A few weeks ago, in response to my post The garden that keeps on giving, Ann asked if I could show photos of the growth habit of the David Austin English roses ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ and ‘Roald Dahl’. I thought I would go the whole hog and write a post about the growth habit of all my roses.
I do favour David Austin English roses because:
- they have the charm of old roses but they also repeat flower
- there are diverse flower forms, but all share a certain grace, which I now think comes from the thickness of the petals! Many hybrid tea and modern roses have thick and stiff petal texture, whilst English roses have a thinner, more delicate petal texture.
- There are diverse flower forms. There are deep cups and rounded goblets; there are shallow cups with a button-eye, or where the petals are ‘quartered’; there are a few singles and semi-doubles with exposed stamens that attract insects.
- There is an incredible range in fragrance, with the old rose scent suffused with fruity, spicy or even herbal and woody notes (see A Rainbow of Roses). For most, the fragrance is strong.
- The foliage is usually attractive. It doesn’t have the glossiness of a hybrid tea rose, but I don’t really like gloss! The texture tends to be slightly matt, like the old roses.
- The growth habit is fuller than a hybrid tea. Hybrid tea roses tend to be very upright and very stiff. English roses tend towards gently arching or plump, pillowy growth. There are exceptions, which are covered in this post!
- All recent David Austin introductions are healthy and disease-resistant, at least in the UK climate. As far as I know, we don’t get rose midge here, though I understand this is a problem in the US. The only problem we get is blackspot, and I don’t bother about blackspot. My garden is a spray-free zone because I like bees, butterflies and birds.
I have taken a couple of photos for every variety of rose I grow. This makes for a very long post, but I hope it will be a good reference. There is a photo of the whole shrub, and a photo of the foliage, unless one photo did both. All these photos were taken this morning, 4th August 2018. Some of my roses are in their second flush of flowers, and some are between flushes. I thought now might be a good time to focus on growth habit when they are not absolutely covered in flower, and you can see more of their form. But if you want to be reminded of the flowers of a particular variety, you can use the ‘search’ window at the bottom of this post to find posts that feature that particular rose. I also reference a lot of posts here where these roses have previously featured.
I garden on Kentish clay, which roses love. I plant bare-root roses in November, in a planting hole of a spade’s depth and a bit wider than it is deep. I nearly always follow David Austin’s advice and plant in groups of three (each rose 100cm apart) and so would typically dig a bigger hole for all three. I mix some compost or well-rotted manure into the planting hole. I water in very well: two cans’ full per rose.
I mulch with well-rotted manure each winter to a depth of 5-10cm. I prune to about 50cm in February, and I deadhead blooms religiously. This is to encourage repeat-flowering as quickly as possible. Because they repeat-flower, English roses benefit from a handful of blood-and-bone lightly forked into the soil around their base after the first flush of flowers (late June). A couple of feeds of liquid seaweed would do equally well.
Lady Emma Hamilton
First up is my second-favourite rose. If it was on foliage alone, then ‘Lady Em’ would win every time. She has the most gorgeous maroon-tipped growth, which complements the delicious blooms perfectly. The flowers are the warmest pinkish peach you ever did see; she smells divine and she is one of the most floriferous roses I grow. You can see more of her in Just Peachy. Nearly all the roses featured in this post grow to about 100cm, unless I state they are taller. ‘Lady Em’ has a nice plump growth habit, with new shoots being nicely spread throughout the bush. You don’t get wildly tall new shoots (more on these later!)
This is one of my new ones this year, so has not reached its full height or bushiness. It has been slightly less floriferous than my other new roses, but let’s not judge it too soon. This rose has curious crinkled leaves, which remind me of mahonia or holly. They are edged with darkest maroon, and it was really lovely in spring with the new foliage. You can see the blooms of all six of my new varieties in Getting to know you…
This may have taken over from ‘Royal Jubilee’ as my favourite pink rose. The blooms are divine, with a deep cup where petals are folded over in the centre to give the most delicious, intriguing shape. The pink is just slightly peachy at the centre. You can see more photos of the blooms in Getting to know you…, but ‘Boscobel’ has featured in nearly every one of my rose garden posts because it just never stops looking gorgeous. It has a lovely fragrance. It has been incredibly floriferous so far, especially for a newly-planted rose. The foliage is mid-green, with new foliage just being edged with maroon.
