Growing old English roses
In recent years, there has been a lot of renewed interest in old varieties of roses in English gardens. The varieties available to gardeners today are usually a cross between modern hybrid teas and old rose varieties, but the attraction of wonderful fragrance, hardiness and old-fashioned flower forms remains. Here is a short guide to the classification of old roses and some of my favourite of the truly old varieties and as well as some of the newer ones.
The Damask rose dates back to ancient times and probably originated from the Eastern Mediterranean. It was grown for its amazing perfume-like fragrance. Most Damask varieties only bloom once a year, but they are usually quite hardy. Alba roses are a natural hybrid between the damask rose and rosa canina and are thought to date back to classical times. Although the word alba means white, they also come in various shades of pink. Although they too only flower once a year, they are disease resistant and vigorous growers. Gallica roses are amongst the oldest cultivated species of rose still available today. The Gallica rose originated in Persia in the 12th century and were grown for their amazingly heavy blooms and strong scent. They come in many colours from deep red and purple to white.
Portland roses are a cross between a China rose and the Autumn Damask Rose. This family of roses were the first to be bred as repeat flowering varieties and are characterised by their short stemmed fragrant blooms. Rugosa is an ancient rose that was native to the Orient. They are repeat flowering and easy to grow, although they only have a slight fragrance. Tea roses are a cross between a China rose and various Bourbons and Noisettes. They produce delicate blooms throughout the summer and have a distinctive tea scent.
Old English varieties
'Comte de Chambord' is a Portland rose and one of my favourites. Compact and ideal for a small garden, it has full-petalled, warm pink flowers and a good fragrance. 'Felicia' is a hybrid musk shrub rose, similar to a hybrid tea in its characteristics. It has lovely silvery pink flowers and a strong aromatic fragrance. 'Munstead Wood' is from the David Austin English Rose collection. It has large velvety deep crimson flowers with a strong old rose frangrance. 'Rosa Mundi' is a Gallica rose. It is a showy rose with crimson flowers striped with white and an old rose scent.
Most roses can be grown successfully in containers. It is important that you choose a container large enough to accommodate the roots and provide good drainage. Roses grown in pots will outgrow their home quite quickly, so re-pot every two or three years. They also deplete nutrients more quickly and will need a feed at least twice a year to keep them healthy and producing flowers.