There comes a time in late April, early May, when the tulips have just gone over, and the poppies and peonies have yet to burst their buds, when fresh foliage is the most beautiful thing in the garden.
The new rose foliage catches the light, so that the whole garden twinkles.
My favourite roses are English roses, bred by David Austin. This is not only because they have beautiful blooms with the scent of old roses. It is also because they almost always have a lovely round growth habit and lush foliage. There is also a wide variety of foliage colours.
‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ has the darkest maroon foliage of all the English roses I grow (it also has the most deliciously scented and beautiful warm pinkish-apricot blooms. You can see them in this post).
You can see how full and rounded the shrubs become. I grow my roses in groups of three. I plant them in a triangular pattern, 90-100cm apart. Within two years, the gaps between them are filled, and they look like one generous shrub. Growing three shrubs together means that you have a profusion of blooms. You have plenty to cut for the house, and plenty to enjoy in the garden.
In contrast, the English rose ‘Roald Dahl’ is perfectly green. This variety also has a beautiful rounded and full growth habit. I also love English roses because they are very disease-resistant. Rarely are they touched by blackspot. They tend to retain this fullness of form for the whole summer.
‘Roald Dahl’ and ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ are rarely without flower from June to October, and so this is the only time of year that their foliage is their best feature.
The new leaves of some varieties of English rose are flushed with red. ‘Young Lycidas’ is a good example. The leaves mature to green, so you get layers of growth. The top shoots are red, and lower layers are green.
Some varieties have a fine red edging around their leaves. ‘Boscobel’ is a good example. I love the way the red outlines the fine-toothed edging.
The English rose ‘Benjamin Britten’ has foliage which is freshest green, tipped with vermillion. You can see the delicacy of this foliage. It is perhaps at its most beautiful just before the flower buds form (you can see it in flower here).
A variety which is perfect for the back of the garden is ‘Thomas a Becket’. It gets tall; mine is taller than me; and the flowering shoots will elegantly bend over when laden with bloom. For now I am enjoying the towering peaks of the shoots. Its orange tips are picked up by Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’.
As well as David Austin English roses, my rose garden also contains two gallica roses, ‘Tuscany Superb’ and ‘Sissinghurst Castle’ and a Rosa rugosa hybrid called ‘Hansa’.
I love gallica and rugosa rose foliage too. Rather than being glossy, like many hybrid tea roses, it is matt green, a little bit wrinkled and crinkled, like crepe paper, and slightly translucent. The light shines through it, giving it luminosity. Gallica and rugosa roses look healthy and vibrant from spring through summer and into autumn.
This is my Rosa rugosa hedge in the vegetable garden. You can see how fresh the foliage is. The flower buds are just developing. They are protected by a nest of new foliage at the tip of each shoot.
I love to grow peonies alongside roses. The peony foliage is spectacular at this time of year. It bursts out of the ground, full of energy. Intersectional peonies have the best foliage of all. It looks to me like its leaves have been precision-cut. These will provide a sculptural feature in the garden for the rest of the year, long after the peony has finished flowering.
The poppies and peonies will be here soon.
For now, I will sit here drinking my coffee, appreciating the twinkling from the rose foliage.
It is a lovely time of year.
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