Gardening: Beautiful blooms and heady scent of a rose

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A symbol of love, war and peace and according to fossil evidence possibly 35 million years old – of course this is none other than the quintessential bloom of an English garden, the Rose.

The English Roses we cultivate at Harlow Carr are ‘New’ roses. They originate from the ‘Old’ and Modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas roses popular when I was a child. We have embraced the revolution of mixed herbaceous planting with roses, banishing the more traditional singular rose beds. The advantage of this kind of planting is disguising of the stems which can be straggly, support during flowering, and the cornucopia of wildlife that fends off the pest problem. Chemicals in the past have played a large part in keeping roses healthy, but it is better and more cost effective to encourage natural pest and disease control. Ladybirds and lacewing larvae (buy on–line in test tubes) are the voracious predators of the pest problem along with the blue tits that forage in the garden all year round.

The choice of roses to buy is extensive, for me scent and colour are most importance considerations – without scent a rose is not a rose!

Fragrance falls into three main categories in the rose world, Tea rose, fruity, musk and myrrh, along with many other glorious variations.

I prefer the fruity scents. Rosa ‘Sweet Juliet’ a strong grower with glowing apricot blooms, smelling of sherbet and lemon – teamed with lavender blooms of Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and the umbels of the shell-pink Pimpinella major ‘Roseum’, is a gorgeous disease free combination. The two best pinks, with great foliage and tea- rose scent are ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘Brother Cadfael’. I have grown these two roses in the Scented Garden for many years, both robust and quite disease free. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ named after the famous garden designer of the Arts and Crafts movement, has delicate deep pink scrolled buds, opening out to a rosette blooms with the pungent tea rose scent. She does grow quite tall and can be used as a short climber, but I keep her quite compact and short by pruning. ‘Brother Cadfael’ has much bigger blooms, peony-like, another rose that can also be used as a climber.

Plant bare root in January with the bud union (the grafting nodule) 7.5cm below the ground (not above ground like traditionally they were), and firm well in. The most common reason for thrifty roses is ‘wind rock’ and this comes from the roots not having enough anchorage – it’s all in the planting! Mulch with well-rotted manure in spring and keep well watered until established. We prune in late spring just as the buds appear taking out the dead, diseased and woody old stems to encourage a ‘vase’ like shape to hold the blooms aloft in the summer.

Cut the blooms for the house, dead head and just enjoy!

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