If I could only grow one rose…

I have written here before about my love for the David Austin English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’. The wonderful Cathy at Rambling in the Garden informed me yesterday that David Austin have decided to reduce their range of roses.

‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ and my other favourite, ‘Munstead Wood‘ are amongst those varieties that will no longer be available.

I have to confess I am surprised by the decision to cut Lady Em and Munstead from the range. I can understand Munstead slightly more. It is, in my opinion, by far their most beautiful crimson rose (you can see the other contenders in this post). Munstead’s scent of damson and blackcurrant is just… mmm… But its foliage and growth habit have no particular stand-out merit compared with other English roses.

‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ however. Well, she just has everything.

Her round blooms are like a perfect peach, warm apricot, just touched with pink. The petals are perfectly scalloped. The cup is gently incurved.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

Over the next few days, the inner petals relax and open. It is as if the rose is enjoying the sun. It utters a satisfied sigh.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ with ‘Young Lycidas’ behind.

The peachy pink flush becomes more prominent as the flower matures. It takes on a pillowy softness.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’. New bloom on the right, and mature bloom on the left.

The blooms are delightful to hold in the hand, being a perfect size to gently cup and bounce there.

The joy of the incurved bloom is that it perfectly fits a nose. As if nose and rose were made for one another.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

I have written before that there is an art to rose-breathing, but I think it is worth repeating!

Exhale fully. Bury your nose in the bloom. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Keep going. You will notice different scents at different stages of the inhale.

‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ has a background of old rose scent, but oh! There is citrussy lemon and tropical mango and passion fruit. It is so fresh and fruity that it reminds me of sorbet, or a Solero icecream. But is also has warmth and depth. Like peach liqueur. It is sun on your face and birds singing. In scent form.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

Lady Emma Hamilton’s foliage is the finest of all roses. It is deep red-maroon, with bronze highlights when the sun shines through.

Here it is before flowering, with a background of another English rose ‘Princess Anne’ and the rugosa hybrid ‘Hansa’.

The flower buds have a dab of cherry red paint on each petal. This adds a liveliness, setting off the maroon foliage.

The bright cherry buds add a vibrancy to the whole shrub. It zings if you plant it with a bright pink neighbour.

Bud of English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’, with ‘Princess Anne’ behind.

In my previous post about Lady Em, I focused on the partnership between her and the Geranium ‘Anne Thomson’. But I am equally enjoying her early in the season with my favourite gladioli, Gladiolus communis subsp. byzanitinus.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ with Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus.

If you are tempted to buy this gladiolus, be sure that you are buying the subspecies ‘Byzantinus’. I have been caught out before by buying the smaller and paler Gladiolus communis. I tracked down the realy thing at The Great Dixter Nursery, which I highly recommend. They take phone and online orders.

You can go for a more gentle look, if you plant Lady Em with bright greens. Alchemilla mollis works beautifully. The geranium foliage also shows how this works:

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

We are growing tomatoes in pots on our new seating area. ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ even looks good with the little yellow flowers of tomatoes. There is a fresh citrus liveliness.

Tomato flowers with English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ behind.

‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ is very healthy. I have only ever seen the odd lower leaf with a few black spots.

I don’t spray my roses. If I see greenfly, this is fine. Our garden birds love aphids, and they are very gentle when they pick off each fly individually. They find them quite delicious. It also delights me watching the smaller garden birds: sparrows, tits and the odd wren, darting around under the skirts of ‘Lady Em’. We get more garden birds because we do not spray, and there is a healthy ecosystem for everyone.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ on the right, growing with geranium ‘Anne Thomson’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and English rose ‘Princess Anne’

‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ has a beautiful growth habit. There are leaves and flowers right down to the ground. There is a fullness, so that leaves are evenly spaced, each taking up their own space, but still cradling the blooms perfectly.

I mulch my roses lavishly with fresh compost or well-rotted manure each winter. I might then give it a boost after its first flush of flowers with some liquid seaweed, or with some fish, blood and bone. If there is no rainfall for weeks, as often happens in Kent, I will give it a long, slow watering every three weeks.

English rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

I plant my roses in threes, as recommended by David Austin. This gives a wonderfully full effect, and masses of flowers. There are plenty for the garden, and plenty to pick for a vase.

I have planted ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ close to the seating area, where I can enjoy here scent the most. I love sitting here, drinking my morning coffee, sometimes eating breakfast, often eating lunch here. The sight of Lady Emma, and her scent, and the sound of birdsong, gives me untold pleasure.

My favourite place to sit and eat lunch, where ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’s scent wafts over to me.

This is why I am very surprised to see ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ on the list to be discontinued. If I could only grow one rose, ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ would be it.

You get beautiful blooms, from bud to maturity. You get scent. You get stunning foliage. You get a full, rounded growth habit. You get a rose which is easy to partner with other plants. You get health. You get joy, over and over and over again.

The David Austin online shop is still stocking ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ for now. If you are tempted, I would get your order in soon!

You can also take cuttings from roses. Select a healthy new stem, about 20cm long. This will be this year’s growth, so it will still have a green tenderness. Remove all leaves except for one at the top of the cutting. Put it in a very gritty compost, at the edge of a pot. You can put several cuttings in the same pot. Keep them in the shade, and keep the pot moist, but not waterlogged. Look for new leaf growth, and pot the cuttings on, so they each have a small pot. In about a year, when there is strong new growth, you will have a new rose plant for the garden.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. You will find lots more rose portraits, as well as other plant portraits, on this site. You can use the ‘search’ box to find specific plants or varieties. The ‘search’ will lead you to any blog posts which feature that plant.

