COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: There’s no reason to give up on growing great roses

Nothing says “English gardens” like the fragrant, double-flowering David Austin roses.

  • Monday, November 2, 2009 4:21pm
  • Life

By Marianne Binetti

Nothing says “English gardens” like the fragrant, double-flowering David Austin roses. One can purchase David Austin roses at local nurseries, but it was with great delight that our garden-loving travel group made a pilgrimage to the original David Austin rose garden and nursery in Albrighton, England. It was late September but sunny and clear the morning we arrived. At this classic display garden and nursery the roses don’t just bloom, they beckon, bow, belt out arias of color and fragrance and then – once they have you intoxicated – force you to fall in love with their English country charm. If you’ve ever thought about giving up on growing roses, one visit (or one whiff) of a David Austin rose will inspire new promises and renewed dedication to a rosy future.

Before I list the five excuses Americans give for not growing more roses, I have a confession to make. I was feeling quite proud of myself for arranging a special visit for our bus full of travelers to even see this off-the-beaten-path show garden. We enjoyed the ride into the English countryside discussing how this was area where author Beatrix Potter wrote her story of Peter rabbit. (Keep this fact in mind.) I had even arranged an interview with David Austin or his son, also named David Austin. The nursery has David Austin printed on all it’s pots and the extensive display gardens have “David Austin” printed on each labeled rose as well. (Keep this fact in mind also.)

So here’s the fall that follows my pride. I met the famous David Austin and immediately spilled a pot of tea all over him and his lovely tea room during our interview. But wait, there‘s more. As Austin graciously posed for a photo after the tea-stained interview, I introduced him to my fellow travelers as “Peter“ Austin. I blame that Beatrix Potter as the reason I had rabbit on my mind. English gentlemen have impeccable manners. I blushed, while the newly-named “Peter” Austin simply raised one eyebrow.

A rose by any other name is not a David Austin rose (and yes, I’m mis-quoting Shakespeare as we also visited Will’s birthplace and garden) so here are promises to ensure a rose garden that won’t embarrass you, even if you forget the name of every rose and the man that came up with the David Austin rose collection:

I gave up on roses because they

no longer have fragrance.

These modern English roses originated 40 years ago from crosses made with old roses and modern hybrid tea roses. This means they have the fragrance of the original species roses that the French first used for their famous perfumes. Among the different varieties you’ll find the “musk” rose fragrance, “tea rose” perfumes and beautiful “old rose” smells that modern roses have lost. Individual David Austin roses also have some unusual scent notes of myrrh and we also detected the fragrance of baby powder in one variety. David Austin put the old world fragrance back into new world roses.

I gave up on roses because I don’t want to use chemicals in my garden.

Developing disease-resistant roses is what got Austin into rose breeding when he first started using the iron-clad disease resistance of the old species roses with crosses of the more compact and repeat-blooming hybrid tea roses. Tests have been carried out all over the world to ensure that no matter where you live, there are disease-resistant options for rose growers. Of course, this means you must understand how to grow these hardy roses and the very first step is to dig a huge hole, 3 feet deep and as wide and place “muck” or composted manure into the bottom of this hole. Mix compost and rotted manure into the backfill so your roses have rich, loose, well-draining soil. Fertilize twice a year – in April and June – with an organic-based rose food. A deep hole with good soil grows healthy roses.

I gave up on roses because the new disease-free roses don’t last as long as cut flowers.

It is true that some of the most disease-resistant roses have small blooms with few petals and a short vase life. So here is where the English-style roses reign supreme. English roses are less stiff with huge, rounded blooms perfect for filling a vase or making handsome tied bouquets. There is even a new cut flower industry in England that supplies florists with fragrant and full English roses for romantic, natural looking arrangements. One visit to the tea room at David Austin nursery and you’ll see what a vase of English roses can do to set the mood in a room. The website and catalog lists the best English roses for long vase life.

I don’t grow roses because

I don’t have the room.

Here is where creative gardeners can really grow. There is a listing of roses for specific places in the gardens in the back of every David Austin rose catalog and these include roses that will thrive in shady positions (I have one), roses that will climb into trees, cover arches, roses for seaside locations, thorn less roses, compact shrub roses and roses to use in mixed borders with other shrubs and perennials. The newest location for growing English roses is in deep containers and the potted display on the patio at David Austin’s nursery was spectacular – and fragrant.

I don’t grow roses because I don’t know where to find the right varieties.

English roses are available at local nurseries and garden centers or you can order right from David Austin and his American-grown nursery stock.

If you can access the Internet you can go to Or, if you prefer, a beautiful, full-color Handbook of Roses is available at no charge by calling 800-328-8893 or by writing to David Austin Roses, 15059 State Highway 64 W., Tyler, Texas 75704. The free handbook will take six to eight weeks to arrive by mail. Just in time to place your order for dormant roses that can be planted this winter.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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