I love many plants, but it is roses who have stolen my heart. Tulips have the same colour-range and silken or satin textures; peonies have the blowsy opulence; dahlias have the drama. Roses have all of this, plus dementingly delicious scent. There is nothing like burying your nose in a sun-warmed rose and breathing in its perfume.
I’m just warning you now that this is likely to be the first of many posts about roses.
Roses are shockingly easy to grow, particularly on clay soil, which we have in abundance. All they need is a depth of just over a spade, and a bit more in width, reasonable drainage, a bucketful of compost or manure mixed in with the soil when planting, plus a mulch of the same once a year, and plenty of water in the first year. I plant mine as bare-roots in November, which gives them time to settle in for an early spring start. They will only produce a light smattering of blooms in their first year, but from the second year, they will be smothered in flower. Just keep dead-heading, and pick plenty of them for the kitchen table.
I love old roses, especially the gallicas and bourbons, but they only flower once, in June. It’s worth it: they are weighed down with flowers for about four weeks. But to extend the season, I grow David Austin English roses. These have the voluptuous blooms of the old roses, with petals and petals intermingled, and the wonderful scent (plus some unusual fruity and spicy notes thrown in). They have the bonus of keeping on producing blooms into November (in fact some of mine were still throwing out the odd flower until yesterday, when I pruned them).
I also have a bit of a thing for rugosa roses, which I first saw in number when visiting my friend Lucy in Denmark. They grow like weeds along the beaches there, producing magenta or white blooms, often alongside enormous tomato hips. These are tolerant creatures, and perfect for a hedge. Which is why I have taken to guerrilla gardening and planted them along the fence in the allotment.
This is the selection that I am growing in my rose garden. To say I love roses so much, I am not much of a pink girl. I’m not keen on candyfloss pink or bubble-gum pink, or even blush pink for that matter (though I do love them in other people’s gardens). But the colour variation within these roses is mouth-watering. They are all a little bit fruity, with tones of plum, damson, blackcurrant, raspberry, peach and apricot. Weirdly, the scent often matches this.
First up (clockwise from left, below) are the divinely blackcurrant, with a touch of silver ‘Young Lycidas’, the huge-flowered cherry-pink ‘Lady of Megginch’ and the peachy-pink ‘Boscobel’.
Then (clockwise from left, below) there is my favourite warm apricot-orange ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’, whose maroon foliage sets off her flowers. ‘Princess Anne’ is rich pink with mauve undertones, and ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ is a delicate pink, with seductive silken petals.
You might think that’s enough roses, but no, we’re not done. We’ve still got (clockwise from left, below) the ever-flowering tough little nut ‘England’s Rose’. the flowers are small but they shout loud. Then the Bourbon rose, ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’, which I’m trying as a climber (the most powerfully scented rose I know) and the irresistibly peachy ‘Roald Dahl’.
And just to make sure I can properly indulge this fetish, I have made room for three more (clockwise from left, below). There is the gallica ‘Sissinghurst Castle’, another little bruiser. Smack-bang in the middle of my rose garden is the rugosa rose ‘Hansa’, which is the most purple of roses, with hips as a bonus, and gorgeous wrinkled, leathery leaves. And finally, my favourite gallica, the velvet rose, ‘Tuscany Superb’. There I’m done. Satiated at last.
I grow these roses with plum, purple, lilac and white herbaceous perennials. There are towering spires of hollyhocks , Alcea rosea ‘Halo Lavender’ and ‘Halo Blush’, moody spikes of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and Lupinus ‘Thunderclouds’ pillows of Geranium himalayense ‘Graveteye’, G. ‘Orion’, G. ‘Brookside’, G. ‘Anne Thomson’ and G. psilostemon, and nodding bells of Penstemon ‘Raven’ and ‘Sour Grapes’. In March, I will also add some silvery-blue spikes, with Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’ and the sea holly, Eryngium alpina. These two will offset the outrageous bosomy pillows of the bourbon rose ‘Mme Isaac Pereire’.
One more thing. I generally plant roses in groups of three (about 60cm apart), as David Austin recommends. They grow into one another, and give a lovely full, plumptious mound. You also feel you have enough of each variety to pick in abundance.
I’ll add photos of the rose garden as it drvelops this year, so you can see the plant combinations as they develop. Thank you for indulging me, and do comment below about your favourite roses. I know I’m not the only one with this condition.
Picture credits: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/