If you would like a video tour of the garden, you can find me on instagram, as Ali, The Mindful Gardener.

I am trying to keep up with the roses as they reach their peak! I will be featuring a few more varieties through the summer.

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31 Comments Add yours

  1. kimberlycarlile says:

    I’m glad Lady Em is so lovely where you are! Here in New England, she is problematic and scrubby. Her flowers are a harsh, day-glo orange—like the color of a traffic cone. She clashes with other colors in my garden. But the fragrance—ah, yes, her fragrance—is the reason I can’t give her away!

    1. Oh no! That is so interesting that ‘Lady Em’ behaves so differently in a different climate. Although of course she would, wouldn’t she? Don’t we all? The colour of a traffic cone does sound a bit horrific. I can only apologise for her behaviour when overseas! At least she retains her scent! 🙂

  2. Rupali says:

    You are an artist Alison. Wonderful garden and I love the roses in vase.

    1. You are very kind, Rupali.

  3. susurrus says:

    It’s long been one of my favourite roses too. I wonder if have been consolidating their wholesale range rather than the retail one? That would be my guess, though of course I may easily be wrong.

    1. Ah, you may be right! I have direct messaged them through instagram, but no reply yet, perhaps unsurprisingly!

  4. Anna says:

    Oh that is sad and judging by the glowing compliments she receives the decision seems hard to understand. I’m looking forward to my first flowers on ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ which I bought as a bare root plant in the autumn. I have been thinking that maybe I should have gone for another so perhaps I need to make a move sooner than later. I will also have to track down a Solero icecream so I will know what scent to expect.

    1. I’m so glad you will get to see and smell how lovely she is. A solero should also be worth tracking down! Eat in the sun so that it starts to melt for maximum pleasure!

  5. Peg says:

    Your roses are glorious!! And the way you describe each aspect of the rose is just captivating. Wonderful post.

    1. Thank you Peg; you are very kind.

  6. Heyjude says:

    I love the passion with which you describe your roses, in fact all your plants. If only I had the space to plant in threes! But I have attempted a cutting from a rose (actually I broke it off when trying to tie it on as a climber) and it seems to have ‘taken’. I shall keep my eye on it. Beautiful photos as usual 🙂

    1. Oh well done Jude! I am very negligent of my cuttings and really have to concentrate to keep an eye on them! I am so proud when it works!

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    A fine ode to ‘Lady Em’, Ali! You should send a copy of this post to David Austin Co. just for the record!

    1. Yes, maybe I will! Nothing to lose!

      1. Eliza Waters says:

        Exactly! They might even reconsider pulling it from their catalog.

  8. Ann Mackay says:

    It’s sad to think that they’re cutting their range of roses – and Lady Emma seems to be a lovely rose in the right garden. (My soil needs a great deal of improvement here – it’s not a kind environment for roses – yet!)

    1. You are very wise to wait until the conditions are right.

      1. Cathy says:

        What a great tribute, Ali. I am glad you have contacted them directly, as I have done the same

  9. Beautiful! I can see why you fell in love with Lady Em.

  10. Cathy says:

    Ali, I am not a rose person, but having read this post (and past ones too) I would certainly choose this one! What a wonderful rose it must be to be described with such love and care! I think someone at David Austens should read this and maybe rethink that decision…. 😉😃

  11. I love it that you make smelling roses an art like people make tasting wine an art! And that Lady Emma Hamilton rose is breathtaking. I am shocked they would discontinue her!

    1. I do find smelling roses a lot of fun and am trying to train my nose to be better at picking up scents. It is surprisingly difficult to identify a scent if you can’t see the thing you are smelling. Stevie has a special set of scents that you can use to practice your wine nose. He has a nice set and a nasty set! The nasty set is for his wine-making so he can identify what went wrong!

      1. I love this idea of training your nose! Honestly, I never would have thought of this before, and it makes me want to try. That is really cool that Stevie as that set of scents. This really opens a whole new world to me.

  12. Your roses are in peak of health. Beautiful

  13. Spark says:

    Oh, no! I was just googling for Lady Emma and this popped up. She is my #1 favorite, and NEXT YEAR I’m moving back to a place with a garden: I was so looking forward to growing her again. She is brilliant in Arizona, with stunning purple-bronze new growth. And of course those incredible blooms…! Heartbreaking. 😞

    1. You might be able to still find her in stock for a few months? It might be worth buying now and keeping in a pot for a while.

  14. BP says:

    I am having such a hard time with Lady Emma! Her first year, she was gorgeous, healthy, got several blooms. The next two years she was constantly ravaged by disease and bad temperament. Black spot despite treatment that worked on other Austins, dying canes, quickly shriveling flowers. I tried transplanting her this year and she’s just sickly. 😦 So sad. I find Austins really hard to grow but she’s been particularly vexing after year 1. It was a great year 1 though! Have been trying to figure out if I can save her. Will see how she’s doing in the spring and then decide.

    1. I think you have to grow what thrives, don’t you? Roses love our clay soil, and get enough rain, and the sun is rarely too intense. A happy plant is less subject to disease, just like humans! I hope she either recovers, or you find a happier replacement. X

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