At least part of the appeal, for me, of Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’ is its name. I don’t understand why some words resonate more than others – who does? – but there’s something about that word ‘mutable’, and even moreso in its negative form, ‘immutable’, that appeals to me.
It’s also nice when a plant is assigned a name that is genuinely visually descriptive – in this case of the curious and endlessly fascinating aspect of this rose – that its single flowers are in a constant state of colour change, from pale apricot in bud and early bloom to a clear coral-pink, and eventually to a deep, really sumptuous, red-pink. Most roses, if they change at all, fade. Those of R. ‘Mutabilis’ head in the other direction and develop, or apparently ‘ripen’. Better still, you’ll have all three colours represented at once, and they’re neither smugly harmonising or brashly contrasting, but make for really lively company. Add that buoyant, butterfly quality that most single roses carry, and what’s not to love?
To be frank, maybe it’s the plant itself that’s not to love. But the same could be said of all but a very few roses. If it wasn’t for their flowers, you really wouldn’t bother. Rosa ‘Mutabilis’ is a tall, rangy and pretty bare-legged thing. You really don’t want to see the bottom two thirds of it. Long canes shoot up from the base up to about 1.8m tall (depending on conditions – it can get up to about 3m), and then branch out to produce a huge number of terminal blooms. You can pick over it at pruning time if that’s the kind of gardener you are, or you can leave it to do its own thing (which is the kind of gardener I am), and it will love you for it.
I don’t have any water to give it, which doesn’t threaten its life, as such. Roses are incredibly drought tolerant, in general, but drought certainly reduces their performance. In summer-dry settings, you’re likely to get the big late spring/early summer flowering on R. ‘Mutabilis’ on the strength of the winter/spring moisture, and then a small smattering of recurrent blooms until there’s some autumn rains. In a good rainfall summer/autumn like many of us have had this year, or where you can irrigate, you get flush after flush of flowers, in distinct waves.
Rosa ‘Mutabilis’ is also the perfect rose for mixed planting, and very integrate-able into naturalistic styles of planting with grasses and perennials. This is partly because it looks best in the company of other plants that can cover its bare legs, but also because the simple, unimproved quality of the blooms don’t out-glam their company, as other roses might.
It’s the only rose I’ve planted in my garden, and I have three of them. They’re well spaced, and at different depths in a planting, but are all evident in the same field of vision. It’s definitely a rose to echo around the garden (but again, that’s the kind of gardener I am).