THE loss to horticulture of respected rose breeder Peter Beales last month revived memories of an interview with him about... a bottle of milk.
Back in the summer of 1973, when the nation was growing waist-length hair and Slade were hatching that well-worn hit Merry Christmas Everybody, we were still being urged to Drinka Pinta Milka Day.
That classic slogan from yesteryear gave Peter a novel idea which germinated into a brand new rose called Pinta.
In the days when I ran a gardening column in the Midlands, I phoned Peter at his Norfolk nursery and chatted about this creamy-white, classically-shaped hybrid tea.
It could, I thought, become one of the best whites. Yet Pinta never quite broke that crucial commercial barrier that would have hoisted it into the sphere of Great White Roses.
Surprisingly, perhaps, in the wake of my publicity, I never did grow Pinta – until this year. A sturdy young plant, which the eponymous Peter Beales Roses sent me, is now starting to sprout in one of my beds.
As for pure or near-pure white roses in general, few have hit the big time and stayed there. The notable exception is the floribunda Iceberg from 1958 which is still in healthy demand and looks superb when teamed up with reds or pinks in massed displays.
I don't keep Iceberg but I do grow Titanic, which is a blush-white floribunda from 1998 with ultra-healthy leaves and smallish blooms that are well worth a sniff.
I have, however, grown a few famous whites over the years, among them Virgo, Message, Pascali, the strongly fragrant bourbon Boule de Neige and the totally scentless hybrid perpetual Frau karl Druschki.
Other worthy whites are Polar Star, Silver Anniversary and Silver Wedding.
My dad once grew a gorgeous old fragrant white called Margaret Anne Baxter and I recall giving space to a delightfully perfumed HT Marcia Stanhope – curiously, an offspring from the aroma-challenged Frau Karl Druschki – yet, sadly, both these stars of the 1920s have long disappeared from catalogues and, probably, from gardens too.
You could, of course, journey back in time to the 19th century and take a chance on one of the white shrub roses that wooed our forebears.
The richly-named Blanc Double de Coubert (1892) is hugely fragrant, as are Gloire Lyonnaise (1885), the exquisite Pompon Blanc Parfait (1876) and the outstanding Madame Hardy with a green button eye, but the two last-named are summer-flowering only.
A handful of the best white climbers are the climbing version of Iceberg, Long John Silver, Albéric Barbier, Mmrs Herbert Stevens, a tough climbing HT, Sombreuil and Creme de la Creme.
We must also mention one of Peter Beales' many creations, Clarence House (2000), a modern climber withpetals in old-fashioned quartered style and strongly smelling of citrus.
Peter Beales presented this rose to the Queen Mother at Sandringham to celebrate her centenary in Millennium Year and is still proudly presented in his extensive catalogue.
Do grow a white rose or two, preferably allowing it to do its job of flattering "hotter" hues nearby. Admittedly, some whites don't relish excessive rain and can end up squidgy, so site where some shelter from wind and wet can be achieved.
I remember covering the Royal Show at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, 40 years ago when Pinta was given its official launch, by a dairy princess from Ontario, Canada.
At the time, Peter admitted the name was a trifle gimmicky and also came up with another confession: "If I had to choose between a glass of milk or a pint of best bitter, I'd take the beer," he said with a smile.
Peter was 76 when he lost his fight against a lengthy illness. He was a multi-gold medal winner at Chelsea, held the Victoria Medal of Honour and MBE, and was hailed by TV presenter Monty Don: "No one knew more about roses, loved them more or shared that love with more wisdom."