Lady of Megginch
This is another new favourite from Getting to know you…. and The Rose Garden at the end of June. ‘Lady Meg’ has huge blooms, probably the biggest of any rose I grow. There is lovely healthy green foliage, and a nice bushy habit. She too seems to be very floriferous, with her second flush as generous as the first. What’s not to like?
This rose wins the most elegant rose competition. It is a rose to aid meditation, with its beautifully sculpted, lotus-like flower-shape. It was also in The Rose Garden at the start of June and Moody Blues. It is sadly between flushes in this photo, but with lots of new buds about to pop! ‘Jubilee Celebration’ shares that slightly crinkled foliage of ‘Young Lycidas’. The leaves are relatively small, and so far it has quite stiff but nicely spreading growth.
This is another one that featured in Just Peachy and lives up its peachy promise. It is another floriferous one, with soft sprays of flower pretty continuously. It has a really pillowy growth habit, with the foliage being plentiful. The flowers are nicely spread throughout the bush, and they reach all the way down to the ground. The only fault, if you can call it that, is that the roses have quite a green smell. This does make a nice change from all that fruitiness, though.
I was delighted with this rose last summer, as it was never without masses of flower. It has had a slower start this year, but seems to have really got going in the last couple of weeks. The flowers are fairly small, with a shallow cup. It really is a glowing pink, especially in sunlight. You can see this near the end of my post The garden that keeps on giving. It is also the header image of this post. My only criticism is that it is not particularly fragrant to my nose (remembering that everyone picks up different scents). It has fairly small leaves, suited to the small flowers, which are plentiful and mid-green. The flowers tend to be dotted around the top half of the shrub, in sprays of three or four blooms. They are always upward-facing. This is a rose that benefits from almost daily deadheading: the fresh flowers have that real glow, and I try to make the most of this by quickly removing those that have faded.
Princess Alexandra of Kent
I fell for this rose because of the creamy silk texture of the petals, but its foliage does not disappoint. The leaves are small and light-green, with a very fine maroon central vein and a slight gloss. A little confession here. I did let Geranium psilostemon climb all over this brand new rose, and it perhaps hasn’t grown as much as it might have done, had I been more solicitous. However, the Geranium has now been cut back, and ‘Princess Alex’ can now breathe and stretch out a bit.
I utterly love the blueish tinge to these full rosette blooms. They are held in generous sprays, with a range of colours as each flower opens and ages in succession. This is another new one, but it is holding its own. It has a nice mix of mid-green and light-green healthy, glossy foliage.
What more can I say about this, my favourite rose, which was not said in Portrait of a rose? Well, another confession here. After saying that it grows perfectly happily in a nice big pot, I must say I am starting to feel guilty about its continued confinement. It has been a chore to keep it properly watered in this ridiculous heat. And it is looking a little worse for wear, with scorched blooms and stressed foliage. I have been removing stressed foliage, so it is looking skinnier than usual. But don’t judge it from this poor horticulture. My mum has three in the ground and they are bushy and wonderful. I should perhaps find a nice spot for my three to stretch out their roots, but I have the problem all rose fanatics face: no room in existing beds. Time to make a new one?!
At this point, I am just going to show you my three non-David Austin roses in the rose garden. You can compare the growth habit and foliage of these different types of roses to see which you prefer.
‘Hansa’ is a rugosa hybrid. Rugosa roses are very healthy, and great for difficult areas. They have wonderful brightest green foliage throughout the growing season. The leaves grow at sculptural angles and are delightfully wrinkled. Rugosas can be quite tall: ‘Hansa’ currently stands at 1.8m, but it can be pruned back hard. If you don’t deadhead the sprays of silky magenta blooms I think it would produce hips, but these would be at the expense of further blooms. ‘Hansa’ has been repeat-flowering continuously for me. When I am squeezing through the middle of the rose garden to deadhead, it is ‘Hansa’ that I smell the most.
I grow three Gallica roses, ‘Tuscany Superb’, ‘Sissinghurst Castle’ and ‘Charles de Mills’, all of which are featured in The Oldies. Gallicas have lovely healthy foliage. The leaves are is long and oval and have a lovely matt texture, similar to the rugosas, but less wrinkled. The Gallicas flower once in June and then do not repeat-flower. They spend the rest of the growing season sending up tall shoots like this:
Charles de Mills
I pegged down ‘Charles de Mills’ as an experiment this year. This did solve the problem of all the flowers being held at the top of the stems. Instead it sent up lots of flowering stems, and these have just grown and grown and grown. Some of them are about 1.8m tall now. This is quite nice if you like a bit of healthy foliage as a backdrop to other plants. Here is ‘Charles de Mills’ growing next to the English rose ‘Royal Jubilee’.
