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
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
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.
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
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 their colours and forms are essentially the same.
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
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
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