The Durban July Handicap was first run back in the late 1800’s and with somewhere over 100 renewals to date, it can make coming up with fresh new angles a little challenging. Fortunately, every so often things fall in your lap when you least expect it and I discovered a rather interesting bit of colour this week.
The Kentucky Derby has the Freedom Rose, the Preakness has the Black-Eyed Susan and the Belmont has the Carnation. But did you know that our Durban July has its own flower too?
The ‘Durban July’ is a highly colourful floribunda or cluster rose. It grows in a low bush – approximately knee height – and flowers profusely. The blooms start out yellow and turn red as they are exposed to the sun, creating a striking and cheerful mass of colour. To find out where the rose originates and how it got its name, I spoke to the thoroughly charming Anja Taschner of the famous Ludwig’s Roses outside Stellenbosch, who went above and beyond to retrieve the history for me.
Ludwig’s Roses was originally established in 1971 in the north of Pretoria. Ludwig’s is named after Anja’s father, Ludwig Taschner, who hails from Germany. Ludwig trained as a nurseryman, gaining experience across Europe and in the process developed a specialist interest in roses. He immigrated to South Africa in 1962, settling in Pretoria and establishing Ludwig’s Roses 10 years later. His love and dedication saw his fledgling business develop into one of the foremost nurseries in the world and Ludwig’s Roses grow the largest selection of rose varieties to be found anywhere.
It is also very much a family concern. While it was started by Ludwig and his wife Pamela Lange, they are now joined by their son Halmar and daughters Heike and Anja. Their Cape flagship nursery in Muldersvlei has grown into a Winelands ‘must do’ and reflects both the strong sense of family as well as their passion and dedication. “You don’t call the rose, the rose calls you,” smiles Anja. “Yes it is a very strong family business, we’re ALL involved – father, mother, brother, sister and I – even my husband! You’ll often see us or our children around the business.”
A Colourful Rose for a Colourful Race
Every year, the nursery takes in a number of new rose varieties and tests them for their suitability to the South African climate, which brings us to the ‘Durban July’. Anja, who describes herself as the Creative Director / Rose Alchemist, but admits that “in a family business one wears a lot of different hats,” kindly pulled their file on the ‘Durban July’ for me. “This particular rose came from one of the largest breeders we represent in SA, Kordes in Germany, and arrived as an unnamed novelty rose in 1974. We looked at it for about 2 years and finally named it the ‘Durban July’ in 1976. I asked my dad how the name came about and whether it was for the horses and he said, ‘No, what inspired me were all the colourful hats!’”
“He said it needed to be a very elegant rose, but have the feeling of speed and prowess of the race and to represent the women as well in its colourfulness. If you see the July planted en masse, it really is very showy. It looks as if it’s on fire because it will go from hues of red and orange and yellow – it looks like flames.”
The colour change occurs as a reaction to the sun. “In colloquial terms, it could be described as ‘sun kissed’”, explains Anja, “but it’s a phyto process that occurs in the petals.” With the ‘Durban July’ being a floribunda or cluster variety, they are particularly rewarding, as each stem can produce up to 10 blooms. However, Anja warns that the colour change may vary depending on where the rose is grown and more temperate parts of the country may not see quite as dramatic a colour change as we do in the Cape.
More Racing Roses
In addition to the ‘Durban July’, Ludwig’s has a number of other roses named with a horse racing theme. There is a rose named after Graham and Rhona Beck. Another is named after the late Mrs Liz McGrath, the doyenne of the Relais and Chateau hotel groups, who was also fond of owning racehorses. Gaynor Rupert had a rose named after her daughter, Hanneli (owner of Jet Master Stakes winner, Fifty Cents) for her 21st birthday and there are two roses named for the royal family of Lesotho – the ‘Lesotho Royal’ named for the King and Queen and the ‘Lesotho Prince’ after their young son. R3 of the proceeds of every Lesotho rose sold is donated to the Lesotho education fund.
If you prefer a rose named after a horse, you can choose from the ‘Clair Matin’, ‘Silver Cloud’, ‘Rose Of Sharon’ or, I was charmed to find out, ‘Isidingo’ (although this one was originally named for the TV show, before it became associated with Ronnie Sheehan’s little speedball). When I relate a little of Isidingo’s story, Anja replies, “Funny you saying Isidingo was a small, lighting fast horse. This rose is massive, plant and bloom, but is always first to flower in spring and the last one to still have flowers. Really a top, top performer!”
Ludwig’s are very proud to be one of the foremost rose growers in the world and it shows. “For us as a family, it’s a calling beyond just growing, it’s a business of healing and giving people a feel good product. Yes, we produce it, but we know it comes from a greater source and the objective is far greater than a sale. We absolutely love what we do.” Ludwig’s now has a number of centres spread across the country, but I can particularly recommend their Winelands nursery in Muldersvlei. Perhaps I’ll see you there.