It is always at this time of year that I start to look back and consider what I could do better in the next growing season, how I could have done things differently, what has performed well and what hasn’t and which, if any of these things might have been within my powers to control. I say ‘now’, but in fact it’s going on throughout the year as we watch the plants through their seasons of interest, from the mighty delphinium at it’s height in early Summer, to the mixed stems of dogwoods to brighten our Winter days. Successes and failures, we all have them in horticulture and I always feel this is a very natural time to consider these as we prepare many of our flower areas for Winter.
My passions in gardening have changed over the years, one especially is in that of roses. I thought them rather ungrateful, jaggy things that were difficult to understand when I first started out in my horticultural career. I make no hidden secret of the fact that I became interested in them as well as soft fruit and some tree fruit in order for the job of pruning them all to give me employment in the Winter. Over the years I have attended courses and events at both David Austin and Peter Beales Roses and have come to the realisation that there are many who struggle with trying to apply text-book methods to what they have in their gardens. I have felt with the years that there is so much more in knowing how to prune, indeed why we prune, once you understand how the plant grows. To this end, earlier this year before all the current restrictions led us to our somewhat strange new lives, I started running some 1 day horticulture courses along with my partner, David. We based them around the care of roses but covered what I think are also the essentials all us would-be gardeners should know. That is how plants work and how to get them to respond and to recognise when something isn’t quite right.
I recall a good friend who apprenticed with me, before moving on to her own gardening round, remarked one day that she was feeling nervous about seeing a potential client, “What happens if I don’t know all the latin names?” she worriedly asked. Knowing them is not as important as you think when you consider such old favourites as Weigela, Philadelphus and Deutzia - all flowering on wood produced the previous season - once you have observed the habit - you will know that pruning in early Spring will result in lots of vegetation but you will have removed your flowers! Believe me I learrned this many moons ago as a proud new home owner and wondered why my neighbour’s Forsythia hedge was a profusion of yellow while mine was of green. The answer now is obvious to me, that cutting the hedge too late in the season removed the following year’s flowering wood. Just a matter of observation.
So to roses.
In the days when the Royal National Rose Society was a functioning institution I had enquired about pruning courses. I was informed they ran sessions in Spring for shrub roses and Autumn for rambling roses. I ended up attending David Austin’s and we were lucky to be taught by their marketing director at the time, Mr Michael Marriot. I bravely told him the information from the Rose Society to which he jokingly replied that he does all his roses when he is tired of his Christmas guests - usually on Boxing Day!
I have heard many tales of the ‘dos and don’ts’ about pruning roses, especially timing, and whilst I have over 7,000 days gardening under my belt - that’s only 20 times I have seen things come and go. That’s not many opportunities to correct what you didn’t get right the prvious year. But whatever our specialism, there comes a moment in one’s life when you have done something enough times and studied the results that you can be brave and put your hand up and say that you’ve got most of it right.
I look after about 550 roses and most of the newer additions to those gardens have been ‘Old Fashioned’ shrub roses, as they are categorised, such as the Portland, Bourbon, Hybrid Perpetual, Noisette - mostly offering repeat flowering as well as some Summer flowering such as Gallica, Alba, Damask, Centifolia and Moss. Many of the older roses also cope with slightly poorer soils and shadier sites. I also love climbing roses and find these the easiest type to make good impact with as they seem rather misunderstood in their habits. Renovation from spindly sticks with remote top flowers to new vibrant growth with an even covering of flowers turns out to be no more than common sense in the end.
I have recently become involved in helping to renovate the War Memorial garden in Newburgh and have put forward a small selection of roses that have been noted to stand well in terms of disease resistance and ability to stand the climate. They also had to have repeat flowering and strong scent. The first two I have chosen are the Hybrid perpetual ‘Reine des Violettes’ and the David Austin rose ‘Gertrude Jekyll’.
So was it a good year?
For us probably no - for the roses, mixed also, but ended well. A dry March/April had disease such as mildew setting in early for those roses in dry positions such as climbers against walls. The first flush was a little under-whelming and Spring growth not so lush. Come to August with it’s heavy rain and by the time the 2nd flush came the roses were much bigger on lush new growth. How did you all find this Year?
If I could give a few tips from my experience:
Regularly check climbers and ramblers (throughout the season) and tie in the stems you wish to keep as the frame of the plant.
Don’t be frightened to cut roses for the house - does them no harm and so many spoil badly in the rain - enjoy them indoors.
It is quite acceptable to prune back your larger repeat flowering roses as we get into Winter, if they rock around in the soil on an exposed site it will check their growth the next season, you can always re-visit in the Spring to tidy up.
If you’re looking for wildlife attractive roses then Rugosa types with their big open flowers are a magnet for bees, they are vigorous and pretty disease free, many are strong scented, making excellent informal hedges and often bear very decorative hips for the Autumn.
Above all - don’t be frightened of your roses - just because it says 4’ high by 3’ across doesn’t mean it’s out of control when there’s a few extra inches on the growth. I have the Gallica rose ‘Tuscany’ - it has stems 10’ long and I have trained it over my out-building door - for 3 to 4 weeks it gives a profusion of deep red/maroon flowers with rich yellow open centres. So get them to do what you want them to do.
Whilst my garden in Newburgh is small, we open our garden at Helensbank in Kincardine under the Open Gardens Scheme and details can be found on either their website or ours at Helensbank.com where we support the charity Scottish Veteran’s Residences.
We have recently passed the first of two stages to gain National Collection status from Plant Heritage for our collection of Portland roses, and we hope to have final accreditation before the end of 2020.
Both Summer flowering roses but still good for cutting, in the foreground the highly scented crested
Enjoy your roses !