer Rose

Along with the Great white shark and Bengal tiger, Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ should be avoided by all sensible human beings. It is predatory and hungry, but beautiful, like the tiger. Which is why I love it, despite the danger.Never was there a rose more averse to control. Forget any thought of being able to train it nicely over a building or small tree. In its first years it may submit, but thereafter you will find yourself wrestling with an alligator.

I risked life and limb for this boring photograph. That’s a single shoot of fresh growth. The tape measure reads 7 feet, 3 inches (2.2m) and it still has at least a month of growth left in it.

More to the point, every 4 inches or so is embellished with one of these toothed weapons.  I have chosen a shot which does not show the bloodstains.

‘Kiftsgate’s’ tendrils reach out in every direction. If they find a tree, or anything they can grab and climb,the end is nigh. I have grown this rose forty feet up into a sturdy spruce. Anything more fragile will succumb.  Here, you see them seeking to entrap and gore the passing cyclistHere, they are auditioning for a Spielberg version of ‘Day of the Triffids’, complete with menacing clouds. As with many things in life which are both deadly and beautiful, r.filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ has moments that make the peril worthwhile.It is the height of social irresponsibility to bring more of these predators into the world. But I can’t resist. They are just so easy. Stick the prunings into the ground, and at least half will sprout. For a year or two they will do little or nothing, and you may be deceived by their tranquility. Take my advice: be on your guard….

Ground rules for Kiftsgate:

  1. Never plant this rose in a small garden
  2. Never try to grow it up anything smaller than a forest tree
  3. Never grow it unless you own a powerful hedge trimmer with an extra long blade
  4. Never succumb to the thought that it would look nice covering the shed
  5. Only give it away to people on whom you seek revenge.

I leave you with this apt quotation from the Kiftsgate Court website:

Miss Elizabeth Coxhead, in her 1975 RHS article ‘Two Women’s Garden’, writes ‘in spite of its obviously ominous habits visitors adore it and clamour for more rooted cuttings than Mrs. Binny can possibly supply. We want it for the garage they say gaily, and will not heed the warning that presently they may not be able to get at the car.

If ever Kiftsgate house and garden should fall into decay, the Kiftsgate rose will seize its chance, it will become the ramparts of a Sleeping Beauty palace, all by itself’.


Update 22/06/12

Of the three cuttings I stuck carelessly into the ground, one has survived and is already throwing out new growth. I’ll pot it up before its roots grow too big and then decide what unfortunate person to give it to in the Spring!

32 thoughts on “The Killer Rose

  1. Loved this post. Nice writing and back up post. It reminds me of my struggles with Kudzu only worse. Kudzu doesn’t have thorns. Also I didn’t plant my Kudzu. It attacks from my
    non-gardner neighbor.

  2. That will be arundo donax??? I had a look at it. Seems a magnificent plant, and I was just thinking of a couple of spots where I might try it, when I found Wiki saying “Stem and rhizome pieces less than 5 centimetres (2.0 in) long and containing a single node readily sprouted under a variety of conditions” – and then it was ‘thanks but no thanks” I’ve got quite enough trouble with that sort of plant already!

  3. To begin, I’m certain you made the correct decision in not showing blood–
    But OMG kininvie, get some liability insurance against the impaled cyclists’ survivors and their lawsuits! Those aren’t thorns they’re scalpels.

    And so, you give this plant as revenge, and you are starting cuttings…?

    The single blooms of Kiftsgate remind me of strawberry flowers, beautiful! And those long skyward shoots recall the climbing Cecile Brunner.These mammoth roses are such an approach/avoidance problem. If only we didn’t love them so– (A rose therapy group of some kind might be in order.)

    “Mrs Binny” is the best name I’ve come across in ages.

    • Dear Linnie,
      You’ll forgive me if I answer you points succinctly…
      a) There was indeed blood. There was a little on the rose stem. I thought of smearing a bit more on for effect. Then I considered my journalistic integrity…..
      b) Luckily there is plenty of precedent in Scottish law stating that roses are periculo petentis in cases of entrapped cyclists. See McNab vs Edinburgh Highways Authority 1828 for a particularly gruesome case involving a skeleton found when a climbing Iceberg was cut down.
      b) Most gardeners, I find, are vindictive. I am, alas , no exception. I think it comes from years of being outwitted by slugs. It is hard to come second to a mollusc. But, I have to ask, are you so at peace with the world that you can think of no one to whom you would like to give a Kiftsgate?
      c) Cecile Brunner…..looks marvellous. She (I assume it’s she) will go on the list
      d) Mrs Binny…I’ll have you show some respect if you please! Had you followed my link you would find that she owns one of the most beautiful of English gardens.

