Jo Arnell turns her attention to the English garden’s most beloved blooms

Roses are the beauty queens of the summer garden; delicate, fragrant and romantic – and despite stemming from another continent, they seem a quintessentially English plant. Prima donnas, however, do have a bit of a reputation for being tricky and needing lots of TL and for years roses were grown on their own, so that they could be sprayed and primped and grow unimpeded by rambunctious companions. This style of rose garden – I’m thinking island beds, scorched earth sparsely planted with twiggy Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, and all of them unscented – nearly put me off roses for life.
Nowadays, thankfully, there are disease resistant varieties around and we have realised that roses are actually vigorous and tough – and most positively benefit from a bit of companion planting.

A rose is a rose is a rose
All roses started as wild plants, mostly in Asia, but they have been very widely bred and there’s now a bewildering number to choose from. The old roses – Albas, Gallicas, Damasks and Bourbons are at the root of most of our modern roses. These are highly fragrant, usually robust, but only flower once. The repeat flowering Portland Rose was developed in America and crossed with Bourbons and others to make Hybrid Perpetuals and then Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. The Teas have impressive single blooms, while Floribundas sport numerous sprays of smaller flowers, both are remontant (repeat flowering). Some of these powerhouse roses, in the quest for endless blooms, lost their old fashioned blousy charm and fragrance along the way. The New English roses (most bred by David Austin) brought back some of the qualities of the old roses, but kept the vigour and repeat flowering.
Smaller roses have been bred for niche environments – there are patio, ground cover and miniature roses for containers and the front of borders. They have all the qualities of larger varieties, but miniatures are compact in growth habit, while ground cover roses are low and spreading.
Standard roses are grafted onto a root stock with a long sturdy stem and can be used either as focal points – at entrances and by front doors for example, or within borders to bring height and impact at eye level. They do remind me a bit of the roses in Alice in Wonderland (thankfully they’re available in more colours than red or white) and will need to be supported and carefully pruned to stop them becoming too top heavy.
Climbing roses are similar to shrub varieties, but have longer, more pliable stems. They differ from ramblers in that they are pruned in spring, as they flower on the current year’s growth, and tend to be less vigorous. Ramblers flower on the previous year’s growth and usually only once. These have a reputation for being enthusiastic – romping up trees and smothering outbuildings. Prune ramblers after flowering in late summer, although you can re-invigorate an overgrown one by cutting out some of the old thick stems right down at the base in spring.
Species roses are robust and although they only flower once, often have other attributes that make them desirable. Rosa glauca has beautiful foliage, a graceful habit and lovely hips, R. banksiae will festoon an arch or pergola with tiny, soft butter yellow blooms early in May, long before any of the other varieties.
Whatever your situation, or colour preference, you should be able to find a rose to suit – there are even some that will grow in shade, although most do prefer a sunny site.
Roses in the mixed border
It was a trip to Sissinghurst Castle, not long after they revamped the rose garden, that was my road to Damask-us moment. It might have been the way that the roses were elegantly looped onto supports or cleverly caged into pillar shapes, the careful choice of harmonious under and inter-planting of cottage garden perennials, the old fashioned, highly scented romantic blousiness of them… I think it was all of the above – made to look an effortless, glorious tumble, but in truth highly orchestrated (this style is the hardest to achieve). I suddenly saw what all the fuss was about and ever since then I have been slightly obsessed and each autumn will add one or two to the garden. I have tried looping them down onto hoops too, but you need a lot of space for this – and need to be careful what you choose for the hoops, as pliable hazel and willow are prone to sprouting.
As for the plants to grow around them, it is tempting to stick with the lovely cottage garden plants – geraniums and nepeta work very well as underplanting, with taller plants like foxgloves, verbascums and delphiniums in between. The problem with archetypal cottage flowers is that they tend to finish flowering in July – and the first flush of the roses is usually over by then, too, so the borders can look a bit depleted.
Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is a good choice for endless flowers and tall, airy Verbena bonariensis will waft happily around for a long time too. Plan for a succession of flowers and add in late bloomers like salvias, echinaceas and sedums for colour from late July until the frosts.
To extend the flowering time, dead head as much as you can – in fact most of the early perennials can be chopped back to the ground in July. This will tidy their foliage and most will flower again into the bargain.

Cranesbills flowering plant, Geranium Rozanne flowers in bloom, blue purple five petals, green background

Geranium ‘Rozanne’is a good choice for endless flowers

Keeping the show on the road
Dead-head your roses by snipping them off just above a set of leaves to encourage more flowers. There are some that you should not dead head, though, and these are either those that have lovely rose hips, ramblers or species roses. Species roses flower only once, but in abundance. They will not bloom again no matter if you dead head, but these often have lovely hips too.
The great thing about species roses is that they tend to be vigorous and free of disease. Rosa rugosa is one of my favourites, with single blooms (so good for pollinators) and huge hips the size of tomatoes in the autumn. It makes a great hedge and is often the rootstock chosen to graft other roses onto.
Most of the New English roses have been bred to have disease resistance and are lovely and almost as robust as the species varieties, but if you do have some in the garden that are prone to problems, it pays to set up a simple annual regime to keep them in the best possible health. Roses tend to suffer most from fungal infections like Rust and Black Spot, which are hard to eradicate completely, but may be kept in abeyance. Fungal infections proliferate in humid, still conditions, so providing a free flow of air around the plants will help to blow the fungal spores away. Prune carefully in the spring to ‘open’ up the plant – the books will tell you to prune to an outward-facing bud, or to aim for a goblet shape. This is to ensure good air circulation.
Roses are hungry plants and use up a lot of energy in flowering, so feed and mulch well in spring as they come into leaf, and then give them a little pick-me-up tonic of a high potash fertiliser just as the first flush of flowers finishes to encourage them to keep going. Pick up and dispose of any infected leaves as you find them. I don’t spray with pesticides, but will use a (somewhat stinky) homemade garlicky concoction that I mix up with a soup blender – basically 2 chillies, 1 onion and a whole bulb of garlic mashed down with water and then strained through muslin. It deters pests and, as garlic is anti-fungal, helps to keep these diseases at bay too – but make sure you are upwind of it when you spray.
On the whole roses are resilient plants – ‘it’s been a good year for the roses’ is a phrase that seems to be trotted out every year. They manage to cope with most conditions and, once established, even periods of drought don’t seem to bother them too much. There is a rose to suit all preferences – climbing, bush, ground cover – and almost all colours including blue (called ‘Blue Moon’), which is an aberration, but might go nicely with a red delphinium…

Rosa Coconut Ice (Korallister), a floribunda rose bred by Kordes Roses.

Roses for fragrance
‘The Generous Gardener’ – climber
‘Boscobel’ – large shrub
‘Gertrude Jekyll’ – shrub
‘Charles de Mills’ – shrub

Roses for hips
Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ – climber
Rosa rugosa – shrub
‘Rambling Rector’ – large rambler

Specialist rose suppliers
David Austin –
Trevor White –
Peter Beales –
Harkness –
Rumwood (Maidstone) –

Join Jo for a gardening class at her garden in Woodchurch. See or call 07923 969634.

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