Gardening / Coming up roses

Rose planting time is now in earnest and garden centres are overflowing with new varieties plus the old tried and tested favourites

UK breeder David Austin has taken the rose world by storm in recent years.

Born in 1926 into a farming family in the Shropshire village of Albrighton, he just loved the roses in the garden and, after reading “Old Garden Roses”, a book published in 1936, he became almost obsessed with growing them.

“Gertrude Jekyll”... one of Cedric's favourite David Austin roses

“Gertrude Jekyll”… one of Cedric’s favourite David Austin roses

Rose breeding is like most plant breeding, the skill of taking the pollen from one flower to another, which can produce roses completely different from the parents (as opposed to cuttings that are, in effect, clones).

But most of the existing roses in the ‘30s bloomed only once and this did not satisfy Austin. In 1969, after many years of breeding, he released his first repeat-flowering roses named after characters in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. One of his first was Rosa. “The Wife of Bath”.

Dissatisfied with just repeat flowering, Austin crossed perfumed, old-fashioned roses with beautifully shaped modern roses that had virtually no fragrance.

Each year Austin’s nursery raises upwards of 150,000 seedling roses, of which 10,000 will be selected for further breeding. From these, 300 seedlings will be selected and after anything up to 10 years, a final selection of just four to six varieties are presented at the Chelsea Flower Show for public release.

I have seen the hectares of glasshouses, all sealed so that bees cannot get in to upset the breeding process. It is an amazing sight.

Vital to the selection is disease resistance, including to mildew and the dreaded black spot. The breeding continues with the release every year of these special new varieties eagerly awaited by rose lovers worldwide.

“Graham Stuart Thomas”... named after David Austin's early mentor.

“Graham Stuart Thomas”… named after David Austin’s early mentor.

A couple of my favourites are Rosa “Graham Stuart Thomas”, named after his early mentor, with rich golden-yellow flowers and R. “Mary Rose” named after Henry VIII’s flagship raised from the English Channel, with its myrrh-scented rosette-shape flowers.

In our garden, our favourite is R. “Gertrude Jekyll” with an abundance of large, rose-pink blooms and wonderful old-rose fragrance.

More than three million David Austin or English Roses are sold worldwide every year. His demonstration rose garden is considered the best in Britain. It’s open every day, entry is free, and worth a visit.

More information at

Rose jottings…

• Always look for healthy roses with thick, two-year old stems and kept in garden centres in outside natural daylight. Vitally important when transplanting in Canberra’s winter cold.

• It has now been proven by the Royal Horticultural Society that roses can be planted in the same place as previous roses.

• Do not use any chemical fertilisers in the planting hole. I recommend organic Healthy Earth fertiliser well mixed into the soil, preferably a week before planting.

• Examine and trim any broken roots with sharp secateurs and ensure the hole will accommodate the roots without bending.


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