      • To continue with our points kininvie:
        a) Comforted to know your journalistic integrity is intact. Any ideas on repairing mine?
        b) I asked about the cuttings because I might need you to post me a few for special gifts to some special people…
        c) Just this summer I dug up two climbing Cecile Brunners that were overgrown, right by my house, reaching for the second floor windows and engulfing pretty much everything. But I kept a cutting, which is in a pot and blooming. Big dilemma deciding where to next wrongly plant this rose.
        d) I would completely expect Mrs. Binny to have an awesome garden. AND I did follow your link (honestly you have to give me some credit). Mrs. Binny is definitely mentioned as being at the garden in 1975 on the Kitfsgate Rose page, but is she STILL there? More importantly, even if she IS still there, is there Scottish legal precedent to preclude my using her adorable name in my next unpublished and probably never read by anyone but my dog piece of fiction?

        • Linnie, Your journalistic integrity looks fine to me, unless you have photoshopped Max watching TV, in which case…
          Re: Mrs Binny….the rest of the Kiftsgate site implies she is still there. But I’m sure you are free to use the name. You may also wish to follow my link to Binny Plants (no relation), which is in the grounds of Binny House….All very mysterious. Is crime writing your forte? We could have Great Uncle Hamish Binny found dead among the cut-price perennials…

  4. I enjoyed your article and appreciate your sense of humor! Is it a climber? I have a space for a good climber, but in part sun (or part shade), My recent clinbing rose suffers from a lack of light there.

    • Hi Tatyana, and thanks for visiting. I think ‘Kiftsgate’ technically qualifies as a rambler, but that certainly doesn’t stop it climbing if it gets the chance!. I have grown it in both sun and shade. It prefers sun (who doesn’t?), but provided it’s a good strong specimen when it’s young, and that you can lead its shoots towards the light – on a wire or something – while it is still relatively tame, you should have no problem. But are you sure you want one??? The advice about the hedgetrimmer was serious! BTW I was looking at your Corydalis pictures earlier today….beautiful!

  5. A visitor to our garden today was singing the praises of the Rose”Kiftsgate”. She never offered me a bit of hers. So maybe I should be grateful….

  6. What a lovely post, i love the style and the humor. I suppose that is a very apt title for it, the killer rose! I didn’t know there is a rose which is also invasive. I read the comment on kudzu, i suppose she is from the US, we dont have it until some US consultants introduced it in the country, and it was hell from then on. A very big mistake heeding supposedly intelligent consultants. Your rose i equate with our Mimosa vine, also invasive with lots of thorns, wrecking havoc to farmers.

    • Hi Andrea. Kiftsgate is not exactly invasive….it doesn’t spread by itself (thank goodness). It just feels that way. Loved your post on the dinosaur food.

  7. I never thought a rose bush can be a killer! Are they really the Sleeping Beauty rose that hides the castle so tightly in their vines and thorns? Wow…awesome! But a rose is a rose is a rose…killer or not, they are so gorgeous!

  8. Could well be the Sleeping Beauty Rose if you ask me. It would take a tough prince to hack his way through it. Thanks for visiting. Your blog reminds me of the happy years I spent in your part of the world. I love looking at those blue pea vine flowers….I used to love them!

  9. Linnie and Kininvie – it almost rhymes. To butt into your conversation, let me just say the following:

    1. Linnie, your integrity is beyond reproach. It’s Tillie’s I question.

    2. Kininvie, you ought to consider marketing those things. Since they don’t fire bullets, you won’t even have to deal with international weapons regulations. What a deal!

    3. And Linnie, waaaaaahhhhh. I LOVE Cecile Brunner and had to leave mine when I moved. ;( Please tell me you didn’t chop it down and compost it. (Lie if you have to.)

  10. Lovely truthful portrait. Gardeners want starts of the most outrageous things when they come to my garden, mostly invasive nonnatives, which I don’t give out (and don’t want myself). I think when you tell them about the plant’s bad habits, they just don’t believe you even though the truth is before their eyes. Funny.

