English Roses

It’s amazing how a garden changes as time passes. Roses used to grow well in my garden and I often fantasise about growing them again. Those I miss most are the English Roses. I yearn to fill my vases with their sumptuous blooms and delicious fragrance. Sadly, due to large, neighbouring trees, my garden is now too shaded for roses. I can’t chop down the trees so I might have to consider moving house!

English Roses, also known as David Austin Roses, are the result of a love affair that started as a hobby and turned into a career through a twist of historical fate. During World War II, David CH Austin’s father’s farm, in Shropshire, England, was requisitioned as an air base. By the end of the war, little workable land was left, so David turned his hand from farming to horticulture, in particular his all-consuming interest – breeding roses.

At the time, Hybrid Teas dominated the rose-breeding scene. old Roses were forgotten by everyone but dedicated collectors. In his book old Roses and English Roses, Austin says, “This to my mind was a tragedy, for the old Rose flower had a charm and beauty that was quite different to that of the Hybrid Teas.” His vision was to breed an entirely new type of rose by crossing the old with the new, bringing together the best of both.

He wanted to create a rose that exhibited vigorous shrubby growth, good disease resistance, reliable repeat flowering, old Rose flower formation, and, most importantly, a rich fragrance reminiscent of the best of the old Roses.

An entire decade and many hundreds of crosses were to pass before Austin finally found success. And then, in 1961, the very first English Rose was released. It was named ‘Constance Spry’ after one of the first collectors of old Roses in the early 20th century. Its silky, clear pink, peony-like blooms, exceptionally strong growth and rich, myrrh-like fragrance are its main attributes.

But one important old Rose characteristic was missing – repeat flowering. Still more work was required to perfect the English Rose. Since those humble beginnings, David has released nearly two hundred English Roses. Not all of his creations live up to his expectations and he is honest in his appraisal of the weakest.

His son, David JC Austin, works alongside him, continuing the family legacy in what is one of the world’s largest horticultural breeding programmes.

Roses may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I quote leading New Zealand rosarian Barbara Lea Taylor: “Make room for roses. They may mortify the flesh a little but they lift your spirits like no other flower.”

Repeat-flowering roses expend massive amounts of energy over the growing season, so the more you give them, the more they will give you!

SoIL PREPARATIoN: Dig over your soil and fork through compost and animal manure or sheep pellets.

PLANTING: English Roses tend to grow larger in New Zealand than in the UK so space them accordingly. Do not plant them where other roses have grown (or replace the soil to a depth of 30cm). Trim off any damaged roots, mix compost and slow-release fertiliser into the planting hole and plant with the crown (graft) at ground level. Water well and mulch with compost or fine bark.

WINTER: Spray with copper oxychloride and spraying oil, alternating at weekly intervals for six weeks.

SPRING & SUooER: Feed roses fortnightly (or apply controlled-release fertiliser during spring) and water deeply throughout summer.

PRUNING: How hard you prune an English Rose depends on the natural vigour of the variety and the preferred look and purpose of the shrub. Use the following pruning guidelines:

NEW PLANTS: Prune off any weak or crossing over branches, leaving five to seven main stems. Reduce each stem to five buds from the base.

ESTABLISHED PLANTS: Remove weak, damaged or crossing over branches and reduce overall size by half to two thirds (prune smaller-growing varieties back to five buds from base of each main stem).


Garden centres stock a limited range of English Roses, while mail-order nurseries have more extensive ranges:

D&S Nurseries, Takapau

(06) 855 6859,

Southern Roses, Edendale, Southland

(03) 206 6026,

Tasman Bay Roses, ootueka

(03) 528 7449,

Wairere Nursery, Gordonton

0800 RoSELINE,

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