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ACG Blog 2 Roses: Pro Gallery

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

20th October 2022

ACG Blog 2 Roses: Text

Roses are undoubtedly the ultimate flower; iconic, mythic, archetypal, more used as a metaphor in poetry and prose than any other: 

‘My love is like a red, red rose…’

‘Take time to smell the roses’

“Beauty without virtue is like a rose without scent.” 

  • and my favourite from Thoreau, “Truths and roses have thorns about them.” 

I’m nuts about roses. It’s precisely the paradoxical mix of soft, silky petals and seductive fragrances with vicious thorns and tough-as-old-boots-ness that I can’t resist.  And now is an excellent time to plant them.  In fact, November to April is the peak time for bare root roses, when they are dormant, which is a more economical way to buy them.

I’ve done a quick tot up and there are more than forty different varieties in this garden; some shrub roses, some climbers and one or two ramblers which, to be frank, are a bit of a handful.  But forty roses represents a minute percentage of the thousands and thousands available. 

So how did I go about choosing them?  First of all, lovely though some of the ancient varieties are, the modern English roses are a better bet if you like that style of relaxed bloom; repeat-flowering, more disease resistant but still, if you choose wisely, with delicious scents.  

David Austin Roses is the most famous breeder of English Roses and I always start there.  But the choice is still overwhelming so I have developed a way to choose between maybe twenty different, gorgeous pink or white roses:  I choose the ones with a literary or musical connection. 

Thomas Hardy characters feature strongly: Jude the Obscure with a heady scent like tropical fruit salad; Gabriel Oak a sturdy, bright pink; Bathsheba, another Madding Crowder is a luscious apricot climber; Eustacia Vye (the heroine from The Return of the Native and my favourite Hardy woman) is a pretty, fruity pink; and, of course, how could I resist Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a sensuous dark red climber, now sadly ‘retired’.

Shakespeare puts in a good showing too:  I have Falstaff, Desdemona and This Sceptr’d Isle.  The Mill on the Floss, A Shropshire Lad and Emily Bronte complete my literary roses.  The musically connected ones include The Lark Ascending, Benjamin Britten, James Galway, Malvern Hills (nod to Elgar) and, a contender for favourite rose, Jacqueline du Pré, a photo of which can be seen on The Gardening Year homepage for August.

Jacqueline du Pré and The Lark Ascending are relatively recent residents, bought when I started to grow as many flowers good for pollinators as possible.  Both of those have open flowers with visible stamens that bees can reach easily.  But there are some old roses which also open widely; Tuscany Superb is one I have but there is loads of choice, both modern and old varieties including the wild and rugosa forms.

Roses are very resilient, but they do appreciate a good feed - maybe some well-rotted manure or an organic seaweed mix.  They also really love to be well-watered and if they get both food and drink they are more likely to resist pests and diseases.  Resist reaching for any chemical sprays.

My Dad used to grow roses in a bed with no other plants around them, just bare (weed-free) soil.  Mine are all fighting for the limelight in mixed borders; that way their, sometimes ugly, lower stems are hidden.   

People can get a bit intimidated by rose-pruning but you shouldn’t worry too much.  The basic idea is to take the stem down to a leaf or a shoot, otherwise the section of stem above can die back,  but that still wouldn’t kill the plant.  General advice is to try and keep an open, airy shape so try and ensure that the leaf or shoot you prune down to faces outwards rather than into the centre of the plant.  

Now is a good time to prune climbing roses; training strong vertical stems into a horizontal form or splayed into a fan shape will ensure you get more new flowering shoots the following year.  And all roses should be hard pruned across winter months, and no later than March.  There’s good advice on the RHS website, link below.    Of course, dead-heading is something to be done regularly through the flowering season.  Rather than see it as a chore I use it as an opportunity to go round and have a jolly good sniff.

Most roses prefer to be in sunshine but if you’ve only got a shady spot free there are a few that will work.  In this garden, the English roses, Gertrude Jeckyll and Scarborough Fair, and the old rose, Souvenir du Dr Jamain, thrive in partial shade.  I’ve resorted to planting roses in huge pots recently, though they require more regular watering and feeding.  But it’s worth it to have another beauty to drool over.  You might think of roses as high summer blooms but, in fact, I have plenty flowering right now in late October and some will go on until Christmas.  You might even like to put one on your Christmas present wishlist…

Tess Alps  (Peter Beales)

ACG Blog 2 Roses: Text
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