sarah’s top roses for cutting
A vase of garden roses is a lovely thing, a signal that summer proper is finally here. I have a small garden at Perch Hill dedicated to roses for cutting, so I can guarantee this luxury for months at a stretch. The varieties I’ve been trialling lately are a distillation of those which have performed well over the years, and those that last well in water (learn how to cut and condition roses).
It’s also important to me that most roses flower from June until September, and that they have good scent, so they feel voluptuous and wonderful to cut and bring in.
All-important also is that each one grows happily and looks good without the use of fungicide sprays. I have a long-term favourite, 'Madame Isaac Pereire’, which in some years gets black spot so badly that without a regular dose of chemicals its leaves just fall off. What I look for is a full-headed, decadent look, but in varieties with a stronger constitution. Then you have the perfect cutting rose.
For roses to work in a garden, the planting needs some refining. The traditional approach of growing only roses in one space is dull, so I’ve filled mine with box shapes and introduced a swathe of polyanthus (Gold-laced Group, in crimson and gold, 'Francisca’, in green and 'Don Keefe’, scarlet), to flower throughout the spring, followed by a good selection of penstemons to take up the colour baton for summer and autumn. I have Penstemon 'Just Jayne’ in pink, 'Garnet’, a deep red, and 'Mother of Pearl’ in white with smoky mauve markings.
The polyanthus and penstemons combine to give an almost continually colourful carpet beneath the roses and provide lots of extra flowers to pick. Splashing a few alliums in here too is another good combination.
If you have a bit more space, don’t just grow roses for their flowers — there are varieties wonderful for foliage and hips too. My two favourites in this department are Rosa glauca (aka R. rubrifolia) and Rosa moyesii 'Geranium’.
Rosa glauca has fantastic silvery foliage and arching stems which makes it one of the best ever foliage plants for large flower arrangements. 'Geranium’ has beautiful single carmine flowers and then fat and impressive hips which last for ages. I pick plenty of both of these from now until October.
Every year I can’t wait for the roses to start blooming...
My favourite varieties for cutting
Best of the pinks
1 'Princess Alexandra' - One of the best deep pink bush roses for cutting, with a lovely scent. It is a very tall stemmed (and so ideal for arranging), usually single-headed, bright magenta pink with very few thorns. It also has huge staying power, lasting well over a week in the house, and opens from a stylish pointed bud into a frilly rosette shape.
2 'Gertrude Jekyll' - A true clear pink, with a deeper rosy heart. This excels, not just for the vigour of the bush and its repeat flowering (bushes should continue to flower until late October), but because once cut, the flowers last for days. It also has a fantastic scent. The only downside is that the stems are extremely prickly.
3 'Louise Odier' - An old French, long-stemmed climbing or shrub rose, in a bright sunny pink with many heads, which often come as a spray. It is lightly scented and has a good vase life. It also flowers well into the autumn.
4 'Ispahan’ - Beautiful mid-pink rose with the AGM and rightly so. It’s a healthy variety with a long flowering season and cuts well.
5 'Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ The palest, palest pink, lovely for covering a wall or arbour, and it also has a great scent. This needs lots of room, but is good to pick in great trusses and lasts well.
6 'Cerise Bouquet’ - One of the very best roses in my garden, which flowers from May until September, climbing up through the silver-leaved Eleagnus 'Quicksilver’ with Clematis 'Etoile Violette’. It has no scent, but as it is so prolific and long-flowering, I always end up picking lots of it.
Yellow, apricot and bronzes
7 'Graham Thomas' - A clear, light yellow and a very good picking rose. It flowers both early and later than any other — I’ve picked it here on a frosty morning in late October — and it smells good.
8 'Just Joey’ - This is my mother’s favourite rose. It has big, loose, blowsy flowers in a wonderful soft apricot-orange. Good for picking and a nice scent.
White and ivory
9 'Winchester Cathedral' - A delicate and beautiful white, rather like the classic white rose Margaret Merrill (also lovely), with dark golden stamens, clear against the pale, creamy white petals, but Winchester Cathedral has a longer flowering season, excellent disease resistance and a lovely shape. It does not have much scent, but lasts well.
10 'White Gold' - This is a newish rose bred by Harkness, with flowers of an extraordinary colour – ivory with an amazing tint of green in bud, opening to a wonderful white gold with a pinky tinge. It flowers for ages, has strong scent and lasts very well in a vase. Ideal for wedding bouquets.
Deep red, crimson and purples
11 'Charles de Mills’ - One of the few varieties in my rose garden that flowers only once, but the velvet texture, along with the incredible scent, make this essential. It’s extremely healthy too, with elegant bright green chiselled foliage which makes it a handsome-looking plant even without its flowers and it cuts well.
12 'Big Purple' - A dramatic, rich, deep purple, which usually comes singly, on long stems which are not too thorny and last well in the vase. This is a Hybrid Tea, which needs a hard prune during the winter.
13 'Sir Joseph Paxton’ - Named after the famous mid-19th century gardener who designed Crystal Palace. This brilliant pink, very full-flowered variety can get black spot, but flowers for ages and smells incredible.
14 'Ferdinand Pichard’ - Last but not least, a truly glamorous rose with huge, delicious flowers and a good scent which are produced over months. This is one of my favourites for a vase beside my bed.