The promise of a rose garden

THE way Sheena Pool describes it, it’s the epitome of simplicity to plant and maintain a rose garden.

If the name sounds familiar, she was introduced the other day (here, from 24’36”) by gardening broadcaster, Monty Don, fronting a short film about her rose garden in Somerset for the BBC TV programme, Gardeners’ World.

Somerset, of course, is not Scotland, with its slightly harsher climate. But the way she tells it, it all sounds tantalisingly do-able.

Sheena’s Gardeners’ World film featured a relatively square 8m x 7m plot, with a circular lawn formed by some 32 rose varieties – a mix of so-called ‘ramblers’, ‘climbers’, ‘shrub roses’ and ‘bush roses’.

Her description of ‘simplicity’ is a function of straightforward love. If you love doing something, you will rarely, if ever, consider it a chore.

So what that she might be out in her garden every day – removing spent flowers (‘deadheading’), occasionally feeding (with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser) and sometimes watering – she is there because she wants to be. Needs to be.

There is a slight comedy moment during the course of her short film, when she twice identifies her favourite rose (initially, she chooses Officinalis (Apothecary’s rose), only to then later trump herself, with Sombreuil). When reminded of this, she pleads being smitten by all roses.

It is years and years of experience (not least through her mother’s love of roses, and also her grandmother’s – plus uncles who ran a garden centre) that gives her an easy confidence and understanding around her own plants.

But the relative newcomer need not feel daunted. 

There is plenty of advice, with two of the UK’s best-known rose nurseries – David Austin (here) and Peter Beales (here) – each providing comprehensive information.

Begins Sheena: “I think a lot of people think of roses as tricky. But, with good maintenance – ie pruning, mulching, feeding and deadheading – they will succeed well, and I personally think they are worth the effort.

“I can only speak from my experience of growing roses in Somerset – on my clay soil, which roses do like, and from my years of looking after my roses and doing my research.

“I prune my roses in February and mulch well with a mushroom/horse manure compost.

“Pruning is different for each type of rose, but always cut out diseased, damaged or dead wood.”

Starting from scratch, it is almost about sketching a hand-drawn map and accompanying it with a diary of what to do, when. 

It is also about visiting other people’s rose gardens – in Scotland, there are several, such as Drum Castle, Banchory (here) and Monteviot House and Gardens, Jedburgh (here) – and seeing what takes your fancy.

Garden centres too are a source of several options, their plants on sale usually so well-advanced in their growth that they can be put into the ground at any time (by contrast, ‘bare root’ roses tend to require planting at a certain time of the year: early spring, when dormant, before when temperatures begin to rise).

She continues: “Training climbing roses is important. I train mine on wires or horizontal supports, as training them this way encourages lots of side shoots which, in turn, will flower more prolifically.

“Ramblers, meanwhile, require less pruning as they flower on growth they make this year, so you need space for the more vigorous ramblers. 

“There are smaller ramblers like City of York, Rural England and Little Rambler, which I have in my garden, and these are all repeat flowerers. 

“When you have a small garden they have to earn their keep, so they need to repeat. But there are a few which flower more briefly that I just have to have – such as Officinalis, Tuscany Superb and Madame Hardy – simply because of their old scent and beauty.

“Older shrub roses, I prune out all crossing-over stems and keep the centre clear and then prune the rest by about one third, because of space. If you have the space, you can let them get bigger. I still get lots of flowers each year.

“Modern bush roses can be pruned harder – these need to be pruned as they establish from year to year – so, in the first year, prune lightly; the second, a little more; and, in the third year, you can prune much harder. This helps to establish a strong plant, one that’s neither weak nor leggy.

“I feed them all regularly every two weeks. Roses are very hungry and doing this will really improve their health and flowering quality, and make them less prone to disease.

“I water them well in really hot weather, but in normal times I probably water every two/three days.

“Most of all, choose roses you love, whether for colour or form.

“I also ‘underplant’ with perennials, to enhance the final look of the garden, with the likes of geraniums, foxgloves, delphiniums, phlox, hostas, nepeta, dahlias and clematis. Clematis and roses go so well together.

“I try to buy a mixture that flower throughout the season and some later flowerers such as anemone, sedum and dahlias.

“All roses should succeed in Scotland as well as further south, such as here in Somerset. 

“Light is important, but, again, there are roses that will do well in shade, such as City of York and Zephirine Drouhin.”

Picture credit: Sheena Pool

Mentioned in dispatches, with links to descriptions courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society: Officinalis (here), Sombreuil (here), City of York (here), Rural England (here), Little Rambler (here), Tuscany Superb (here), Madame Hardy (here) and Zephirine Drouhin (here).