“He that dares not grasp the thorn. Should never crave the rose,” said Anne Brontë. Jane Moore has grasped plenty of thorns in her time and her love of roses still burns brightly
It takes all sorts to make a world and you may be one of those types who cannot appreciate roses. If you’re confirmed in these philistine ways, then turn the page and move on; we’ll reconvene next month.
If, however, you have an abiding love of these fleeting, perfect blooms – no matter how often they draw blood so viciously you shriek mid-border, in my case terrifying guests, neighbours and small dogs – then read on. My aim is to target those scene-stealing roses that make the garden sing in summer, and give you a few ideas on how and where to plant them. I’ll steer clear of shrub roses for the border – I’m sure I’ve waxed lyrical about those in the past and no doubt will do again.
TRAIN THEM HARD
My favourite roses always tend to be climbers, ruthlessly fan-trained against walls, wound around obelisks and pergolas and festooned over arches and swags in illusory abandon. This approach requires annual pruning of some skill and you need to keep up with it or the rose will lose its shape and all the flowers will end up at the top. My favourites for this are the repeat-flowering David Austin varieties, such as the soft yellow, free-flowering Rosa ‘The Pilgrim’ and the pink R. ‘The Generous Gardener’.
I’m also a big fan of R. ‘Phyllis Bide’ for several reasons, not least its relatively thorn-free stems and mid-sized, manageable habit. The main draw, however, is the small clusters of semi-double flowers, deep, yellow-flushed pink and fading to cream with pink shading from summer to autumn. It’s the repeat flowering and the fabulous three-tone colouring that makes up for the lack of scent. Almost.
Roses are not the everyday choice for a hedge, I grant you, but they actually make a lovely, loose sort of boundary between different parts of the garden. Far less formal than a ‘proper’ hedge, examples such as R. ‘The Mayflower’ divide up the garden while also providing an air of softness and floweriness which doesn’t break up the space in the way that the hard lines of a hedge would.
For a tough-as-anything boundary R. rugosa is one of my all-time favourites, designed to keep marauders at bay with its bristling thicket of thorny stems. Despite its brutish nature, I also have a soft spot for R. ‘Roseraie de l’Hay’ with its crumpled purple tissue-paper flowers followed by the most brilliant tomato-like big hips in the rose world.
INTO THE TREES
One way to avoid the thorns is to send your rose rambling up a tree. This I once did to counter my better half’s rose antipathy, and I also took the precaution of choosing a variety that was named after him. Somewhat flattered, he could do no more than mutter as I planted Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ where it could scramble into our holly tree and flower fabulously for years, providing a welcome haven for small birds and quite a spectacle in the neighbourhood.
Smaller ramblers include a personal favourite R. ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ with flushed pink flowers and the most delicious scent ever. It’s a bit big for the average wall and behaves much better as a small rambler scrambling into smaller trees such as lilacs, apple trees and the like.
ROSES IN POTS
I like a rose in a pot – in fact I like a lot of plants in pots generally – but many roses do rather well in pots. That works well for smaller gardens and means you can dot them about to add height and interest.
Make sure your pot is deep enough, as roses have long, deep roots; aim for a depth of at least 50–60cm. Use a glazed pot every time as the compost will dry out more slowly than if it is in a plain terracotta pot. Use a quality soil-based compost such as John Innes No.3 and make sure there are plenty
of drainage holes and lots of crocks in the bottom as you’ll want the rose to be happy for many years. Good varieties to choose are repeat bloomers such as R. ‘Anne Boleyn’, R. ‘Cecile Brunner’ and the single-flowered R. ‘Queen Mother’, but you can plant larger varieties including many David Austin favourites such as the gorgeous R. ‘Munstead Wood’. Don’t forget to give your pot a balanced liquid feed up to once a fortnight in the summer months to keep the leaves healthy and the flowers coming.
Don’t rely on my rose choices, as there are so many to choose from. That’s especially true if you don’t have oodles of wall space and miles of pergola to cover and only need one or two plants. The panel to the right provides a selection of rose gardens, some near, some far, to whet your appetite.
Jane Moore is an award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Twitter: @janethegardener
Rose Gardens to visit
Home to the national collection of pre-1900 old-fashioned roses, with more than 500 varieties reaching their peak in June. Old-fashioned roses tend to flower just once a year, so their full summer blooming is a spectacular annual sight.
Mottisfont, near Romsey, Hampshire; nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont
The rose labryinth, boasting more than 200 varieties of rose, is one of several themed gardens within the historic walled garden at Coughton Court.
Coughton Court, Warwickshire; coughtoncourt.co.uk
David Austin Roses
A large rose garden with more than 700 different varieties over two acres. The garden is divided into areas, each with its own style. The overall concept is to enclose the exuberant, informal growth of the roses within neatly clipped evergreen hedges.
David Austin Roses, Bowling Green Lane, Albrighton, Wolverhampton; davidaustinroses.co.uk