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On a Chalk Hillside November-2017

Planting up a rose garden 1

What is your idea of a rose garden?  Is it of beds of roses, and only roses, closely planted, maybe dripping in either colour or scent (or both if you are lucky) ? Perhaps a bed of all one hybrid tea rose en masse like at the Southsea rose garden?

This is how my Mum presents roses.  Her front garden has two beds in the lawn, shaped like a sun and a sickle moon, each full of one type of David Austin rose and nothing else.  Even the scillas that spread from other beds are weeded out, as those beds are the rose beds.  I agree it makes it easy to tend the roses as they get rose fertilizer and rose feed at appropriate times without having to worry about other plants’ needs, and nothing spoils the impact of the flowers, but most of the year there aren’t flowers, even in repeat flowering roses, you get a good show in June or early July, a gap in late July and August, and by later September the second more sporadic flush of flowers is out.
Or perhaps your idea of a rose garden is of a family of old roses in one bed such as is found at Mottisfont Abbey where Graham Stuart Thomas developed a rose garden in the old Walled Garden there during the 1970s, with closely planted roses and a few edging plants round these beds, such as pinks, and then clematis climbing into the old apple trees at strategic points as well as climbing roses.   
Here are a couple of pictures from our visit to Mottisfont Abbey garden in June 2017 showing two beds of families of roses with their edging plants, and then a close up of a marvellous moss rose from 1862 Rosa ‘Henri Martin’ with the low plants round it.

The roses are the stars of the show.  They are supported by complementary pastel-coloured plants that are lower than the rose, and have smaller flowers so they don’t compete with the rose.  They are also designed in this garden to be at their peak when the roses are flowering, as that is when the majority of people visit this garden, during June and July.   
Have you noticed the (to me) fatal flaw with both these types of rose gardens?  Here’s a clue – Mottisfont’s rose garden at the beginning of spring.

Mottisfont is lucky that it has the box hedging and the interesting outline of the old fruit tree to the right to give interest, but in most gardens the traditional rose bed leaves you with lots of space devoted to something that only looks good for a few weeks of the year and can look positively manky for much of the rest of it.  I imagine this is why Christopher Lloyd dug up the rose garden at Great Dixter.   
However, I HAD seen roses used in mixed border planting where they were part of the mixed planting and allowed for succession of flowering in a border in one of the “secret” squares in London when they were open during one weekend festival.   There was a balance between enough roses for you to see them as a main thread of the border, but also enough herbaceous planting to swell up further to fill gaps and take the eye when the roses were not flowering.   At Hadspen, when we visited in June 2005 Nori and Sandra Pope’s colour-themed borders sometimes included roses as part of the mosaic of colour and texture.  Here roses were not a mainstay, simply one of the palette of plants used.  Not realising it would be my only opportunity to visit their garden I didn’t take many photos.  Here is one showing a rose used for texture.

Here Rosa Glauca is draping its gorgeous foliage through a border with a purple allium coming into flower behind it, and a double purple aquilegia in flower as well.  

The beds I term our rose garden comprise the rectangular one with the nice pink rose in it that might be ‘Ispahan’ which is the house side of the lawn, and separate from the other three irregular-shaped beds we had put the hoggin paths through.  In these, nearer the house we had hybrid tea and floribunda types, and at the back the large shrub/species roses which were taller and bulkier.  Even amongst these roses there was some succession of flowering, with the hybrid teas coming out later than the shrubs.  
I decided to treat the rectangular bed with the Rosa ‘Ispahan’ in it as a feature rose bed as the roses were close together and very impressive when in flower, which was June into early July, then again from late august into autumn, combining them with lower pastel planting to allow the roses to shine.  A colour combination that I love is deep blue and deep pink, so I divided up my Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ as the clump I brought with me spread, and put it in a bank centrally, and along the grass side of the bed.  The geranium gets about 40cm high and has a good strong green foliage so in my mind’s eye the pink roses would be floating above the sea of blue/green below.  Particularly as from the house you look down on the bed, so the effect would be intensified.  The aim is for the geranium and the rose to be flowering together – as you know this kind of combination works some years, and others one flowers before the other!  When it works it is lovely.  Here they are on 2nd June 2017.

This bed was to be closely colour co-ordinated to be pink, blue and silver.  In the spring before the roses flower it is covered in grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum), then the geraniums cover the bulb foliage.  On the other long side of the bed visible from the house I planted Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ to be an evergreen silvery statement, with a pink geranium Geranium x oxonianum f. thurstonianum in one corner, and a dark-leaved dwarf euphorbia  (Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’) beside to contrast with the silver (shades of Hadspen!)  Here is a late autumn arty shot of that, with the euphorbia quite green-leafed at that time of year.

Before you say anything, you are right, the euphorbia was the wrong shade being maroon most of the year, and was later moved elsewhere.  The other side of the artemisia I planted Salvia microphylla ‘Pink Blush’, which flowers all summer and autumn.    Here it is going strong in September 2009.

Walking along the new hoggin path beside the grass, you may recall I had cut a very narrow triangular bed to square up the lawn.  To lead the eye forward but also to tie in with the silver and pink In the feature rose bed I planted a selection of pinks.  Over the years I had bought lots of seed from Allwoods and grown maiden pinks - Dianthus deltoides; Mrs Sinkins; Gran’s Favourite; Cheddar Pink; Dianthus Carthusianorum, and many more, and the offspring of these seedlings were put into that bed as a silver carpet, leading from the pink/blue/silver bed towards the rest of the rose garden.  (Not Doris, who is a bit too chunky and salmon pink for this area for me.)  
The rest of the rose garden was to feature the shrub roses, but to treat the rest of the hybrid tea roses as part of a successional mixed planting.   As this article is quite long already, I shall describe planting up the other parts of the rose garden next month.  

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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