Coming up... roses!

Twice in a Blue Moon

The highly scented and delicately coloured
hybrid tea rose 'Twice in a Blue Moon'

Roses are by far the favourite among flowering garden plants.

They have been cultivated for an astonishing 5,000 years, the earliest having been collected for decoration or scent from the wild.

But by the mid 19th century over a thousand different varieties were available. Today this figure is somewhere around 13,000!

They are our most adored garden plant and our image of the country garden would not be complete without them.

Looking back over their lengthy and complex history it is fascinating to see how their forms have been bred to evolve with the fashions of the day.

Roses can be divided into three categories – wild roses, old roses and modern roses.

Wild roses

Sweet Briar rose hips

A common sight in British hedgerows
is the Sweet Briar, Rosa rubiginosa

Wild roses are the original natural species and are most commonly grown these days for their contribution as a valuable food source for our wildlife.

In the British countryside wild rose varieties such as Rosa rubiginosa, Rosa canina and Rosa arvensis can often be found twisting and writhing its way through mixed native hedgerows.

They have a rambling habit with single flowers which open fully revealing their golden stamens.

Old roses

Old rose Mme Alfred Carriere

The blousy, sweet-scented Old Rose,
'Mme Alfred Carriere'

Old garden roses include many groups of ancient heirloom and historic roses. They are characterised by their fantastic scent and often have large blousy rosette flowers.

One of the oldest is the Gallica group. Rosa gallica officinalis was grown in the herb gardens of Monasteries in the Middle Ages for its medicinal properties. It is believed that this "Apothecaries Rose" was the symbol the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses.

Damask roses are another ancient group brought to Europe from the Middle East by the crusaders in the late 1200s. They are credited with being the first repeat flowering rose.

The China roses were brought to Europe from East Asia in the late 18th century and are thought to be the basis on which all modern roses are built.

These roses were much less hardy than their European cousins with less fragranced smaller blooms on twiggier, sparsely-leaved growth. They were however of huge interest to breeders as they flowered repeatedly throughout the summer and into the autumn.

National Trust rose

Bright as a button(hole) – the hybrid tea 'National Trust'

Another historically important group of roses in terms of breeding were the Tea roses, so named due to the fragrance being likened to that of black tea.

These roses have neat well formed flowers with high centred buds, the petals opening in a spiral formation before folding back along the edges creating a pointed tip. They are the origins of the classic florist's rose.

The Hybrid Perpetual group was the most fashionable group of roses in Victorian England, both in the garden and in floristry. They were the first rose to combine the repeat flowering habit of the Asian roses with the old European varieties and gave way to some of the most popular varieties of modern roses.

Modern roses

The first modern roses were bred in the late 19th century by hybridising the Hybrid Perpetuals with the Tea roses. The result was the Hybrid Teas, which have been the most popular rose of the 20th century.

They began with the breeding of Rosa 'La France' in 1867, their main attributes being that they were both fully hardy and reliably repeat-flowering, with a wide colour range. The blooms share the large high centred buds of the tea roses, usually borne singly on its stem.

In 1907 the Floribundas (the Latin meaning "many flowering") were bred to adopt the same attractive blooms and array of colours available from the Hybrid Teas, but with a large profusion of flowers at the end of every stem.

David Austin roses

Gertrude Jekyll rose

The stunning David Austin rose, 'Gertrude Jekyll',
named in honour of the one of the greatest contributors to British garden design.

Although not strictly a group in their own right, the story of the modern rose would not be complete without mention of the flowers grown and developed by David CH Austin OBE, often referred to as the English roses.

Since the 1960s David Austin has bred roses which combine the fragrances and blousy romantic forms of the old roses with the repeat flowering and diverse colour range of the modern rose.

The results are quite simply stunning.

Indeed, this style of rose has overtaken the popularity of the traditional Hybrid Teas in recent years and can be found in both amateur gardens and Chelsea show Gold-winners alike.

Rose of the Year

Since 1982 breeders have been invited to put forward contenders for the coveted title of Rose of the Year.

Plants are put through rigorous trials in different parts of the country over a number of years in order to be tested in a range of climatic conditions and soil types. Other considerations include plant and flower form, colour, disease resistance and general health.

Looking back at the winners over the years it is interesting to note the changes in fashion. The trend in the early years tended to favour the tightly formed flowers in bold striking colours of roses such as 'Beautiful Britain' (1983) and 'Polar Star' (1985).

Lady Marmalade rose

Rose of the Year 2014 – 'Lady Marmalade'

However the turn of the millennium sees a return of the old style roses. Charming cupped rosette flowers in subdued and tasteful shades, from peachy 'Great Expectations' (2001) to the warm golden 'Absolutely Fabulous' (2010) and lovely blush 'Joie de Vivre' (2011).

Curiously though the last two years have seen the bright red semi-double 'Moment in Time' (2012) and the striking pink tight double form of 'You're Beautiful' (2013) as winners – just to keep you guessing!

This year, 'Lady Marmalade' won top honours. It's a floribunda rose with impressively full, shapely blooms. Golden-orange marmalade tones and glossy green foliage completes the picture – it's a real head turner.

Choosing and growing a rose

Cultivation of roses is a lot easier than their tricky reputation allows. Most important is that you choose a rose with a suitable habit for its location – after that, decent air circulation (but not stiff winds) and sunshine are the main ingredients.

Climbers can be trained against a sunny wall, ramblers can be encouraged to romp through trees and shrub roses can look wonderful in a border. Although they are happy in a wide range of soils you should ensure that the ground is really well prepared with plenty of well rotten manure or compost and apply a dressing of mycorrhizal fungi to the planting hole.

The hole should be deep enough so that the base of the stems are just below ground level. They should be kept well watered especially in dry weather – they hate to dry out – and a mulch applied in spring can really help with moisture retention. Apply a dressing of rose food to the base of the plant at the beginning of the season in April and again in June.

Pruning takes place in late winter and involves removing any dead or diseased wood. Bush roses are cut down by between a half and three quarters. Climbers have the previous years growth pruned to around four buds. Ramblers can be left alone, with pruning only taking place if the plants become too large for their environment.

And as ever, above all, happy planting!

Roses from Ashridge Nurseries

We have hundreds of roses available during the bare root season from November to April (and selected lines are available pot-grown all year round), including:

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