Must you have roses?

Whenever there is a poll on Britain’s favourite garden flower, the rose is often voted as the best loved. However I do wonder if this is now a theoretical love, as only 15% of gardeners claim to have a dedicated rose border of the sort that I remember most gardeners possessing in my youth.

My clients are conflicted, adoring the rose blooms but wishing to avoid the work involved with getting the best out of their roses. They are not the lowest maintenance plant you will grow. The bush and hybrid teas roses of half a century ago needed a border with little competition from other plants, a lot of feeding, pruning in late winter, spraying for pests such as aphids and diseases like blackspot, rust and powdery mildew, all several steps too far for the busy householder.

For extending the season of flowering you must deadhead religiously. Old roses may flower only for the month of June, climbers and ramblers need training up supports and nearly all roses have little to offer in the way of remarkable foliage. Indeed they are only bundles of old sticks for five months of the year.  There are hundreds of varieties to choose from in many colours and forms – most bewildering.

Still, the future for the rose is bright. Much work has been done with the breeding of modern bush roses, with breeders such as David Austin ruthlessly selecting the best varieties for vigour, disease resistance, repeat flowering and scent from thousands of contenders in the trial grounds. Rebranding them as English Roses, he has certainly built up the business with great success and now a top quality bush rose will set you back £12 and a climbing rose, nearly £20.

However, Mr Austin is not the only game in town. Other breeders such as Peter Beales and Pococks are also breeding roses with old fashioned looks and good performance. Red rose shrub Proper Job is one to look for – highly scented and very healthy.

Having a desire for some roses myself, I recently bought a deep red climbing rose called Tess of the D’urbervilles and planting it in my garage wall border along with Clematis viticella Black Prince. I eye them up every day in passing with the hope of a rich red and purple combination against the hamstone wall. So far, nothing has taken a bite out of them, but should aphids descend, I have some soap spray at the ready.

Not having any room for bush roses, I bought 5 roses at a rose nursery for my Mum’s garden for cut flowers. They were supremely healthy, well grown and not cheap at £11.95 each. A week later, in Poundland, I chanced upon small wrapped bare root roses for £1 each. Called only ‘pink bush rose’ I planted them in the pots the posh roses came in and they are growing away very well. I shall report later in the summer as to the roses’ relative growth and flowering.