Right, back to the English roses. We’ve looked at all the varieties in my rose garden, so will move on to the bright border.
Now, let me make this clear. I LOVE the blooms of this rose. The colour is just divine: a deeply creamy shade between burnt orange and deepest dusky apricot. You can see it in Using the Colour Wheel to Plan your Garden. It also has a really fruity scent. But we need to talk about its growth habit. It has this terrible way of throwing up ridiculously long and stiff and tall flowering shoots. Straight up. They might bend a bit with the weight of flower, but not in a nice elegant way. In a leany way. Also the foliage is not great. It is too glossy for my taste, and there just isn’t enough of it. The stems tend to be bare for the first 60cm, and then have sparse leaves from there. But now I feel bad because I do really love this rose. I just [whispering] might not plant it in my next garden. I am being a bit unfair in the second photo because I have pointed my camera downwards so that you can see the bare legs. The first photo shows how I have tried to hide her shortcomings by surrounding her with Alchemilla and Salvia around the sides and front, and Euphorbia palustris behind her, to create some lush green.
Thomas a Becket
I love love love this rose for the back of a border where it can gently arch over a fence. It is quite a wild thing, but a beautifully bushy wild thing, with more flowers than you can keep up with. They arch beautifully in generous sprays. The stems are quite thin, which aids the arching, but are not so good for cutting. Which is why it is great for the back of the border. And also it is not the most fragrant: another reason to place it near the back. One final warning: this rose really bites. I wait until it really needs deadheading and go in there with long-sleeves. Really, a fencing suit would be better.
This may just be in my Top 3 with ‘Munstead Wood’ and ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’. It is a fabulous bright coral-red, fading to vintage silk coral-pink. The flowers are a beautiful ball shape. You can see it in its full glory in Roses in the Bright Border. It has beautiful red-tinged foliage, perhaps the reddest of all. The flowers tend to be held at the top of the shrub, and it is very tall, around 1.8m, so another good one for the back of the border. Or the middle, because the blooms smell divine. Actually, prune it hard and put it near the front where you can get your nose in.
This is the rose of Floriferous, and yep, it is still going. It is another one which smells divine, and because of the number of blooms that are always present, the perfume hangs in a cloud at head level in Death-trap Corner. This is a really tall shrub, at over 1.8m. After deadheading, it sends ever taller shoots up into the air, but these are not annoying, because there are so many of them, it just makes a lovely floriferous canopy. Some sprays get so heavy that they arch over to nose level. This is a fabulous rose in every way.
Reine de Violettes
Ok so we are coming round into Thugs’ Corner and the non-David Austin, controversially inconsistent Hybrid Perpetual rose, ‘Reine de Violettes’. I love her, I love her not, I love her, I love her not, I love her. The blooms often ball or scorch. She sends up great long shoots. She did this even before I sent the raspberries in. I don’t think I can recommend this tetchy old Queen.
Lady of Shalott
This is a bright burnt orange, with a hint of gold and less pink than ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’. I would go for ‘Lady Em’ because I prefer her colour, flower-shape, scent, foliage and growth habit. That sounds like I don’t like this rose. I do. Just not as much as ‘Lady Em’. It may be where I am growing her (in very dry clay), but I find her a little scrappy and bare on her lower half.
And let us veer again from the path of the David Austin rose. This is an inherited modern shrub rose. It does have very lovely flowers. They are a delicious burnt dusky red, if that makes sense? Dark, dusky red, with not a hint of pink.
Do you see what I mean about thick petals? They are nice for a change from the delicacy of the English roses, and the colour is really something. I wish I could say that this rose smells of chocolate, but it smells like Ambre Solaire sun-cream. Which I do happen to like. But this is a rose with a terrible growth habit. It is stiff and upright, with all stems growing into one another causing a terrible mess. There are lots of dead or dying stems, all the time, no matter how well I prune them out.
Now let’s just go off-piste into the allotment.
As with ‘Hansa’ I can’t fault the growth habit or foliage of Rosa rugosa. In fact I can’t fault anything. I love it. I grow it all along the allotment fence. Actually I can fault it a little bit. It is currently a little niggardly in its flowering. But it has been hot and I haven’t watered it at all.
