Regrets? I’ve had a few…

David Austin's Rose Garden

For 8+ years, I was Head of Marketing for David Austin Roses. Time well spent and much savoured, working with a lovely, warm, caring team of people, an archetypal British brand & some of the world’s most charismatic roses.

Looking back, I have very few regrets, except I have to pinch myself to believe that I didn’t take full advantage personally of the two acre rose garden in our backyard.

I’ve always wished I could take better pictures. I should have freed myself years earlier to learn by trial and error how to take decent pictures of these beautiful cottage garden flowers. What held me back?

Well… I compared my fledgling skills to those of the talented garden photographers I was lucky enough to work with. Not surprisingly, I found myself sadly lacking. We already had an extensive, rapidly expanding library of beautiful images of all kinds of roses to use at work. Better, I thought, to concentrate on doing what I knew I could do well.

Of course my own pictures didn’t need to be world class – but, at that time, the professional me foolishly imposed exactly the same standards on my images as on the work of any other photographer. So I inhibited myself from taking pictures in my spare time, even though I had a sneaking suspicion I’d really enjoy it.

Looking back, I have to face the fact that for nine summers, I could have had access to a garden filled with photogenic plant material, before or after work – at the ideal times of the day for photography, when the light was interesting and hardly a soul was around. It would only have taken a mindful, daily walk through the garden to learn to anticipate almost exactly when each rose would reach its peak of beauty.

I did enjoy several hours and even days in the garden, or at a smattering of other gardens in England, working with professional photographers as a reserve when rosarian, Michael Marriott, was elsewhere, helping to find the roses we most needed. I took a keen interest in how each approached his or her work, noticing a few simple but effective tricks of the trade.

And of course I did spend some of my spare time simply wandering or relaxing in the garden. Who could resist? Yet, for perhaps five or six years, I can’t remember photographing a single rose in the garden myself. Even after that, pretty much until 2013, my few attempts were hurried, fleeting – almost embarrassed. Despite this, I did manage to capture a few images I liked.

Picture of Rosa 'William Morris'
Rosa ‘William Morris’

Time is a great teacher, if we’re open to it. I learned from talking to gardeners, rose lovers, breeders, journalists and photographers I met around the world. I visited many rose and gardening blogs and got excited about the words and pictures others were sharing. At last, I gave myself the freedom to try to take as many photographs as I wanted and to fail as often as needed to learn: to experiment, relax & have a little fun.

I came to see that professional rose photography was not the be-all-and-end-all I’d imagined, in all situations. I found room in my life to enjoy many styles of photography – including, at the opposite side of the scale perhaps, the barely in focus picture of a prized rose late in the season, still flowering, but with just a few bedraggled flowers. If a picture gives pleasure, represents something precious or helps preserve a memory, that’s fine by me.

And I found out it’s not actually all that much of a risk to put yourself on the line creatively by saying, “This is the best I can do…so far!”

As I plan to share some of my photos and thoughts here, in the interests of disclosure, I confess that I doubt I could ever have a completely impartial view of the roses I worked with for so long, even though I ceased to be a paid employee some time ago.

I loved gardening when I joined David Austin Roses, though to be truthful, I was not a rose lover. In the course of my work, I have caught on rose thorns and torn in my attempts to get free all my favourite, flowing skirts and dresses, and have received numerous small or not-so-small personal scratches, but I willingly forgive it all. Over the years, as I learned to appreciate the individual characters of the most popular rose varieties, it seems that they stealthily rooted their way into my heart.


It’s perhaps worth making the obvious point that none of the pictures you’ll see here are official or approved – far from it. They are all my own work and copyrighted by me, unless otherwise indicated. Any views expressed are purely personal ones.

Many of the plants photographed on this website are covered by trademarks, plant patents and licenses, including David Austin’s roses. Please refer to the breeders’ websites for details.

7 Replies to “Regrets? I’ve had a few…”

  1. “This is the best I can do…so far!”. Almost my very words in my latest post. 🙂 The best I can do so far is not nearly as beautiful as your rose photo.

  2. No wonder you love photographing Roses.

    I don’t know anything about Roses per se, but did go to the trouble of finding an unusual David Austin rose for it’s scent and beauty for my Mother who was a great gardener (right up til she died at 88). She said it was one of the best Mother’s Day gifts she had ever received.

    I’m a great fan of Hellabores, but after a couple of lots of back surgery can no longer bend low enough to capture their ground-facing flower heads. I’d use my camera’s tilting screen but I can’t see well enough to use my LCD screen.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that – photography is more physically demanding that you’d expect – but it’s good to see from your pictures you’re not letting it hold you back. There’s a lot to be said for looking outwards and upwards!

  3. Thoughtful and thought-provoking words! I adore roses … sometimes I wish I didn’t! I used to work in horticultural journalism and the pictures were always my favourite bit. Like you, I was too inhibited by the work of the wonderful photographers I encountered and worked with (and the trade’s insistence, at the time, that every shot must be taken with a very large, very expensive medium format camera). Now, with the advent of digital (a boon to a rather poor person such as myself), I can shoot away and make as many mistakes as I want. It’s a real joy and I am learning so much (about myself, and about the camera!)

    1. Photography is a pure kind of joy for me too. It’s great that so many of us have perfectly acceptable cameras in our phones these days.

      I firmly believe the saying ‘the only person who never makes mistakes is the one who doesn’t do anything’, yet for some reason I didn’t relate that to my own photography at the time.

  4. I think I shall adopt your sentence “This is the best I can do…so far!” I would love to work in an environment where I can take a walk in a rose garden, but being surrounded by professional photographers would very likely have kept me, too, from trying to take pictures. At least in the beginning, not today, though, because I agree with your statement that professional photography – be it rose or any other kind of photography – is not the be-all-and-end-all. We’re probably too easily intimidated by the word “professional” 🙂

    As for roses – I wouldn’t want to receive a bouquet of roses, it screams cliché to me, but I love rose bushes, and the William Morris in your pic is gorgeous.

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