|Young Lycidas snagged the top prize for fragrance in Barcelona|
When I’m giving a lecture on roses I often begin by telling the audience my presentation could be hazardous to their health. You see I know better than most that once rose fever sets in, there is no cure. No matter how many roses one has, there will always be a more appealing one coming up in the next gardening catalog.
Which means rose fever can also be hazardous to the pocketbook.
|Tess of the d'Urbervilles|
I myself contracted a rare strain called English rose fever while living in London in the early 90’s. It was there I discovered many of their rose gardens looked nothing like the one I once created in Virginia.
There were no boring rectangular beds stocked only with prissy hybrid teas. There was no calculated spacing where bushes were lined up in rows like dutiful soldiers. No naked canes to stare at all winter.
|An old favorite, Jude the Obscure|
Instead, roses were a part of the overall landscape. There was an understated accent here, a flashy punctuation point there. And oh, what wonderful blooms! Some the size of a dinner plate, with a fragrance that took me back to summer days on my grandmother’s farm.
I assumed many of these roses I’d come to admire in British cottage gardens were antiques, Comtesse de something or other. However it turned out they were actually a new class of “old fashioned” roses hybridized by the creator of the English rose, David Austin.
|Amazingly prolific Sir John Betjeman|
As a result of a hybridizing program initiated in the 1950’s, he captured the appealing features of Old Garden Roses (roses introduced prior to 1867) such as cupped or rosette-shaped flowers and strong fragrance in bushes that have the repeat bloom and vigor of modern roses.
That appeal was not lost on admiring Americans who stood in line to add roses with names like Shakespeare, Chaucer and Wise Portia to their gardens. More than 20 years later, many of the initial Austin introductions have fallen out of favor. But passion for the newer, more disease-resistant varieties remains strong all across the country.
Especially in my North Carolina garden.
Gardening with a British accent
Out of the 40+ bushes I’ve planted in my new garden, more than half are David Austin roses. There are many reasons why I am partial to the English beauties, but since a picture is worth a whole bunch of words, you’ll be able to see for yourself.
Two-year-old Sir John Betjeman is currently sporting 20 blossoms and 65 buds.
Crocus Rose (just planted in April) is covered with gorgeous soft apricot rosettes.
|Lady Emma is always turning heads|
Lady Emma Hamilton is literally stopping traffic as walkers stroll by and are gobsmacked by her charms.
Deep crimson Darcey Bussell not only has glossy, healthy foliage but also displays resistance to damaging insects like rose midge.
|Exquisite Darcey is one of my new faves|
And need I mention fragrance?
Of course everyone who grows English roses has a favorite, some of which are no longer in the good graces of the great hybridizer himself. Each year the Austin staff looks at their roses with a critical eye and decides which plants are no longer considered up to snuff. In the catalog, those that make the grade have a small flower next to the name.
|St. Swithun can also be trained as a climber|
I was relieved to find one of my favorites, soft pink St. Swithun, still gets the official seal of approval. I planted it in the early 90's during the first flush of English rose fever.
And I jolly well hope to grow it again on high.