Gardening / The man who found fragrance

One the world’s most famous rosarians, David Austin.

One the world’s most famous rosarians, David Austin.

THE contribution of Englishman David Austin, one the world’s most famous rosarians, to growers worldwide cannot be underestimated.

Austin, who recently turned 90 years old, loved roses but found most modern versions had no real fragrance. So, in 1946, he cast a critical eye over roses being bred and noticed the ones with the most delicious fragrance were the “old-fashioned roses”, many of which had been grown for hundreds of years, mainly in the Middle East, purely for their fragrance.

Cedric Bryant.

Cedric Bryant.

However, the blooms didn’t last long whereas, with modern roses, the flowers lasted considerably longer.

So Austin experimented at his nursery at Albrighton, Wolverhampton, by crossing fragrant, old-fashioned roses with modern roses. This involved cross pollinating thousands of roses by hand, usually using a camel hair paint brush. It also meant breeding them in insect-free glasshouses, particularly avoiding bees, which could ruin the whole process.

Austin called this new breed “English Roses”, with the first release of Rosa “Constance Spry” in 1961. It was an instant success and since then, with tens of thousands of crosses, most coming to nothing, there are now more than 190 English Rose cultivars sold throughout the world.

Having won 21 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, Austin was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to horticulture with the citation “Great Rosarian of the World”. David Austin roses are readily available at most garden centres.

A WORD of warning when using manures: it’s advisable to incorporate manures into the compost heap or, if using them for the veggie garden, work them into the soil well before planting.

Basically, any manure is good for the garden, but…

  • On trips to the country one may see manures sold by the bag, usually horse manure. Most horses are fed with hay and if using fresh horse manure you may end up with a great crop of oats!
  • Those little pebbles of sheep manure can take a while to break down, often accompanied with a crop of stinging nettles.
  • Chook manure is considered a hot manure, with a high ammonia content. When wet on a warm day, it can cause severe burning of plants with the release of ammonia gas.

Cow manure is the very best, as the animals chew the cud, regurgitating the grass through their system several times, totally destroying any weed seeds. The best story I heard was that lite milk comes from a different breed of cows than full cream milk!

THE blackbird may be nothing to look at, but it is the only bird I know that sings from dawn to dusk and never repeats a tune. Gardeners complain that the birds scratch in the garden, covering paths with mulch and old leaves, yet the humble blackbird is one of the best indicators of a healthy garden; if there are no blackbirds, it’s almost certain there are no worms in the garden.

No worms means unhealthy plants; it is as simple as that.

SOME readers have asked about Dr. Kenneth Brown, who I quoted in my article “Falling out of love with lawns” (CN, September 15). Dr Brown was, until retirement, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney where he lectured on environment management and was the director of Coastal Resources Management. As such, he was involved in looking at the causes of the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef and Northern Rivers, particularly the association with the overuse of chemical fertilisers, especially in banana and sugarcane production.


  • Cut back agapanthus now and divide.

    Cut back agapanthus now and divide.

    As the days warm, it’s always good to cover newly purchased plants with an old sheet to prevent them being scorched before getting home.
  • Cut back and divide agapanthus. This can be hard and I use an old tomahawk for the job!
  • Could any of the plants you have in pots be put in the garden to reduce summer watering chores?
  • Don’t use bituminous type pruning paint when cutting back trees and shrubs. It can have a detrimental effect on the healing of the wound.


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