The queen of flowers
Steffie Shields highlights shrubs and climbing roses in Lincolnshire gardens.
A recent newspaper headline claimed that roses are now out of fashion! The current exhibition (until 19th June) ‘Wild & Cultivated: Fashioning the Rose’ at London’s Garden Museum might suggest otherwise. Whatever the case, I am brave enough to buck this nonsensical trend.
‘The queen of flowers’ has influenced fashion for centuries … and interior design, the perfume industry, not to mention artists, writers and poets. It could be that more exotic, sculptural shrubs and trees, mostly requiring minimal care, suit stark urban settings and contemporary architecture. However, old roses are utterly beautiful. Although many, such as the striking marbled Rosa gallica, have origins in France, they add structure and a touch of picturesque luxury to any English country garden.
Agreed, roses do need care. Thorns are an issue when training stems and tying in over arch, fence, house wall or pergola. I have, for many years now, avoided spraying mine with fungicide. If you notice an attack of black spot or powdery mildew, prune out offending leaves, clear dead leaves away from the base and remind yourself to keep the rose well-watered. Fresh growth will soon appear. Should colonies of rose aphids congregate on new buds and unfurling leaves, I blast them with the hose or swiftly wipe off those that I can reach with my fingers, leaving the rest to passing birds and ladybirds.
A seasonal routine, pruning back in late winter or early spring and then feeding every few weeks, is enjoyable; part of the rhythm of the gardening year. Roses add colour and meaning to our lives, so dead-head when the thought occurs. Every breath of heavenly scent will revive cherished memories and links to your ancestors. Roses may be ephemeral but if you love them, roses will reward you with love tenfold.
When Henry VII defeated Richard III in battle and married Elizabeth of York, he combined the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose. Who would have thought that military might would lead to such a delicate and romantic national symbol of England? Roses are in this country’s DNA…
Who could contemplate a garden without at least one rose? One climbing rose takes up little room, while giving vertical uplift and height to the smallest garden patch.
Come June, driving down into Grantham, I enjoy passing one south-facing terrace house where, for decades, judging by its woody stem, a climbing rose has been giving pleasure to passersby. Its glorious cascade of rich apricot-orange roses, warmed by sunshine, shouts: “Hello summertime!”
Moving to Welby, we inherited various rose bushes, and a couple of tea roses and climbers. Most looked decrepit, worn out. An expert gardening friend advised removing all and starting afresh. As we were intent on building an extension, funds for restoring the garden were low priority. One white shrub rose was in the way for an extra garage. Much to my horror, the builder’s digger dumped it unceremoniously to one side. As I attempted a rescue, it split into three – the best present ever!
Fast-forward 20 years: three well-established bushes, strategically repeated throughout the orchard garden, lend form and movement in natural swags and garlands bearing plentiful clusters of roses. The large, flat, almost single, milky-white flowers with golden stamens are an ages-old variety, Rosa Alba Semiplena, better known as the White Rose of York – an appropriate touch of meaning for my Yorkshire-born husband. These, together with diverse, colourful, single, semi-double and fully-double blooms, are the ancestors of today’s hybrid roses.
Little Ponton Hall’s tranquil gardens open this month to show off a special collection of old roses. Some extend interest with cherry-red or orange hips. If you or someone in your family have been overworked or stressed, take time to ‘smell the roses’. Determine to go for a walk in any of the county’s historic gardens: Belton House, Walled Garden Baumber, Gunby Hall, Easton Walled Gardens, Grimsthorpe Castle, Normanby Hall, to name a few.
Doddington Hall’s many roses include the sky high, pure white climbing rose ‘Iceberg’. I noticed a favourite, the almost thornless tea rose, Rosa mutabilis, with purple foliage. Its delicate, single flowers open buff-yellow, before ageing surprisingly to pink and crimson, and blend well with the warm colour of the Elizabethan brick mansion.
Twelve months ago, I took a visiting old schoolfriend to Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa to see the restoration of the ‘Long Walk’ designed by Edwardian landscape architect Harold Peto (1854-1933), where he purposely inset millstones in amongst paving stones as ‘pausing points’ to take in views of the extensive gardens. A backdrop of smart, hardwood columns with ball finials gives height, linked with discreet chains to support ramblers, repeated in progress along the length of the glorious herbaceous borders. Chelsea Gold Winner, designer Julie Toll displays a masterclass in harmonious planting, marrying both climbers and shrub roses in amongst well-chosen perennials.
Although ‘Super Elfin’ (1996), a geranium-red rambler, had not yet come into flower, when you visit you might find it useful to take this article to identify and compare each of the other select roses.
Nowadays, if the sheer variety of hybrid roses is bewildering, it’s always best to see colour and form and experience their individual scent in person: R. ‘New Dawn’ (1930); R. ‘Port Sunlight’ (2007 David Austin); R. ‘Malvern Hills’ (2000 David Austin); R. ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’(1826); R. ‘Darcey Bussell’ (2006 David Austin); R. ‘Étoile de Hollande’ (1879; also seen on Wyndham Park Sensory Garden pergola in Grantham); R. ‘Paul Noel’ (1873).
Last summer, I came across an old stone Victorian village pump in the heart of Stoke Rochford, framed by an attractive half-moon border of shrub roses. If your village or street has any similar communal green space, perhaps beside an old feature, church wall or bench, why not donate a rose in this celebratory year for everyone to enjoy?
The previous owners of our house planted a large, fragrant medium-pink tea rose born on upright stems near the gate; the popular ‘Queen Elizabeth’ introduced in 1954. I have just treated this side of the garden to a new majestic rose dedicated to Her Majesty; a shapely and commanding shrub, according to the David Austin catalogue. Coming on a treat, on view from my study window, I look forward to ‘Elizabeth’ hopefully opening in time for the Jubilee weekend: clusters of large, crisp apple-blossom pink rosettes with a hint of apricot, before fading to blush white. She promises to be exceptionally vigorous, with a strong, sweet fragrance; hints of lemon sherbet and Old Rose. Since an old favourite – multi-coloured climber, ‘Joseph’s Coat’, on the west wall – has sadly called it a day, I plan a replacement but, in case of disease, certainly not in that same spot. Thankfully, encouraged that hybrid roses are now healthier, I am off to visit some open gardens in search of fashionable inspiration!