  11. – Yes Tillie is a bad influence and someone should get her out of here. Actually she is talking about a visit to Scotland…

    -Sit down Cathy. Yes, the Cecile Brunner’s were composted. I would have mailed them to you but it would have taken a whole UPS truck. Saving you a cutting of the cutting!

    -Kininvie, Max and the TV were photos I DID NOT photoshop (for a change).
    And Great Uncle Hamish Binny murdered in the half-price section! We could write a mystery taking turns with chapters…

  12. Linnie, I beg you to discourage Tillie from visiting just at present. She’s only just been to Italy! Besides, she would return with a bag full of haggis, which you really don’t need (although Max would enjoy it).

    I think we should aim for the first Twitter crime novel. My Twitter a/c is underused. You can find me there as Doctor Slop.

  13. Linnie, I hauled my sorry but into a chair so now I’m sitting. But I’m trembling. I may need to indulge in a glass of wine. As far as “favorite rose” status goes, Cecile is tied with Zephirine Drouhin for Best Ever in my book.

    Kininvie, I agree, I would avoid Tillie right now. She’s been hobnobbing with all that Italian machismo, who knows what kind of fantasies (and … ahem… toys) she’s carrying around in that big black bag of hers.

    OMG, a crime novel written in 140 character chapters… um tweets. Sign me up – I want to sign on as your first follower!

  14. Very interesting read. ‘My’ Kiftsgate is grown in a smallish back garden and spreads from the border across my neighbours purpose built pergola, providing cool shade underneath it. The one part of this arrangement that is not too good is that his side (the sunnier side) gets a full display of flowers whilst mine has a thin display but I still get plenty of the long runners of course. Ah well I wouldn’t be without it for all that.

  15. What a brilliant description of this beautiful but thug of a rose. Recommended by Alan Titmarsh years ago I bought & planted it with excitement.
    It shot up the most gigantic confer over 20 years & eventually brought down the tree last winter in a gale.
    I thanked god profusely as I didn’t dare ask a tree surgeon to risk his health in battling the thug … which had travelled through the Laburnham, another tree near by & over the road way out of control.
    Now in my head I hear the music from Jaws I see shoots pushing up all around the root area.
    Once planted it seems, Kifesgate is a ‘friend’ for life !

    • A bit late to reply, Katie – only eighteen months or so! I think Alan Titchmarsh made a bad error there, and I wonder how many people like yourself are looking at their Kiftsgate and wondering what to do next. Still, I bet you enjoyed the wonderful sight of the flowers half way up the tree! I hope you survived chopping up the fallen remains (or maybe you left it lying – sensibly)

      • Hello , Kininvie, better late than never.
        Well I had to get the tree removed because it brought down two others as it fell & blocked the road. Poor men battled with the thug & all its thorny branches……the main one being thicker than my arm !
        But the thug won’t lie down, it is now sprouting from the roots & spreading across the ground & up the stump by the metre, fortunately it’s in an area I have now euphemistically designated to nature……it did flower last year too, so I shall see it do the same this year no doubt, a Kiftsgate rose is not for just for a summer it’s for life . 🙂

        • Designated to nature or not, I’d still advise a big hedgetrimmer and a pair of gauntlets. I put a cutting into a wildernessy sort of area under some power lines. Over twenty years it’s heaved itself into a huge mound (looks simply wonderful when in flower) but is expanding in all directions – those tendrils will root themselves if left undisturbed.

          • Haha , I’m hoping it won’t be my problem, hopefully I’ll be gone by the end of this year, I bequeath Rosie the thug to the new owners of this property…….I hope they enjoy the spreading Bamboo too !

  16. A “friend” gave me a moving-in present 43 years ago. A Filipes Kiftsgate rose. Only little!
    I have at last decided that after being attacked by it for 40 odd years we must say goodbye.
    A reprieve was given but only 12 months. During its next pruning I subjected it to my saw
    and said a final goodbye. I now have planted Mme.Alfred Carriere. Perhaps not an ideal
    choice but it has to like some shade.

    • How very brave of you, Valerie, mine was never pruned in its 30 years so I couldn’t get anywhere near it. the soil is so rich here so it never had a feed or any attention. I did ask Alan Titmarsh should I bother, ‘no he said just let it go ‘ !……
      Big mistake, but I have learnt from it.
      The nicest rambler I have used, now also gone, was Pauls Hymalayan Musk.
      A beautiful prolific pale pink rambler with scent.
      I’m on the move so will be planting that in my new garden.

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