With their classic beauty and heady scent, roses have a prominence in our gardens that transcends time and trends. Learn how to get the most out of them in their blooming seasons
Get the most out of your blooms in 2019 and create stunning displays
Roses are one of the most versatile plants for any setting. With their wide variety of colours, sizes and growth habits, they can be planted in dedicated beds, among a jostle of other plants in borders, draped over arches and walls, used as colourful ground cover, or selected for containers.
Provide roses with the right growing conditions and you’ll be rewarded by the results. There are so many different varieties available that it is possible to select ones for nearly any location in the garden. Most, however, prefer an open, sunny spot, with a minimum of four hours’ sunlight, and all need a well-drained soil. Avoid exposed locations, too, as wind can damage blooms and cause evaporation of moisture from foliage.
To achieve the best results, incorporate some well-rotted compost or manure in the soil when planting. Watering is important until the rose is established, and then these deep-rooted plants can survive on the natural moisture in the soil. They are hungry, though, so be generous with feeding each spring, and mulching with organic matter to retain moisture and suppress weeds. The most economical way to grow roses is to plant bare-root specimens from late autumn to early spring.
Rosebie Morton grows some 30,000 roses across 17 varieties for The Real Flower Company, which she set up with husband Matthew and colleagues Tim and Maggie Hobbs in 1998. ‘It was my mother who introduced me to Rosa ‘Margaret Merril’, the quintessential English rose with an award-winning scent, which would become my raison d’etre behind my career,’ she explains.
Gradually, through much trial and error, Rosebie experimented with various roses in her own Hampshire garden, researching forgotten English varieties. She advises:
● Know your soil, and look locally to see what varieties of rose grow there.
● Buy locally, or if by mail order do careful research for the conditions in your area.
● Planting carefully will give roses a better start.
● Dig a good-sized hole and add manure and all-round fertiliser with the compost.
Creating a dedicated rose garden area, whether formal or informal in style, may be a more convenient way to care for your roses and display their blooms for greater impact. A plan drawn to scale is helpful when finalising the design. Symmetry with straight or regularly curving lines suits a formal design, and the larger the space the more elaborate it can be. A geometric shape, such as a square, rectangle or circle, is the simplest to divide into compartments.
Enclosed beds edged in buxus, myrtle or privet, creating a decorative parterre, are a classic choice, along with brick or gravel intersecting paths. Sentinels of standard roses can line the paths as
guards of honour, or be used as central focal points to draw the eye. In a more informal design, cascade climbers over arbours and let old-fashioned roses billow out of beds edged in lavender. For informal styles, colours may be harmonious or eclectic.
Choice of blooms
It’s helpful to be aware of the three main categories of roses. Species or wild roses like to sprawl in a natural style, are mostly single-flowered, and many have colourful hips in autumn, such as rugosa, glauca, moyesii and canina.
Roses that date from before 1860 are known as
old garden roses. These are characterised by large graceful shrubs are mostly single flowering, and are richly fragrant. Include alba, gallica, damask, cabbage and moss roses.
Modern roses, which have been bred since the early 20th century, have characteristics of repeatflowering and a striving for disease resistance, vigour and flower quality. These cover hybrid teas, floribundas, landscape, climbers, miniature and David Austin English roses.
The diverse and versatile shrub roses, however, do not fit any distinct classification. They can be wild rose species and also hybrids, taking the best of the old, combined with modern traits.
With hundreds of roses to choose from, it’s easy to be beguiled. While repeat-flowering roses will probably be the basis of your rose garden, include ones that flower only once in June, as they are often the most showy, tend to be healthier and many are beautifully scented. Among these are gallicas, some old roses and most ramblers, with their cascades of bloom, including the pretty pale pink ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ or creamy-white ‘Wedding Day’.
For a long succession of flowers, include some spring-flowering floribunda that can bloom continuously from spring to autumn, or the prolific Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, which blooms spectacularly once in May with sprays of small primrose yellow flowers. Follow your display with the first blooms in summer and second flushes late in the season, and add extra autumn interest from a few spectacular hip varieties, such as Rosa moyesii and the rugosas.
