Old Fashioned Roses with John Wood

We enjoyed a very informative evening with John Wood, Head Gardener at Hinton Ampner, who, having restored the rose garden at Mottisfont, arrived to do more of the same at Hinton Ampner.

‘Constance Spry’ (photo John Wood)

We looked at glorious pictures of dew-soaked blooms in all colours with not a greenfly in sight.  There were rampant ramblers, clinging climbers, old species roses that produced glorious hips and ideas of what to plant underneath roses.   It is far more interesting to see lavender or dianthus rather than bare soil.

John gave us a fascinating history of rose cultivation. For instance, did you know there is fossil evidence that roses evolved over 35 to 40 million years ago?  Me neither.  More recently, roses were being cultivated in China in 3,000 BC.   It was not until 1897 that hybrid tea roses were first introduced with the characteristic large, scrolled flower on a single stem, floribunda roses coming shortly after in Germany in 1907.

‘Iceberg’ over a wall at Hinton Ampner (Photo John Wood)

Most roses these days are grafted onto the strong root stock of Rosa Laxa,   We all have experience of annoying and frustrating rose diseases.  The most basic one we come across is Specific Rose Replant Disorder caused by replanting new roses in old rose ground.  The flowers go brown due to the roots not flourishing.  This can be prevented by  applying mycorrhizal  root grow which is a friendly fungus and extends the root growth to allow more absorption of water and nutrients.

We learnt where we might have been going wrong with our pruning techniques and that we should not be afraid of cutting old and damaged shoots right down to the ground provided that a few taller healthy shoots are left to give a good shape.  Be bold, we were told, the harder you prune the larger the flowers.   January to March is the ideal time to do this.  Suckers should be shown no mercy and should be ripped out from where they grow often below soil level.   When buying new roses it is better to buy bare rooted plants, heeling them in well and ensuring that the graft joint is covered by soil.

‘Scharlachglut’ (photo John Wood)

We should not despair that we cannot grow roses in our acid, sandy soil.  Just keep piling on the compost and talk nicely to them.   They also respond to organic pellets and a spray of liquid seaweed once a month from Spring onwards.

One last factoid for all those of a certain age, the Peace rose with its yellow flowers flushed pink and enchanting fragrance was introduced in 1945 after the 2nd World War.   It was one of my Dad’s favourites.

Jan Bebbington