The last day of June was a gift. A blue-skyed, hot- sunned gift. I would think most people relaxed in their gardens, saw friends, barbecued, drank chilled white white ... We, on the other hand, spent about five hours in an airless car, driving down to the 'David Austin Plant Centre', near Wolverhampton. And I don't regret one single mile of it.
My passion for the last few years has been the 'English Roses', bred by David Austin since the 1970's. They are a heady mix of romance and ripe beauty, somehow managing to capture the essence of the English country garden at its height, in midsummer. The names, alone, are so evocative, names like 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', 'Brother Cadfael', 'The Generous Gardener', 'This Sceptred Isle' just make you want to find a place for them in your own garden.
My local nurseries have a reasonable selection of 'English roses', and, in their favour, they are only just down the road, but once I started looking through the David Austin catalogue, I realised that the choice there was immense, as they hold the National Collection. So, there was only one place to head to ... the centre of the universe !
Maybe I should get out more, but I have rarely had more excitement from what was essentially a retail experience ! There are two acres of the most heavenly gardens, housing hundreds of English roses, in huge pots, mixed borders, formal gardens specimens and climbers. I learned such a lot from just looking. I had selected roses from the catalogue before we set off, and thought I knew exactly which ones I would buy, but when I saw them in a garden context, grown to full maturity, I had to rethink some of my choices. It is such a personal thing, and whilst they are ALL beautiful, the habits of some appeal more than others. For example, I fell in love with 'Queen of Sweden from a photo of the flower in the catalogue, and thought she was definitely coming home with me, but when I saw her stiff, upright habit, I discounted her immediately. The habits were very different in different plants, some had graceful, arching habits, some were too lax, others too vigorous, others too small. Like Goldilocks, I had to find the ones which were 'just right'! The more I walked and looked, the more I learned and understood.
The gardens were absolutely fantastic, and most of the roses were in their first flush of flowers, so the scents and colours were intense. The mixed planting gave some interesting, thoughtful combinations too, such as pink roses against the purple leaves of a Sedum.
Just before closing time I had managed to narrow my choices down to four English roses of complementary colours, with similar expected dimensions at maturity. The plan is to put them all into a Box parterre which is just beginning to fill out and mature. It was planted about 2 years ago, and, after a slow start, the plants are growing now. The area inside the box hedging has been filled with Cosmos, grown from seed, and annual poppies every summer, but the roses will replace this labour intensive planting, to a large extent.
So, what was the final, difficult selection, with an overwhelming choice of gorgeous alternatives ?
My first choice was 'Wollerton Old Hall' a lovely creamy, apricot rose with a fantastic scent. It is one of the most highly scented of the English roses.
Next into the trolley was ' Gentle Hermione' with its soft pink, full petalled flowers, as every example in the gardens just looked stunning.
An old favourite next, the soft yellow 'Jude the Obscure',which I have somehow managed to kill off in the garden . It has large flowers, and like 'Wollerton Hall', has a strong scent.
Finally, 'William and Catherine', a lovely rose with perfect flowers fading from apricot to white over dark, glossy green foliage.
All healthy, well grown plants, bursting with buds. I can't wait to get them into the garden and see them flowering.
Here are some of the other lovely roses in the gardens :
The Alnwick Rose
'The Lion Garden'
Equally as lovely to look at as the roses !
'Queen of Sweden'
Mixed planting, including Foxgloves
More mixed planting, including catmint and Penstemon
More formal planting , using Box and roses