Growing roses

Rose expert, Michael Marriott from David Austin Roses, offers his advice to getting the best from your your roses and picks five all-time favourites.

Lady of Shallot rose bred by David Austin Roses

Roses are amazingly variable and versatile garden plants. They vary from tiny little plants less than 30cm tall to huge ramblers growing up to 20 metres into trees. The fabulous flowers vary from a few millimetres in size to 15cm across and from five to 200 petals. They come in pretty much all shades and colours. The only colour you won’t find in a rose is true blue, although some are approaching it now.

In terms of fragrance there is no other plant that has such a wide range of completely different fragrance types ranging from delicious old rose, fragrant tea, rich myrrh, fresh fruit and heady musk. There is a rose for every position in the garden from very formal to very informal. The classic formal rose garden is regarded as being rather old fashioned, but planted well it can be superb and give colour and fragrance for many months. 

Roses also mix superbly with other plants be they annuals, biennials or perennials – although be sure they don’t grow right around the base of the rose as this will starve them of water and nutrients. They are arguably the best of all climbing plants, different varieties being suitable for covering arches, pergolas, walls, fences, obelisks and unsightly buildings or for growing up into trees where their flowers will hang down in graceful festoons. The wilder ones are great for attracting wild life in the garden – flowers for the insects and hips for the birds. Given a big enough container they are great for giving colour and fragrance to the patio. And of course they’re wonderful for bringing into the house for flower arrangements.

Rosa Munstead Wood, David Austin Roses
Munstead Wood. Image: Adobe Stock

Rose care

Roses are really easy to grow and no other plant can potentially give so much – a beautiful individual flower, wonderful fragrance, blooms for five or six months of the year and they are easy to look after. Roses do like the sun but a full day’s dose is not essential. As long as they get at least four or five hours and are not overhung by trees they are generally happy.

There are just two main secrets to a successful rose. One is to choose the variety carefully, making sure it is truly tough and reliable and of course beautiful and fragrant too. The other is to prepare the ground well using plenty of really well rotted organic matter be it garden compost, farmyard manure or (the easiest) soil improver bought from your local garden centre in a bag. If you get these two right the rest is easy. It is simply then a matter of feeding them twice a year, perhaps a good soaking if the soil becomes dry and an annual prune.

Princess Alexandra of Kent rose, David Austin Roses
Princess Alexandra of Kent. Image: Adobe Stock

Pruning roses

Pruning can make people very nervous but in fact is really very simple. At its easiest it is simply a matter of cutting the stems down to somewhere between a third and two thirds of their length.

  • Snip them off with secateurs about 5-10cm above where the previous year’s growth came from.
  • Any dead or diseased growth should be cut right out. Once the rose is a few years old, cut out one or two of the oldest stems to help encourage new young stems to grow. These will be healthier and flower more freely.
  • Don’t worry about angle of cut, height above a bud or outward pointing buds – all that advice comes out of the ark and was aimed at getting the perfect flower for the show bench.

Buying plants

You can buy roses either as plants in pots all year round or as bare root plants (from rose specialists like David Austin Roses) through the winter months. Both are very good although the latter is cheaper and marginally easier too.

Five favourites

With many thousands of varieties available where do I start with making a list of just five of the best? Well all these are English Roses and so really tough, rather informal shrub roses with very beautiful, fragrant blooms.

  1. Munstead Wood has superb dark red flowers and a strong fruity old rose fragrance. It will grow about 1.2m tall and a little less across.
  2. Princess Alexandra of Kent has large rich pink blooms with a delicious fresh tea fragrance that eventually turns lemony. It is a lovely rounded shrub about 1.2m tall and across.
  3. The Generous Gardener is a wonderful climber reaching a height of 3 – 4m with soft pink, very fragrant flowers
  4. The Poet’s Wife has rich yellow flowers and a strong fragrance that is lemon at first becoming sweeter with age.
  5. Lady of Shalott (see main image), an incredibly free flowering rose with rich apricot flowers and a warm tea fragrance with hints of spiced apple and cloves. A fairly substantial shrub about 1.5m tall or can be trained as a climber 2 or 3m tall.

So do plant some (more) roses in your garden, they really are very special plants that for little input are enormously worthwhile.


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