Stars of the Garden – David Austin Roses

David Austin Roses evokes trusses of fragrant  many petalled blooms hanging on an arbor in the quintessential English garden. I have seen many of these examples over the years in my travels in the UK and also the western part of the country, but in the Mid-Atlantic region, this effect is harder to get, but with the right selections, it is possible. With our hot humid summers, Black Spot can be a huge problem, and I am strictly an organic grower.

A visit to David Austin Roses in 2018 in the UK
A visit to David Austin Roses in 2018 in the UK gives you an overview of all the different varieties are available, photo from David Austin Roses, image from David Austin Roses

History

According to their website: “In the early 1950s David Austin set out to create a more beautiful rose. Sixty years on, this simple objective remains”. The winner of 23 Gold Medal Chelsea Flower Show awards, I visited their rose gardens in the UK a few years ago and learned how they hybridize to create a new rose.

View into the propagation houses where many new roses are created
View into the propagation houses where many new roses are created
Once crosses are made, they are carefully labeled with the parentage
Once crosses are made, they are carefully labeled with the parentage; The whole process can take 9 years to perfect a new rose
Making the crosses by hand

From an early age, David Austin was fascinated with roses and he made a career out of it. His first rose release was ‘Constance Spry’, in 1961 and during his lifetime, he released over 200 new roses, creating an unrivalled collection. Now when you mention David Austin roses, gardeners all around the globe get very excited and swoon over the mention of his roses.

'Constance Spry' was the first rose developed by David Austin, photo from David Austin
David Austin English Climbing Rose ‘Constance Spry’ has deeply-cupped, luminous mid-pink flowers and a heady, strong myrrh fragrance. It was David Austin’s first English Rose, introduced in 1961 and still widely grown today, image from David Austin Roses
Charles Darwin is a beauty, image from David Austin Roses

What ‘s So Special About David Austin Roses?

Good question, especially here in the U.S., where most of us don’t live in an English type climate. I have been very successful here in the mid-Atlantic region of Maryland with many of the varieties and I saw some wonderful roses in full bloom in D.C. just a hour away in late November. Lady of Shallot formed a hedge in front of the Smithsonian Castle and blew me away with their form and fragrance.

David Austin Roses have these characteristics:

  • It is beautiful, large, many petalled, ‘Old Rose’ style blooms
  •  Rich and varying fragrances, good health
  • Abundant, repeat flowering

    Graham Thomas, an English climber up to 12 feet high
Lady of Shalott in full bloom in front of the Castle Smithsonian in November
Lady of Shalott looks good against the red brick of the Castle in DC

David Austin roses are renowned for beautiful, often many petalled, repeat flowering blooms and wonderful fragrance. I think fragrance is key as so many newer roses have little to no fragrance and that is one of the top reasons people grow roses.

David Austin English Rose ‘Lady of Shalott’ has beautiful coppery-orange flowers. Seen here with Aster ‘Monch’, image from David Austin Roses
Lady of Shalott in a terracotta pot and Boscobel in the background, image from David Austin Roses

Planting

Very tolerant of many conditions, in a variety of soils, I always select my planting spot with care, trying for at least 6 hours of sun. Thriving with more sun, roses can also be successful in partial shade.

I prefer the bare root vs the container roses as it is a more sustainable choice, cheaper to ship, and I don’t end up with lots of plastic containers. When you receive them in the mail, they can look very intimidating and like dead sticks, but flourish as soon as they are planted.  Last summer, I received my 6 roses bare root and before planting, rehydrated them in a large basin of water.

Soak your bare root roses a minimum of 2 hours prior to planting

I prepared my soil by digging deeply with a garden fork, removing any large stones and breaking up the soil. Then I dug a large hole deep enough to accommodate the roots –  about 16″ wide and deep.  I also broke up the soil at the bottom of the hole and added a bucket of compost.

Loosen up the soil with a digging fork

Measure your hole so the roots can fit without kinking
Add some rose fertilizer to the backfill
Fill in the hole with backfill, compost, and rose food/fertilizer pellets

Water thoroughly by adding water in stages. I like to add a good amount at first and let it soak in first and then add some more. By doing it this way, you are allowing the soil and water to soak in and not overflow the hole, taking all that good soil  and fertilizer with it.

Care

Depending on the weather and rainfall, pay attention to your newly planted rose to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Stick your finger into the soil about an inch and determine if the soil is moist. As the summer progresses, you will probably need to water about twice a week, until the rose becomes established. A good sign that the rose needs water is the leaves will start to wilt.

The Rose attachment to my Dramm watering can

Always water at the base of your plant, using a rose attachment, which is just a sprinkler attachment  allowing time for the water to soak in. Don’t water the flowers or foliage as this can lead to disease.

Apply a  3″ layer of mulch or compost around the base to keep moisture in and discourage weed growth. If you have a container rose, a 1″ layer is sufficient.

Containers

Few people think to plant roses in containers, but many roses, like the shrub kinds are perfect. You would plant them exactly how you would in the ground, with soil amendments, and fertilizer.

Roald Dahl in a container, image from David Austin Roses

I deadhead my roses, which is the removal of finished blooms, in order to encourage further blooms and improve the appearance. For hip producing shrubs, you can leave them on so you have the beautiful rose hips in the fall to enjoy.

I suggest you use David Austin’s specially formulated fertilizers

Fertilizing keeps your rose healthy and I use a granular fertilizer scratched into the surface of the soil and will do this in April when the growth starts. After the first flush of growth in June and July, I will feed again. In late February or early March, prune the rose back to about 2′ high.

IPM-Integrated Pest Management

For me as an organic gardener, I plant my roses in my garden beds along with other perennials and shrubs which encourages a natural eco-system of garden insects. To help Mother Nature, I also regularly introduce ladybugs that I buy from a local garden center.

When you release ladybugs, I wet them lightly to make them stick around until they find their prey – probably aphids
I buy bags of ladybugs from a local nursery

Ladybugs are voracious predators of soft bodied insects and I feel that they really help. If I see harmful insects on my roses, I hand pick them off. I don’t like to use pesticides in my garden, so I am fine with a little black spot and powdery mildew, especially in the humid mid-Atlantic.

With some care, you can expect your roses to live for 10 to 25 years – a good investment!

Designs With Roses 

Clematis and lavender are perfect companions to roses
At the David Austin Plant Center in the UK, there are so many varieties to choose from
Chelsea Flower Show exhibit of David Austin Roses is full of color

Mixed beds and borders are one of the easiest ways to incorporate roses into your garden and like I noted before, I integrate my roses in my perennial borders and don’t have room for a dedicated rose garden. Vary your planting heights, bloom colors, and flowering season to create a good designed border with roses. If you need help with designing, either a small border, or a large rose garden, David Austin Roses will  help you out free of charge! Just call them at 800-328-8893 or email at us@davidaustinroses.com.

One of my favorite climbers, Eden
Obelisk or Pillar roses can become massive
Mill on the Floss Rose
Graham Thomas Rose

 

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