Michael Marriott, senior rosarian at David Austin Roses, offers these tips to get the very best from your repeat-flowering choices:
● Deadhead, especially varieties that set hips, as setting seed saps energy for flower production.
● Watering well can encourage flowering again.
● Hard pruning in late winter helps to encourage the roses back into action.
● Feed during or towards the end of the first flowering to boost another flush.
● Horizontal training of climbing roses encourages more flowers.
● Plant three of the same variety close together to form one fine shrub.
Echoing the past
If you wish to evoke the architectural style of your house, Michael Marriott offers the following advice:
● Victorian times saw the transition between the old roses and the early hybrid teas. Many of the English roses would be excellent for replicating this period with their often strongly fragrant flowers that look like the old roses, and with a much better habit and certainly much healthier, too.
● The Edwardian period saw enthusiasm for the hybrid teas. They are very different to the present day hybrid teas, which have much more stylised flowers and very still, upright growth. Some of the more modern floribundas are perhaps more like these early hybrid teas. They would have been ➤
planted in neat, formal gardens, perhaps with standard roses as well.
What is common to all roses is resilience. A rose will not be killed by inappropriate pruning; the worst outcome is that it may not produce any flowers that year. Prune the plants in February or March when they are bare of leaves, with clean, sharp secateurs. For specific pruning information on each type of rose, look at the RHS website.
In general, reduce the size of bush roses by around a third, give ground-cover roses a light trim, and cut back climbing roses after flowering to suit the structure they are covering. David Austin Roses are designed to be very forgiving, if you are new to pruning, and they need to be cut to generally about half their size, creating a rounded shape. Wild roses, such as the rugosas, need no annual pruning – just cut away the dead branches from the underside of the shrub every few years.
‘Roses aren’t that different to people; they don’t like to be lonely but cherish their personal space – they are happy planted in groups, but don’t overcrowd them,’ advises Philip Harkness, fifthgeneration rose grower of Harkness Roses. ‘Roses are very sociable, wonderful mixers in herbaceous borders, and some varieties will form delightful individual specimens.
‘Performance is a vital element in any consideration for planting,’ Philip adds. ‘There is no credit to be gained by specifying a planting plan that incorporates varieties that require constant fungicide treatment.’
Traditionally, the ground around plants was left bare in dedicated rose gardens, with just mulch to cool the roots and feed the plants. Including some companion planting, though, not only looks pretty, but also can help keep down rose pests and disease. Good air circulation is important, however, and roses don’t like too much competition. For a uniform look, use one type of ground cover.
When planting roses in among other plants in the border, think about both when the roses are in flower and when they are not and you want to camouflage bare stems. Flowers that bloom at the same time and are classic choices include geraniums, peonies, delphiniums, irises, poppies, lavender, nepeta, campanula, lupins and clematis. If you choose rose varieties that repeat-flower in flushes from June to the first frosts, this allows a succession of combinations with your annuals and perennials that also keep blooming, such as phlox, echinops, lilies, penstemons and salvias.
Ideas for perfect pairings
● Sprinkle the area beneath the roses with alyssum or dwarf Virginia stock seeds for a do-it-once solution, as these frothy annuals will self-seed.
● White erigeron and alyssum make a good foil for colourful roses.
● Silver or grey ground covers, such as cerastium, look elegant in a formal scheme.
● Iceland poppies under roses fill the space with colour in early spring, and then the roses come back into bloom.
● To keep interest over a long season, underplant the roses with low-growing spring bulbs, such as grape hyacinths or scilla, which will flower when the roses are not at their best.
● Alchemilla mollis makes soft mounds under the bases of roses, adding texture.
● Underplanting with alliums or salvias acts as a natural fungicide, keeping roses healthy.
Far left: Beautiful David Austin shrub rose ‘Evelyn’ has shallow cupped flowers, flushed soft apricot and pink with a rich, fruity scent Left: Rosa ‘Lady of Shalott’ was also bred by David Austin and has lovely deep orange blooms flushed with yellowy-pink, which repeatflower. Hardy and reliable, it is a great choice for beginners