The complexity of the rose’s history is in stark contrast with the simplicity of its beauty. It’s rare to find an English garden without one, and perhaps the most obvious reasons for that are the variety and reliability of them, given the right situation. To understand where the variety has developed from requires a little bit of delving into its history. Gavin Power of Oxford Edens does just that.
History of the Rose
Roses pre-date the human race by several thousand years, but the most significant periods for the English gardener to consider are the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when crusaders introduced roses to European monasteries, upon their return from the Holy Land. These Gallica, Damask and Alba roses were prized predominantly for their medicinal powers, but their beauty was understood and soon the process of hybridisation began, as monks sought to introduce new varieties from seedlings. This man-made intervention carried through the centuries, with gardeners and nurserymen, largely in France, creating ever-increasing varieties. Driving this development of hybridised roses, were the perceived limitations of Old roses. Old roses refer to naturally occurring wild and species roses that are highly fragrant (and no two scents are the same), limited in colour to pinks, creams, whites, mauves and purples and tend to be shrubby with a single flush. The desire to introduce new colours to the rose and encourage repeat-flowering resulted in the production of the two biggest groups of modern-day New roses, the Hybrid Teas and the Floribundas. However, many of the early hybridised roses were poorly scented, and in 1969 this issue was addressed by David Austin, when he commenced his development of English Roses in his Shropshire nurseries. The aim was to create New roses that had all the valued features on Old roses, particularly the fragrance, but also utilised the strengths of the Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, specifically the spectacular colours and ability to flower repeatedly.
Types of Rose
Whatever size of plot you have, even if it’s a simple window box, there will be a rose for you. The most popular are shrub and bush roses, whilst many have ramblers growing up old apple trees or climbers that ascend and arch over pergolas. Others have wild roses grown as impenetrable hedges for security, and an increasing number of patio roses are now sold in garden centres. One of my favourites is the groundcover rose which requires little attention and provides good competition for weeds.
(1) Bush roses
Bush roses are either Hybrid Teas or Floribundas and although both tend to be medium height in size (40 to 100cm), they have quite differing characteristics. Hybrid Teas are highly fragrant with one flower per stem and they flower in flushes. Floribundas are more bushy and flower continuously, and the flowers are less striking but they do grow in clusters so give a mass of colour.
(2) Shrub roses
Growing to a height of up to 4 metres, shrub roses are much larger specimens than bush roses, and can be recurrent flowerers or non-recurrent, but all are very hardy and reliable. One of the most spectacular of the repeat flowering is ‘Westerland’, a large and very fragrant yellowish-orange rose that I would highly recommend.
(3) Climbers and Ramblers
The distinct difference between climbers and ramblers is the flowering characteristic. Climbers will stretch to about 4 metres in height and have much more rigid stems than ramblers, and they will flower repeatedly. In contrast, ramblers only flower once in a season, but will get to a height of around 6 metres and can be trained like a contortionist.
(4) Patio and Miniature roses
Repeat flowerers, these tend to stay at around 30 centimetres tall and have small leaves and flowers that are pretty in form. ‘Sweet Magic’ is an orange and gold variety that rarely disappoints.
(5) Groundcover roses
The size range of these is considerable, with lower growing prostrate varieties such as ‘Snow Carpet’ getting no higher than around 15 centimetres but more bushy varieties such as ‘Moje Hammarberg’ will sit around 80cm tall and perform the dual task of providing groundcover and offering an attractive flowering hedge.
(6) Standard roses
The broadest classification is this group as it refers to the Hybrid Teas, the Floribundas, patio and miniature roses and ramblers that are budded on to rootstocks that are up to 140cm tall. Weeping standards such as ‘Dorothy Perkins’ with its rose pink umbrella shape can be spectacular.
Most roses in domestic settings are purchased as potted roses and can be planted out at any time of the year, avoiding periods of frost of course. However, bare-root roses are a little more specific in their requirements and should only really be planted in the Autumn before any frost appears. This gives them times to get their roots settled in and in good health for spring. It also allows the woody content of the plant to stay nice and ripe as there is sufficient moisture in the ground over winter. Before planting bare root roses, leave them for 24 hours in water, water them at the budding union, and then water them again when they are planted. The plant should then be watered heavily every five days until the first shoots appear.
Maintenance and Pruning Watering
Roses require a phenomenal amount of water, primarily because they are supporting a huge number of flowering parts. By watering them to the required extent, you will enhance the flowering and help stave off disease. During the spring and summer months you should be watering the base of roses so that the roots receive about 20 litres per square metre of plant. Avoid watering the leaves as that can encourage fungal diseases.
Mulching and feeding
Roses should also be mulched with rotted down manure or organic matter, and this should be done in the spring and autumn. However, there is the opinion amongst gardeners that fragrant roses do not like too much of a manure diet, so go steady. The good news for many gardeners in Oxfordshire is that roses do prefer heavier soils!
Bare-root planting is carried out in the spring which is also when the pruning of roses should be undertaken. In Liverpool, gardeners traditionally plant and prune the Sunday after the Grand National whilst in County Cork these tasks are usually carried out on St. Patrick’s Day!
Roses that flower once, such as Old roses and wild roses should be pruned as soon as they have gone over and the pruning should be minimal as these roses flower on old wood. All cuts should have a slight angle to avoid standing water on the stem causing it to rot, and cuts should be made one centimetre above a bud. Aside from pruning out dead, damaged and diseased wood, the only other pruning that is required is a thinning out of the plant, and perhaps every five years or so to undertake renovative pruning by cutting the oldest stems down to the ground. The hips, which are the false fruits that contain the real fruits, can be left for the birds to help them survive the winter, but they can also be a feature in themselves. Rosa sericea pteracsantha has striking red hips on yellow stems.
Shrub roses that are repeat-flowering tend to flower from side-shoots, so these too require minimal pruning bar thinning out and the reduction of flowering stems to between 3 and 5 buds from the stem base. Other roses including Hybrid Teas should be regularly deadheaded with the flower-head and two leaves below removed, as this will encourage repeat-flowering. Floribundas should just have the flower-head removed or they take much longer to form a new flower. The stems on Floribundas tend to grow at the same rate as each other so they can be pruned to the same height. With Hybrid Teas, some stems are more vigorous than others so you should prune each stem as per its particular requirements. More vigorous shoots should be pruned back to 4 to 6 buds from the bud union, whereas shorter, weaker stems can be pruned harder to 3 to 4 buds from the bud union. If roses are not pruned annually, the plants can become tall and straggly, flower poorly and develop suckers. S
tandards, miniatures, ramblers and climbers
Finally, standard roses should generally have the stems pruned back by two-thirds, and the same for miniature roses (unless they are planted as edging plants and then you can shear them to half their height). Ramblers grow vertical shoots on last year’s horizontal stems and these verticals should be pruned back to between 2 and 5 buds from the stem base. Old wood can be pruned down to the ground to rejuvenate it. Climbers can be pruned very hard to renew them, so be brave if you need to be. Like all garden maintenance tasks, if you set yourself a routine to follow you won’t go far wrong. Failing that, get a professional in. I know a blooming good one.
Oxford Edens is a gardening business based in North Oxfordshire, specialising in garden maintenance. We would be delighted to discuss your garden requirements. Please contact Gavin on 07717 495215 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.