Why buy scentless, mass-produced roses when you can treat your Valentine to a rose bush that will flower year after year, says Monty Don
Forget overpriced high street blooms and treat your sweetheart to a real rose bush, says our gardening expert – it’ll flower for years to come
Have you booked the restaurant and ordered candles and a violinist on the side? Made sure that roses and favourite chocolates are available? You mean you forgot it was Valentine’s Day on Tuesday? Or, even worse, you’ve never paid it any attention since you got married – and that was more years ago than you care to remember? Of course not. Heaven forfend. You’re romantics to the core, each and every one of you.
But I confess that, as a gardener, it pains me to see so much money being spent on so many millions of rather nasty, scentless, mass-produced red roses. I understand that they are largely symbolic, rather than intended as the perfect rose, but for the same money as the cheapest dozen red roses you could buy the most expensive rose plant available that would enrich your garden with scores of blooms for years to come.
And now, the middle of February, is the ideal time to plant a rose, whether you buy one that is ‘bare root’ (that is, with no soil around the roots) or growing in a container. It makes no difference if the rose you choose is a hybrid tea, shrub, climber or rambler – this is the perfect moment and the techniques for planting are the same.
The first thing to do is to select the best site. Roses can live for a long time – I have some that are still going strong after 30 years. They do not like being moved, so consider the best place where they will grow well and please you. Most roses like full sunshine although a few, such as the beautiful ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’ need some shade and most will flower well as long as they get some sun during the day. But, if in doubt, a sunny spot is always good.
If they are climbers they will need a wall, fence or structure, such as a pergola, to support them. The ideal soil is rich but well drained – roses famously thrive on clay soils but any ground with plenty of organic material added will do.
If you have a bare-root plant, unwrap it and place it in a bucket of water if you’re planting it the same day. Earth it in on a bare piece of ground if you’re planting later. ‘Earthing in’ simply means covering the roots in soil in a shallow hole or trench where they will be fine in any weather. A plant in a container can be set aside until you’re ready, but water it thoroughly at least weekly.
Dig a hole that’s a spade-length deep, putting the topsoil to one side. Never mix topsoil and subsoil. Make the hole at least twice the size of the pot and ideally 60-90cm (2-3ft) in diameter. Loosen the bottom and sides of the hole if they are compacted but do not add any compost or manure at this stage. Any rose – or indeed any woody shrub, climber or tree – will start to grow quicker and better if you add mycorrhizal powder to the roots at planting. This powder, which you can buy from a garden centre, contains fungus that acts as a conduit so the plant has better access to nutrients and moisture in the soil. The contact has to be physical between the mycorrhiza, soil and roots so sprinkle it directly onto the roots rather than just in the hole.
Place the plant so the top of the compost level in the container is just above the surrounding soil level – or, if bare-root, the graft (the bump where the rootstock and variety of rose are joined) is at least 2.5cm (1in) above the ground. Gradually backfill with topsoil, firming around the roots as you go but keeping the graft bump raised above the surface so that when planted it rests on a little cone of soil. This will avoid suckers being produced and help minimise root rock – damage to the roots caused by wind – as the roots will grow faster and stronger. Water it generously and mulch thickly and widely.
The whole process takes much less time than you think and the pleasure that will result – albeit admittedly not on this Valentine’s
Day – will last a lifetime.
Monty with a rose plant and shop-bought roses