Last year’s pre-Christmas plans to install a gorgeous climbing Bathsheba rose in a large pot against the back wall of our house didn’t go according to schedule. But no matter - bare-rooted roses are happy to be planted any time from late autumn to early spring, as long as the soil isn’t frozen or sodden. I think I eventually ordered in February and planted her in early March. There were important pot-based decisions to be made, and you can’t rush these things. In fact, after touring all the local garden centres and DIY stores and finding nothing that made me happy (they were either ridiculously expensive, too small, too garish, the wrong shape, too wide for the space or just plain ugly), I realised I already had just the thing I needed at the bottom of the garden. Once home to a very lovely pear tree (now planted out in the garden and tripled in size), the perfect pot for Bathsheba had been left sulking behind an overgrown Euphorbia mellifera for at least two years.
The container is a large terracotta one, about 60cm by 60cm, with beautiful old-fashioned curves and a light, gracefully ageing bloom of algae. I know: a pot isn’t the best place for a rose. But I’m stubborn and there’s no other way to achieve the view through the French doors that I’m after – one dripping with heavy clusters of fat, perfumed apricot roses. Roses are hungry, thirsty and will succumb to all kinds of ailments if they’re allowed to dry out. So, because terracotta is annoyingly porous, I lined the pot carefully with a couple of old manure bags. Then I positioned a few broken crocks in the bottom to help with drainage. After shuffling the pot into its final position, I filled it with rich, loam-based compost forked through with well-rotted manure, and made sure when planting the rose that the union between the rootstock and the graft (it’s easy to spot on most rose bushes) sat at exactly the final level of the compost.
The results so far have been mixed. My rose grew well in spring, putting on plenty of lovely greenery. And then came two buds – watched over impatiently as they plumped up – and the first flower in mid-June. And what a beauty: rich coppery apricot at the centre, gradually softening to the most delicate peach and cream; the scent fruity, light and addictive. But after that my rose-scented dreams started to fade. The stems drooped. The buds failed to open. Or they balled up and drooped. Or they opened to a disappointing mucky white. There were signs of blackspot on the leaves.
I contacted David Austin for advice, for Bathsheba is a DA rose, and they were brilliantly helpful. I thought I knew a fair bit about growing roses, but they taught me a whole lot more. These were the salient points, which I will be putting rigorously into action for Bathsheba’s second year under my care.
- The stems of young roses are weaker in the first couple of years, so staking them is fine at first. Once they get a bit of height, train the stems horizontally (this encourages sturdier stems as well as more flowers).
- Watering is HUGELY important. And this means you need to soak pot-grown roses every day. In hot weather, and for young roses, which need to establish their roots, this means around 5 litres PER DAY (10 litres for climbing roses!)
- Even an established potted rose (3 years old) needs a good soaking at least three times a week in hot weather.
- Always direct the water to the base of the plant. If leaves are wet for hours at a time, this encourages blackspot.
- Feed your roses using a specialist slow-release feed, first in April, and again in June/July (between flushes of blooms). Always follow the pack instructions to the letter.
- Use a foliar feed through the growing season, too. David Austin recommended SB Plant Invigorator, Maxicrop (seaweed) or Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic. They all help to ward off disease and encourage flowers and strong growth.
So I’m looking forward to a new season of rose care, with improved results. Every morning from May onwards will start with a large watering can being carried out to Bathsheba. And the day will end in the same way.
I may even plant a few more roses in the coming weeks, but perhaps in borders, where my neglect is more likely to be forgiven. I have a beady eye on the lovely Claire Austin , demure, white and frothy for my west-facing fence…
Claire Austin will be my next rose project
Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer