Valentine’s may have only been last week but we’re still feeling romantic here in the garden. This week, it’s all about pruning the roses.
I love roses – they’re a mainstay in my garden and I can’t wait to see those delicate, exquisite flowers in first bloom. I feel immense joy when cutting the first full flowers and arranging them indoors. Every corner of my home is abundant with colour and that subtle, unmistakable perfume fills everywhere from my bedroom to the kitchen. If I get too carried away with cutting, I’ll sometimes pop a few in a vase in the loo as well.
Now, when I say I love roses, I really do love roses. We have 56 roses altogether (at this point in time) and 20 varieties amongst them, including ramblers, climbers, bushes, and some which are used for ground cover.
My first love was Gertrude Jekyll, a beautiful bright pink rose with a lovely strong fragrance. I planted two in our former garden and have to say they performed so well it was a wrench to leave them behind.
Here at the Laundry, Gertrude Jekyll has again taken pride of place. She was, of course, one of the first roses we planted here. We use her versatility to the full, as a bush and a climber. These striking bushes grow to around 4ft high, the climbers much higher and they’re very reliable plants which repeat flower in abundance year-on-year.
Historical facts about the rose
Roses have been around since time began. Records of fossil roses date back millions of years and were evident in China, the US, North America and Europe. The earliest known written reference to roses exists on clay tablets from the royal library of King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (modern day Mosul).
Whenever the ancient Romans, Greek and Phoenicians were off conquering the world, they would return home with roses. Thanks to their cultivating skills, they’ve played an enormous part in sustaining the growth of these diverse garden beauties.
Even the ancient Egyptians loved their roses – rose garlands have been discovered in tombs.
And of course, the rose has been England’s national flower since the 15th century War of the Roses.
The Royal Roses
It’s become something of a tradition in England to name roses after members of the royal family. Here are just a few:
- The Queen Elizabeth Rose – which dates back to the 1950s
- The Princess Anne Rose
- The Princess of Wales Rose (and The Lady Diana Rose)
- The Duchess of Cornwall Rose
- Mountbatten – after Lord Mountbatten (Prince Charles’ beloved uncle)
- Royal William
- The William and Catherine Rose
- And little Princess Charlotte already has three rose namesakes
- Highgrove – the home of the Prince of Wales, a firm favorite of mine. A beautiful climbing rose with blooms of a dark garnet colour that flowers right through to December. I have one planted between my two kitchen windows and on a warm sunny day its delicate fragrance of raspberries drifts into my kitchen. Just divine.
Apparently, you don’t have to be royalty either. Famous people, celebrities and movie stars can also enjoy this honour. Check out this article in The Telegraph to find out more.
Caring for roses
Although roses need plenty of TLC, every minute tending to them is worth the effort. Their displays are beyond beautiful and I’d love you to get as much enjoyment and pleasure from your roses as I do mine.
So please read through these tips, watch the videos, and discover what’s been going on in my garden this week so you can do the same in yours.
Here are my top rose-pruning tips to help you get started today. Every gardener and rose-lover will start pruning at different times. I begin slowly in November, only on mild days and complete the task by March.
With a pair of clean sharp secateurs and a good pair of gardening gloves;
Remove all dead and diseased leaves from the previous year’s growth
It’s really important to remove all dead and diseased leaves, otherwise when they fall on the ground the spores from affected leaves will spread into the soil and infect the rose.
Watch out for pests and diseases on your roses. The most common are:
- Black spot
Characterised by black spots or purple-coloured patches on the upper side of the leaf. The diseased leaves turn yellow and drop off. Older rose varieties tend to suffer more often from cases of black spot. This disease is a fungus which is encouraged by warm, wet weather, (think British summers), and can impact significantly on the plant’s vitality and leave it susceptible to other diseases.
If you do see black spot on your rose leaves, remove the leaf immediately and burn. Then either buy an appropriate fungicide or treat the bush organically with a mix of baking powder, water and a drop or two of bleach-free soap.
The Darcey Bussell roses that line our driveway are particularly prone to black spot, so we constantly monitor them for any signs.
These annoying insects can be a real thorn in the side (no pun intended) for rose-gardeners. They hatch their eggs on the leaves, decrease the plant’s vitality and create a sticky substance which encourages mould. Left unchecked they can start to deform the newly forming buds.
To keep greenfly at bay, try soaping the leaves with a mixture of warm water and detergent, or try a spray from any reputable garden centre.
This white, powdery substance can attack buds, leaves and stems and change the entire shape of a leaf. Mildew loves nothing more than a warm, sunny day followed by a cool, humid night. It doesn’t like potassium bicarbonate, however, so try a fungicide that’s packed with it.
Since we have a strict regime of mulching and feeding here, and we spray all our plants monthly, we are managing (fingers crossed) to keep these pests at bay.
You might need to adjust your feeding and spraying schedule according to your geographical location. If you’re in any doubt, ask a well-known rose gardener in your area for his/her tips or ask at your local garden nursery.
Prune the long stragglers
Prune any long overgrown straggly stems. This will prevent bushes from being rocked by winter winds and their roots becoming loose in the soil. If you see stragglers growing straight from the root stem, these are suckers and need to be removed otherwise they’ll steal all the good nutrients from the rest of the plant.
Check the overall shape of your rose bushes
At this point, it’s time to assess the overall shape and look of your rose bushes. Are you encouraging them to grow tall or wide? Are they well balanced? Take a good look and once you’re happy with the shape, walk away for a while before returning to see if that’s still the case.
Both Tom and I have a good eye for the shape we want to achieve with our roses and a second opinion always comes in handy. I tend to take over after the discussion stage however as I am far less brutal with the secateurs.
Begin with general maintenance and remove any dead wood in the rose bush. Some of my roses had boughs that were too heavily laden with flowers last year, so I will cut them back to balance the bush and ensure the boughs don’t break.
Take a look at the general condition. If there are lots of straggly stems, prune back harder. If it is performing well and the shape is what you want, you can be less harsh.
I hope this has been helpful to you and that you’re more confident to prune your own rose bushes now. Pruning doesn’t have to be scary or even brutal, trust your instinct, the trick is not to rush it or get too carried away.
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve enjoyed this article, please feel free to comment below or ask me questions about the roses in your own gardens. Let me know how you get on!
P.S.: If you’re anywhere near Bath on the 5th March, Hellebore Garden is having an Spring Open Garden day in aid of Dorothy House Hospice. Find out more here: https://www.dorothyhouse.org.uk/events/spring-open-garden-hellebores/
The new NGS garden scheme booklet has just been published, plan your season’s visits ahead of time at http://www.ngs.org.uk/ or use the NGS app to locate a garden opening in your area.