Roses were not really one of my top must-have garden plants, until this year.
During my garden training, I remember being among a thousand or so dormant roses in mid January and being given the task to prune several beds of various Tea roses. A dormant rose is a depressing sight really, but several hundred is anything but lifting to the soul.
In the summer, their far-too-upright flower formations kept me from ever personally wanting them. But now, there are varieties that I really do think earn their place in the garden and that I want increasingly as primary flowers, both outside in the border and in the vase.
During autumn, roses are becoming available as bare root plants. This is the best and cheapest way to acquire roses, with breeders offering a wider selection than other times of the year. Suprisingly, you can plant them throughout the winter, with no actual harm to the plant, and come the spring they're already settled into position and ready to begin romping away.
Dig in a good amount of muck, if you have it – this is where well-rotted muck is much needed. The best comes from the droppings-board of a hen house that was scraped off in the previous season. It is one of the best additions to the planting hole; roses are very greedy plants, so the richer the soil the better!
Currently, at the Emma Bridgewater factory in Stoke on Trent, the courtyard garden has just closed after its first season with me as gardener. This winter-season will see me make my personal mark upon its central raised beds, adopting new planting schemes which combine roses together with herbaceous perennials, annuals and, of course, bulbs by the ton!
Selected roses will feature heavily within this small space, both as bushes and climbers to mask the all-too-visible brick walls, and to provide richness and scent. With their profusion of petals, a single bloom of a traditional English rose looks even more beautiful when mixed with annuals like cosmos, dahlias and rudbeckias.
As a rule, most climbing roses don’t last that well in the vase however. At the factory we have climbing roses called ‘May Gold’ – these drop their petals after a day or so no matter how long I sear their stem ends for.
Having been largely inspired by Sarah’s Rose Garden at Perch Hill, I’m going to be planting many of the same varieties back at Stoke. At the Perch Hill Feast in July, I remember after the event picking a rose bloom from each of the roses in the rose garden. There is something rich and special about picking roses – the most beloved of English flowers – freshly from the garden. Such roses are totally different creatures to any that you can buy from a florist, where you don’t see a wide range available. This is due to the vast majority coming from abroad, which consequently means that only the varieties that travel well will end up on the high street.
Once roses are established, many varieties will provide flowers for cutting all summer long. My favourite rose is ‘Tuscany’, which is the richest deep-burgundy velvet. I love it for often having visible yellow stamens emerging from its deep, sultry heart. Similar, but more recently bred and more aimed at the cut-flower grower, is 'Burgundy Ice', with longer stems and a little more vigour. Joining this will be the slighter more pink-toned but more perfumed ‘De Rescht’.
A rare true purple-lilac rose is ‘William Lobb’. Its flowers are especially beautiful blooming in clusters, but alas, this happens just once in the year. Its stems carry masses of little thorns, but these are surprisingly not as razor sharp as you might expect. Due to this, it is classed as a moss rose and I’ll be planting several between the espaliered pears. I can imagine it growing in the cloud forests of the Andean mountains foothills.
With all these varieties due to be planted in the coming months, the courtyard next year is certainly going to be a more beautiful and scented space than ever before!
Thanks for reading!
With best wishes,