Grow roses for the future, not the past
Old-fashioned roses have posh pedigrees, but don’t be snooty – modern breeding has improved hybrid teas and floribundas for a healthier future, says Val Bourne
There’s a lot of snobbery in the gardening world, particularly when it comes to growing roses. All too often the so-called old-fashioned rose, with the fascinating history and the fancy name, is chosen for reasons of style rather than health, vigour and flower quality. When the humid months of July and August arrive, black spot ( Diplocarpon rosae) strikes with vengeance and any leaves that remain are stunted, spotted and yellowed. That’s when most gardeners reach for the fungicide, in sheer desperation. The very brave dig up their sickly incumbent because they can’t stand the sight of a disfigured rose lingering on any longer.
The late Christopher Lloyd famously went for the last option and removed all the roses from his Great Dixter garden in 1997, labelling the rose a “miserable and unsatisfactory shrub of stick-like thorny blobs”. His geometric rose garden had been designed by Lutyens in 1912. Originally 10 beds contained hybrid Five healthy modern roses with old-fashioned looks
A good name, for this is an upright rose (above) with clusters of semidouble, cupped blooms in shades of yellow and apricot. David Austin 2012. A pink floribunda with ruffled, heavily scented flowers that The swirl of salmon-pink petals, cupped in pink (below), give this an oldfashioned look. A cut-flower favourite. Rosen Tantau 2005. teas in shades of pink. They had been chosen by his mother Daisy and each bed contained one variety. They included the shell-pink ‘La Tosca’ (1901), the pale pink ‘Earl of Warwick’ (1904) and the silver-pink ‘Viscountess Folkestone’ (1886).
He replaced them with fiery cannas and dahlias, energetic and vibrant plants more suited to Lloyd’s irreverent temperament. This caused shock waves in the horticultural world and was considered at best an act of vandalism, at worst sacrilege.
However, Lloyd’s battle began long before he finally reached for the spade. Writing in The WellTempered Garden, published in 1970, he summed up his plight. “If we can’t grow decent roses without spraying them a dozen or more times through the growing season, then the answer is surely to grow something else.” Lloyd was not a fan of sprays and in those days DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and lindane-based BHC were still part of the gardener’s chemical armoury.
Lloyd was worried about earthworms and breeding birds – and quite rightly. With all this in mind he advised his readers “not to commit
yourself to beds of roses” but to “plant them with other shrubs and plants.” Few gardeners aspire to planting dedicated rose beds now. These days we prefer to interplant with tulips, astrantias, violas, well-behaved hardy geraniums, cosmos, penstemons and verbascums. Not only do these provide colour from April until October, they also sustain all-important pollinators which roses (usually being fully double flowers) can’t.
Astrantias and umbellifers, both full of tiny flowers, are particularly good for hoverflies which will lay their oval, white eggs singly near aphid colonies. The predatory larvae will soon eat up aphid infestations. Birds will also frisk your plants, to feed their fledglings, and ladybirds will visit – so don’t reach for insecticides or “green” alternatives such as soft soap and garlic. Allow nature to do the job for you. these plants perform very differently. Modern roses are bushy, clothed in good foliage and their flowers have become fuller and softer, too. So much so it’s often hard to tell a floribunda from a hybrid tea these days. Some have heavily quartered flowers (the “old-fashioned” look) and they come in a wider range of colours, including ambers, tangerines and yellows, not just pink and white.
I stumbled across the modern floribundas by accident some 11 years ago when I was given ‘Champagne Moment’, a floribunda named Rose of the Year in 2006. With an empty garden to fill, I was very glad to plant anything. I soon discovered that ‘Champagne Moment’ was a stunner with warm-white, champagne-tinted clusters of flower and shiny coppertinted foliage. I now have several in my rose and peony beds and their foliage and height marry together well. More importantly it’s always looking gloriously healthy.
The Rose of the Year, which began in 1982, is a two-year trial held in six different British locations including Aberdeen, Hampshire, Northern Ireland, Cheshire and East Anglia. The winner must endure the dry summers of East Anglia, the cold winters of Aberdeen, the heat of southern Britain and damp conditions in the more westerly locations. One rose per year is chosen and crowned at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show each year.
‘Champagne Moment’ (Korvanaber) was bred by Kordes Roses, a German company which made the brave