This is a David Austin rugosa hybrid. I also grow this as a hedge. It was the subject of The smell of the sweet shop. It is in its second flush of flower and perfumes the whole allotment. Unlike my other roses, I don’t feel in a rush to deadhead this rose. The stamens hold on to the stem and turn a lovely dusty white colour. They smell of cloves, adding to the aniseedy old rose fragrance in this part of the garden.
Which is more than I can say for this folly of a hedge. This was the first rose hedge I planted, and let’s call it a learning experience. The soil is terrible. It is a concrete of clay and chalk and builders’ rubble. It is so far from a hose or water butt that it is always the last place to get a drink. So it is not surprising that these nine specimens are spindly and permanently cross with me. I can only apologise. Even in optimum conditions I don’t think I would choose this rose again. It has only the faintest whiff of scent right before the petals drop. I have very little time for a rose with no scent.
William Shakespeare 2000
I love the humungous crimson flowers of this rose. I love its fragrance. I really don’t like its growth habit. It sends up crazy long shoots, dead straight, and just cannot be tamed. Choose ‘Munstead Wood’ instead.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Falstaff
‘Tess’ is a lovely bright crimson climber. You can see her and ‘Falstaff’ in Plush. ‘Tess’ is very well-behaved: bushy, with lots of strong stems, good repeat-flowering and healthy foliage. Which is more than you can say for ‘Falstaff’. Yes, I prefer his blooms, but he is surprisingly leggy and miserly in his growth, flowers and foliage. He is taking forever to get going.
Finally! A yellow rose! I know. I have neglected both white and yellow roses. So this was my little attempt to redress the balance. ‘Buttercup’ has a lovely open cup with only ten petals. This is a good illustration of why I generally plant three roses together. I only had room for one in this very narrow bed, but now I see why three are better! I am tempted to widen the bed, just so I can add two more ‘Buttercups’ and fatten this one up a bit. Otherwise though, it seems pleasant enough. This is its second season in a near North-facing horrible position next to a house wall. Sometimes I am really mean to my roses.
This is a David Austin English rose that I inherited with the house. Just to slightly contradict what I just said about planting in threes, this is a single shrub, but seems to hold its own. Maybe because it is getting on for twenty years’ old? It makes a lovely plump bush with incredibly elegant and aptly-named blooms. Like ‘Jubilee Celebration’ each petal is heart-shaped with the pointy bit on the outside of the flower. They are held in arching sprays. The foliage is quite pale green, and very healthy. The flowers are nicely spaced, and reach all the way to the ground. It is really unusual that I have caught ‘Grace’ with very few blooms! She is very quick to reboot, and will be fully clad in a few days.
Etoile de Hollande
Another folly. This is a climbing Hybrid Tea. A lovely crimson thing. Apparently it is slow to get going. You can say that again. But once it does, it climbs and climbs. All the way to my step-daughter’s bedroom window, I am hoping. The fragrance is delicious. But I kind of planted it about a metre away from the support I want it to grow up! ‘Grace’ is in the way, but I wanted to keep her AND have a climbing rose here. I am hoping to train the long stems to the side and then up. Wish me luck.
We are nearly there!! ‘Marjorie Fair’ is a fantastic floribunda. She was seen in her full glory in The Corner of Complete Neglect. She is fantastically healthy and vigorous, with this faultlessly elegant foliage. Her leaves are long and pointed, and have a slight rugosa matt wrinkliness. She is the bushiest, leafiest rose of all that I grow. And she’s not even a David Austin rose! Just one fault: no fragrance.
Just two more to go. Time for my one and only Bourbon rose, the fabulous…
Madame Isaac Pereire
The fattest and most fragrant of all! Bourbons are apparently prone to blackspot, but no sign of this yet. The obelisk is looking just a little bit ugly. I regret my choice and wish I had gone for a nice wooden one. But C’est La Vie; it is what it is. And ‘Madame Isaac’ will hopefully clothe it this time next year.
And then we are back to the start, in the rose garden. Just one more: my mystery rose, star of The Rose and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and still nameless. The lovely Michael Marriott of David Austin roses thought this might be ‘Evelyn’. Does anyone grow ‘Evelyn’ to corroborate this theory? I would love to compare!
This really was an epic post: Stevie has brought me a glass of wine to revive me!
I hope that this post is a useful reference for other rose nerds. If you would like to sign up to receive emails of new posts, then click on the big fat ‘Follow’ button at the bottom of this page. Also feel free to share using social media or email using the buttons below. If you know any fellow rose geeks, I would love to share my obsession with them!
To reward you for surviving alongside me, here are a few photos of the different areas of the garden, with these rose intermingled!