David C.H. Austin OBE: A Personal Valediction

It was a sad day when I opened an e-mail to tell me that David C.H. Austin (or ‘Mr A’ to many of those who knew him) had died at the age of 92. So close to the company’s Christmas party, I imagined, just a couple of days before the anniversary of the death of his wife, Pat. You can read the official obituary of someone who will always be one of my heroes on the David Austin Roses website. Here, I’m sharing my memories of the man who changed my life when he approved my appointment to one of the most fascinating jobs I can imagine.  Continue reading

Sunlight Attack

Mossy bank with wild geranium leaf backlit by sun

Usually there are plenty of opportunities to pick an overcast day if we’re planning to visit a garden or, if not, at least chances to wait for a cloud. But this year is different. Unrelenting sunshine is not usually a big issue in northern England but Texan-style blue skies (with not a cloud in sight all day long) are all the rage.   Continue reading

Prolific Shrub And Rambler Roses

A cluster of pink roses

The best roses are prolific. Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy spotting a spindly climbing rose around the entrance to an old cottage or leaning in a corner of a graveyard as much as the next person. And I try not to judge. Tough enough, these roses give the impression that they are barely clinging on to life. Often they are red ones, throwing out a long, languidly arching stem to one side or the other that they wave around romantically in the wind, careless of their own mortality. Those are the ones that can get away with the merest peppering of tatty blooms and still provoke a genuine ‘ooh!’ or an ‘aah…”, until I pull out a camera, of course, when the ‘ooh!’ usually turns to an ‘oh!’ in an instant.

No, give me the prolific ones, where bloom competes with bloom for its moment in the full sun.

Ballerina roses

I don’t know the name of the pink rose at the top, but the second one is Rosa ‘Ballerina’, a shrub rose (technically a hybrid musk) that liberally smothers itself in flowers. The young flowers are bee targets, like fried eggs, dressed up in pink edges for a garden party. The elderly flowers lost their pink days ago, paling to white, and making a lovely contrast.  Continue reading

Variations On A Theme: Rose, Peony Or Camellia?

Camellia with many petals

When I first started working with roses and discovered I was going to need to distinguish between 30 or 40 pinks and know their names, I resorted to flash cards: the kind young children use to learn words. In no time at all I was well on the way to a lifetime of floral nitpicking. Is a the shape of a double flowered rose technically a shallow cup, recurved, a pompon or a chalice? That kind of thing.

So I often notice when people mistake a peony or a camellia for a rose, even if I’d have to concede that the colours and forms of their flowers can be essentially the same.

Roses with many petals

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Rosa Red Cascade: A Repeat-flowering Miniature Climbing Rose

Rosa 'Red Cascade'

Some of the most picturesque American roses (to my British eyes, at least) have been encouraged to clamber over fences. That’s how Rosa ‘Red Cascade’ managed to sneak its way into my heart. If ever a rose was destined to make a plain fence seem more interesting, this is it. The first time I noticed it growing was in tough conditions, in full sun, on a mesh fence, in a graveyard in Jackson, Mississippi. If it had been flowering at all, I’d have been impressed, but this plant was liberally covered with red blooms.

While ‘Red Cascade’ is often sold as a miniature climber, ‘miniature’ describes the flowers more accurately than the habit of the plant. The Antique Rose Emporium has trained one to grow up a 15ft (4.5m) pillar.  Continue reading

Rose Bloom With Raindrops (And Did I Meet A Queen?)

Rose bloom with raindrops

I’ve hesitated to share this picture of a rose, even though it’s one of my favourites. The colour, though attractive, is not typical, which is why I’ve not provided the variety name on the picture file. It may seem like a harsh assessment of a flower, but this one is too apricot. This variety is supposed to be pink, though admittedly with a good hint of apricot. This one is apricot with the merest touch of pink.

I would hope most people are at this point thinking – ‘Why on earth would anyone prevaricate about whether a rose is pink, apricot or somewhere in the middle? It’s a very nice looking rose. I’d be happy to have it in my garden. Just let it be’. Quite. But for many gardeners (and brides), the shade does matter. They want a white rose to be white, not cream, and a red rose to be red, not pink. Simples, as the meerkats would say. Continue reading

Plant Heritage At Risk As Rose Society Enters Administration

Rose with rosebud

The UK’s Royal National Rose Society (RNRS), which was dedicated to preserving a wide variety of roses for future generations, has gone into administration. Its rose garden, home to over 5,000 varieties including hybrid teas, climbers, ramblers and shrub roses, was due to re-open for June-July but will remain closed to visitors for the foreseeable future. The society’s long heritage dates back to 1876, making it the oldest specialist plant society in the world, but in recent years it had struggled to recruit new members.   Continue reading

Roses at Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson, MS

White cemetery rose

I often visit cemeteries on my travels. My sweetheart is drawn to them, looking for curiosities such as green men, weeping angels and tough plants. At first I thought it was all a bit ghoulish, but several years on, I’ve come to appreciate their different characters. Some are neglected now; overgrown, but romantic for all that. Others are still neatly tended, formal, official.

One that I particularly love to visit is Greenwood Cemetery, a block or so away from the centre of Jackson, MS, where an extensive collection of roses grow ‘wild’. The site dates back to 1821. More than 100 unknown soldiers lie here, as well as Southern author, Eudora Welty, herself a rose lover.  Continue reading

Pink Rose Gallery

Rosa 'Anne Boleyn'

Everyone was so reassuring about my unseasonal blue poppy / TARDIS post that I’m sharing a few more pictures from earlier this summer – this time of roses. Portraits of roses are still one of my favourite subjects for photography, so I’m a little spoilt for choice (I’m not sure how widely that idiom is known outside the UK – basically it means I had quite a few pictures to choose from). I couldn’t say why I’ve decided on pink(ish) ones: perhaps because if you’re being unseasonal, you might as well be really unseasonable. Red would be much more Christmassy.

Long-time readers may remember I have a theory that some varieties of roses are more photogenic than others. I like the way that each bloom has a different pattern or arrangement of petals. Fresh roses have a purity that I love and a particular type of luminosity. I even find the slightly more battered ones appealing these days, like this little cluster.  Continue reading

Bodnant Garden: One of Britain’s Best Rose Gardens

Rosa 'Grace'

Bodnant is a hillside garden with five grand terraces overlooking the Conway valley in Wales. Like so many of our best-loved gardens, it was created over several generations by a succession of enthusiasts.

I first visited as a child and mainly remember the grassy hillside above the ‘main’ gardens. Children are such funny creatures. I wonder if I was encouraged to run off a little energy there or taken on a lengthy hike? More recently my sweetheart and I have visited at various times of the year, though never in autumn. Gathering the pictures for this post has given me a longing to go and see the fall colours, so another visit may be imminent!

Interesting at any time of the year, Bodnant is spread over 80 acres, so most visitors will only manage to explore a fraction on a single visit. During the summer I’m sure many people make a beeline for the rose gardens on the upper and lower terraces.

White roses at Bodnant Gardens

The upper rose terrace is so long that it has room for several colour themes. I’m sharing the white roses for the moon garden lovers among us – just look at all those buds!   Continue reading