Sunday 21 January 2018

Diarmuid Gavin: How to chose the right roses for your garden

How to choose the right rose for your garden - and make the most of it

Diarmuid Gavin: 'The most important character which roses require is that they are beautiful'.
Diarmuid Gavin: 'The most important character which roses require is that they are beautiful'.

Last week I was doing a little filming with plantswoman Helen Dillon in her garden when she told a story about a particular rose. Lady Hillingdon, she declared was not much good in bed, much better against a wall. This was in no way a salacious fact regarding a member of the upper crust, rather it was Helen's observation regarding the support required for this social climber.

And when I offered Helen some plants which had made it back home from our Chelsea garden, what would she choose? Well it was a rose, grown by Peter Beale, a beauty called Ballerina.

I've spent the week planting rescued roses from Chelsea in our plot, a wonderful collection including St Ethelburga, Louise Odier, Comte de Chambord and the people's favourite which is Macmillan Nurse. I'd recommend them all for your gardens. They were grown for us by Peter Beale's nursery and if you provide the right site and set them off with a good dollop of manure, they will be very happy.

It brings up the topic of roses and the question of how easy they are to grow? And how do you choose from the vast array available?

The most important character which roses require is that they are beautiful. Many will flower like mad and possess a wonderful fragrance, some have the added advantage of being disease-free, but if they're not attractive to you they won't work in your garden.

Plan for your new rose to have a productive stint in your plot of 10 to 15 years. And choose one with a wonderful fragrance. I've been doing a lot of planting this past week in between the rain deluges and the scent emitting from my climbers after a shower has been almost intoxicating.

The varieties you choose should be as robust as possible. Some roses get diseases at the drop of a hat while others resist succumbing to black spot or mildew so it's best to go for the latter.

The recent trend has been to avoid planting roses alone as a species. Mix them up. And, if planted amongst other species which attract beneficial insects such as marigolds and nasturtiums (or even onions and garlic), they tend to stay much healthier. This approach is known as companion planting. Pests find it more difficult to find a suitable host for laying their eggs and the spores of diseases are less likely to spread to another rose. Be careful, however, not to allow perennials to crowd the rose stems at their base as they will grab much of the available water and nutrients and leave little for the rose. So, close but not too close.

Roses are quite easy to look after as you choose a good variety and prepare the ground well. We require them to perform by producing copious amounts of flower so they will want to be well fed. Dig in generous quantities of well rotted organic manure before planting. And every year add more fertiliser through mulching with more manure or sprinkling granular feed in April and June.

Dead head (removing spent flower heads) during the summer and prune some time between Christmas and the end of February.

An easy way to deal with an attack of aphids is to squash them between your fingers but that's not for the squeamish. The power of beneficial insects is better. And of course you can use a chemical spray, available from garden centres.

If you choose a healthy variety then diseases shouldn't be a problem but you can boost their resistance by applying a foliar feed like Maxicrop.

Roses love plenty of water at the roots so an occasional good soaking - even with the rain we are enjoying - will help encourage strong growth and quicker repeat flowering.

Pruning is really easy - don't be put off by every gardener you meet having a different technique or theory. With most roses, simply cut them down to around half their height and, once they've been in the ground for a few years find the oldest stems (they will be brown or a rather dull green) and cut them right out. This encourages new young stems and therefore more flowers.

Climbers and ramblers are very easy, too. With the latter, you can't do anything as they are likely to be growing up into trees or over a building and so it will be inaccessible. With the former, simply cut back the previous year's flowering shoots to between 4in and 6in.

From the David Austin range I'd recommend Olivia Rose Austin, Boscobel, Queen of Sweden and Lady Emma Hamilton. If you wanted a well-mannered climber then A Shropshire Lad is first class. But Munstead Wood, named after Gertrude Jekyll's Surrey home where she developed her theory on using colour in borders, is my favourite David Austin Rose.

Both the Peter Beale ( and David Austin ( nurseries offer a mail order service and have excellent websites with glorious pictures and great descriptions.

What's on

Visit the Dublin Rose Festival, the annual celebration of all things rosa, in the beautiful surroundings of St Anne's Park in Clontarf, Dublin. Running from July 16-17, you can enjoy Ireland's largest rose garden and scenic walks alongside a mix of music, market stalls, food vendors, and special treats such as living history displays, falconry and much more.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Life