Time to smell the roses!


Gardens open to the public with roses (see websites for opening times):

Home Farm, Stamford PE9 4HA
Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th June (2pm-5pm), Charity Open Garden for NGS. More than 100 roses, including many old English fragrant varieties, lavender avenues and herbaceous borders with delphiniums, in this nine-acre garden. Also a wildflower meadow. Admission £5, children free. Home-made teas.

Grimsthorpe Castle
Visit grimsthorpe.co.uk

Belvoir Castle
Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th June. A team of rose experts will be on hand to offer advice and answer questions about the David Austin roses. Visit belvoircastle.com for opening times.

Easton Walled Gardens
Including rose meadows, open Wed to Sun each week. See visiteaston.co.uk

Gunby Hall
More than 50 roses on display thoughout the kitchen garden, East Lawn and front garden. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk

Little Ponton Hall
Saturday 29th June 12.30pm, ‘Princess Picnic Singalong’ – a magical afternoon with singing and dancing on the lawn. Visit littlepontonhallgardens.org.uk

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
June 2024

Steffie Shields considers every rose a memory.

I have been counting roses in my garden, not thorns. On my husband’s retirement in 1999, we settled into the ‘Old Orchard’ determined to tackle its neglected, unkempt country garden originally created by previous owners, the Misses Elliot. Spinster sisters and teachers, Joyce and Marjorie were evidently knowledgeable gardeners. Besides their 1960s and ’70s legacy of feature trees and ornamental shrubs, their clever choice and suitable placement of roses has taught me more about garden design through the seasons than I could ever have dreamed.

Photographing every shrub from rosebud to bloom, it was quite a challenge to identify each specimen – rambler, climber, or floribunda. Surprisingly, 14 mixed species and hybrid cultivars, 18 in total, proffered copious, fragrant, cut flowers and hips from May to the end of November. A ‘new to me’ early flowering rambler with dainty double, pale yellow trusses, Rosa banksiae ‘Lutescens’, soon succumbed, possibly through lack of direct sunlight in our overgrown garden. Amazingly, 13 survive, now veteran shrubs, including at the gate, a clear pink, robust, tall and upright grandiflora, ‘The Queen Elizabeth’ (introduced in 1954 from USA).

Memory lane
The sisters’ choices offer a walk down memory lane for those who remember the early days of BBC’s colour TV. Gardeners’ World began in 1968. Remember Percy Thrower (1969-1976) and his ‘down to earth’ advice? “Roses do not like to be dried out, yet they appreciate enough sun to ensure thorough ripening of the wood. The more open the beds are to light and shade the better.”

Perhaps TV’s greatest gardening guru, Geoff Hamilton (1979-1996), a champion of climbing roses and pergolas, had also been an inspiration for the Misses Elliot.

Learning each shrub’s habits and positive strengths for attracting pollinators, areas around the roots were given an occasional spread of manure over winter, but mostly a regular dose of liquid feed in the flowering season. I found that regular deadheading on summer evenings, a rewarding chore, encouraged new growth. Come November, I surveyed each rose bush. I learned to prune out damaged, diseased and dead growth, removing at least one overly old, thickened, thorny stem per plant, and any old spindly branches to achieve a balanced fan or vase shape.

Another bonus: by dividing a mature arching, semi-double creamy, white rose with golden stamens, I was able to create a trio of large shrubs to spread the joy. They now successfully enhance our view from the kitchen/family room and complement three silver birches we introduced on the east boundary beside a mock orange (Philadelphus). They are glorious in May and June, later repeating intermittently. So what at first I believed to be a middle ages ‘Rose of York’, is in fact Rosa ‘Nevada’ (1927), an award-winning modern moyesii type.

An antique Rosa gallica nearby, similarly acquired by splitting, flowers only once this month. With old world charm and reliable, like the pink-flowering, grey-leaved Rosa glauca, its decorative crimson hips offer autumnal splashes of crimson.

Flourishing flowers
Last year, a much-loved veteran, ‘Joseph’s Coat’ (1963), gave up the ghost. I miss those informal, loosely double flowers, shades of deep orange and yellow with the occasional flare of crimson, welcoming us home. After much deliberation, and not in the exact same spot in case of disease, two recommended David Austin roses were planted on the west-facing side of the house: a cerise Rosa ‘Gabriel’s Oak’ with a soft yellow ‘Wollerton Hall’. They had a good start with that overly wet winter’s drenching. The same fingers that wipe away greenfly pests from rosebuds, instead of spraying pesticide, are firmly crossed that they flourish.

Every July, a stunning hedge successfully screening the septic tank, clusters of the Elliots’ white-eyed, cerise rambler Rosa ‘Dorothy Perkins’ (1902) reminds me of flowery 1950s and 1960s dress shops! A bit prone to mildew, she responds well to pruning. I managed to dig up some roots. When re-planting, I took trouble to firm them in with a mulch of homemade compost, whilst ensuring that the union between root and branches remained above ground. A flourishing teenager now lends colour to another corner of the garden!

Unique roses
Once, visiting the breathtakingly beautiful Garden of Ninfa, south of Rome, I discovered that the late celebrated Norfolk-born rose grower, Peter Beales MBE (22nd July 1936 – 26th January 2013) was involved. He personally chose to fly out to Italy every season without fail to prune those unforgettable roses ornamenting Ninfa’s ancient ruins all by himself.

I suspect most of the Misses Elliot’s roses came from Beales’s nursery, especially the older historic species. In 1968, only four years after our house was first built, he established his rose business at Swardeston, later moving it to Attleborough. According to their website, www.classicroses.co.uk displaying ideas to refresh your garden, ‘Dorothy Perkins’ is one of the most famous of all! To date, his Norfolk nursery has bred a staggering 111 gorgeous, unique roses, more than enough to covet, and has won 28 Chelsea gold medals. In 2003 the Royal Horticultural Society awarded Beales the Victoria Medal of Honour, their top award, for his work promoting gardening and roses. Exciting, then, to hear that this year Bells Horticultural, a sixth-generation family farm with years of experience in commercial horticulture based in Boston, acquired the internationally acclaimed Peter Beales Garden Centre in Attleborough.

Robert Bell, managing director at Bells Horticultural, said: “Our family has a long history of nurturing horticultural treasures and we are committed to preserving and enhancing the magic that makes Peter Beales Roses so special. We have great aspirations for future growth, including exciting plans to expand the breeding programme, and raise the public profile of the brand. It’s a true honour to be entrusted with the stewardship of this brand that means so much to so many.” Bells and Beales rings together so well, promising bumper, “bloomin’ lovely” harvests of roses in the future!

Drawn to invest in eye-catching, popular roses, together with gifts from family and friends on special occasions and anniversaries, I admit to quite a few failures along the way including ‘Just Joey’. This was my mother’s favourite hybrid tea rose, copper orange with pronounced veins of red. I now appreciate my veteran roses more. Some modern hybrids need the right space and seem not as robust in our stony, windy patch, not helped lately by overly dry seasons.

As the years race by, each enduring special rose conjures a fragrant memory. This October, Mike and I hope to attend our 60th Reunion, on the anniversary of the 1964 foundation of Christ’s College of Education, Liverpool. We met as founder students. Subsequently it became one of three founding colleges of the relatively new Liverpool Hope University, the first ecumenical university in Europe, also known for its remarkable creative garden campus.

In researching for this article, I came across Beales’s Rosa ‘Liverpool Hope’, a pretty shrub rose, in shades of pale peach, now top of the Old Orchard’s shopping list!

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