Michael Marriott suggests top roses for different garden needs and situations
There was a time, not so long ago, when many garden designers thought roses mainly belonged in the formal rose garden. Times have changed, and people are again recognising what wonderful plants roses are for most parts of the garden.
Roses are an extremely variable and versatile group and there is a rose to fit just about every situation in the garden, from the wild to the very formal, from the traditional to the modern, and from the miniature to the gigantic. Their value as fragrant plants is also legendary.
The health of roses used to be an issue, but breeders have made great advances and there are many varieties that are both beautiful and disease-free. Health is also enhanced by planting in mixed borders, although it is important that other plants are not allowed to creep around the bases of the roses.
When choosing roses, it is worth spending some time selecting the best varieties for that particular spot in the design and for that climate. A very select list of some of the most gardenworthy roses begins with Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’. This was introduced some years ago, but with the combination of beautiful flower and truly superb old rose fragrance, it is still a firm favourite. Like a number of David Austin’s English Roses, it can be grown as either a 1.5m shrub or a 3m climber, depending on how it is pruned and trained.
‘Lady of Shalott’ is one of the best of the English Roses; excellent for both the mixed border and as a climber. It is seldom out of flower from June through to October or November. The flowers are a rich apricot with a warm, tea-like fragrance, and the plant reaches about 1.5m when pruned as a shrub or 3m as a climber.
It is tricky finding good white roses, but ‘Desdemona’ is excellent. The flowers start a very soft peachy pink but quickly turn white, and unlike many plants with white flowers, don’t turn into a nasty brown mess after rain. It starts flowering early and carries on very reliably until late in the year. It has a lovely, strong old-rose fragrance, and is a compact shrub that is easy to keep at about 1m in height.
The best of the repeat-flowering climbing English Roses is ‘The Generous Gardener’, which reaches a height of 3-4m. It produces many stems from the base for fanning out, and so promises extra flower production. The soft-pink flowers are produced freely and have a strong and delicious fragrance. If not ‘deadheaded’, they turn into large orange hips that last well through winter.
‘Queen of Denmark’ is one of the Alba roses and so once flowering – many designers immediately reject once-flowering roses, but this is a great shame. ‘Queen of Denmark’ is a tough rose. It has the very double flowers of the old roses, and the classic fragrance that you associate with them but in fact don’t find too often.
‘Hansa’ is one of the Rugosa roses, and so very tough, disease free, thorny and not favoured by deer. The flowers are double in a deep magenta pink with a strong fragrance. It repeat flowers as well as producing a fine crop of large orange hips, and makes a large shrub. Like all fragrant roses, be sure to plant it where the flowers are easily accessible for sniffing.
It is difficult to choose just one species rose, as there are so many beautiful ones. R. rubiginosa, otherwise known as the sweet briar, is a British native. It is quite vigorous and thorny, so has to be placed carefully. Apart from the pretty, single, soft-pink flowers and the large crop of red hips, the young leaves smell strongly of green apples. Vita Sackville-West had a hedge of it by South Cottage at Sissinghurst, which Troy Scott-Smith has recently reinstated, and at Highgrove there is a line of it on the outside of the pear tunnel in the walled garden, which is regularly trimmed for maximum fragrance.
‘Desdemona’. Photo: Michael Marriott/David Austin Roses
‘Adélaïde d’Orléans’ is one of my favourite ramblers, growing to about 5m. It doesn’t produce hips, has a light to medium fragrance and, like most ramblers, it doesn’t repeat flower either, but is so beautiful with masses of pure white flowers. The lax growth follows the contours of its support and it is practically evergreen.
‘Francis E. Lester’, on the other hand, does produce a fine crop of long-lasting hips and has a strong musky fragrance, which, combined with the great clusters of soft-pink flowers, makes it one of the very best ramblers.
When dealing with these roses, it is important to consider carefully the final size of the rose you are planting. It is tempting to plant a fast-growing climber or rambler to cover an area quickly, but that will lead to nothing but trouble. Persuade the client that patience is a great virtue. Most repeat-flowering shrub roses look superb in the first year and climbers look impressive in the third year. Species roses are very beautiful when left alone to achieve their maximum size, but horrible when they have to be pruned.