I love roses. They’re colourful, sophisticated, often gorgeously perfumed and happy as Larry in clay soil. Being a London gardener with little time to garden, this is crucial.
A winter project
My little pre-Christmas project this year is to plant the climber ‘Bathsheba’ in a pot against the east-facing wall to one side of the French doors that lead from the kitchen to the back garden. I recently wrote about her for Ashridge, here, and fell in love while I was researching. Now is the time for planting bare-root roses, and it’s nice to have something to get stuck into outdoors on a chilly but sunny day. Then I can spend those dark winter evenings dreaming about what’s to come in summer.
Matching inside and out
My kitchen is painted a sunny yellow, and I’m imagining those apricotty blooms overhanging the French doors, bobbing about while I write or cook, creating a cheery colour link between indoors and out. And when I open the doors and go out, I’ll breathe in deeply, the honeyed tea scent of Bathsheba lifting my spirits the way only roses can.
A little care and attention
I know I’ll need a roomy pot and I’ll have to mulch with manure or good, rich garden compost at least once a year, and prune annually, so it won’t be zero maintenance. But with her so near the house and right on the patio where we eat whenever it’s warm enough, I’m confident I won’t neglect her.
Our London plot
When we moved into our Victorian south London terrace with its long, narrow garden I had visions of borders billowing with colourful perennials. Over the years, with the reality of work and family commitments, I’ve realised that my garden needs to be lower maintenance.
I want a garden that’s good to look at all year round, but this doesn’t mean relying on herbaceous perennials that have to be divided and replanted, and cut back every year. It means sticking to plants that grow well in my soil. Trying – and failing – with plants that prefer a light, free-draining soil is time consuming and disheartening. With good structure, a few small trees, clever use of evergreens, grasses and roses, I have enough colour and interest to keep me happy throughout the seasons.
All about rose supports
So back to Bathsheba. As a climber, she’ll need some kind of support, of course. But I’m not keen on trellis. Eventually it rots and I find it can be too dominant visually. So I was thinking about vine eyes strung with wires. I found a fascinating article by garden designer Bunny Guinness that explains how the professionals do it at Sissinghurst. They train roses to walls using just vine eyes, tying in the shoots horizontally as they grow with twine or Flexi Tie and looping back the tips in semi-circles. I can’t imagine I’ll bother with all the looping, but I love the idea of vine eyes without the faff of straight lines of wiring.
Growing Madam Alfred Carriere
I’m a little worried about planting against an east-facing wall, but if things don’t work out, I can always move ‘Bathsheba’ to somewhere sunnier. I grew Madame Alfred Carriere up a north-facing fence not long after we moved here, but eventually I gave up and dug her out. Although she’s supposed to be a great rose for shade, I wasn’t rigorous enough with the pruning and she got leggy and blackspotty. You have to be brutal sometimes. There’s a lovely pyracantha there now, which I prune hard against the fence. I’ve underplanted it with bergenias for a ridiculously easy, colourful and evergreen combination. It works really well.
Rose pruning and greenfly tales
I usually prune my roses in March (when I remember, that is). I have an English shrub rose in my front garden that I adore. It’s pale pink and deliciously fragrant. It’s a David Austin, possibly ‘Eglantyne’ (labelling and note-taking aren’t my forte). But every spring it’s swamped with greenfly. I rub them off with my fingers when I remember, but I must admit I’ve resorted to spraying more than once. Which rarely seems to be that successful. It doesn’t seem to mind that much, though, and flowers enthusiastically from June to November, sometimes into December.
A random dark pink shrub rose at the back of the garden never suffers from greenfly, however. And because it’s tucked away, I often forget to prune it. So I’m wondering if a change of pruning time might help my possible ‘Eglantyne’ and its army of sap suckers. I’ll cut it back this year and see what transpires next spring…
Here’s to a summer filled with the scent of roses.
Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer