Country & Garden: It's time for vital cutbacks

Christmas is coming and, with it, the ideal opportunity to prune your roses to perfection.

In the borrowed words of that well-known gardening expert, E Costello: "It's been a good year for the roses." (If you don't count the blackspot, that is, Elvis.) The flowering of most of the "repeat-flowering" roses that I grow has been prolonged and generous. If I look out of the window, I can see a group of mature roses, of `The Pilgrim', with dozens of lemon- yellow, full-bodied flowers, still with heads held high above almost naked stems, these having been stripped of their leaves in recent windy weather. They are best viewed from a distance, however, for the weather has taken its toll.

In the past, most of us have not thought much about roses in December. Sure, experts have advised us to tread round the stems at soil level, after windy or frosty weather, to ensure that no gap opens up that might fill with water and rot the roots, and to make certain those roots remain firmly anchored in the ground. Otherwise, they have been silent.

Lately, however, there has been a shift in opinion in some quarters, towards pruning "remontant" (that is, repeat-flowering) shrub roses in December or January, rather than waiting until March to do it. This has a couple of advantages not only for roses, but also for ourselves.

To begin with, no one has much spare time just at the moment, but there is a prodigiously long holiday on the horizon and, if the weather is not severe, a morning spent, booted and spurred (or rather hatted and gloved), in the fresh air pruning roses cannot fail to clear the head and soothe the soul. There is never enough time to do everything that needs doing in March.

For a shrub rose, a pruning in the next few weeks, when it has finally become dormant, beats being tinkered with in March, when rising temperatures have probably already prompted it into lush growth. When roses are pruned in spring, this growth has routinely to be chopped off, which probably does not significantly weaken the plant, but certainly delays its flowering by, at the very least, several days, and sometimes a week or two.

Pruning in mid-winter is certainly advised by David Austin, who has done much to put the fun back into rose growing by breeding a race of roses, the English Roses, admirably suited to our contemporary plant-rich gardens. These are Modern Shrub roses, with the flower shape and scent of the finest of the single-flowering Old Roses, such as the Gallicas and Centifolias, but with a greater colour range, the ability to flower reliably more than once between summer and late autumn, and the habit (mostly) to suit being planted among herbaceous perennials and other shrubs.

The success of the English Roses during the last 30 years or so has been spectacular and very well- deserved, not only in this country, but also in the United States and the Antipodes, where the warm summers really suit them.

Some English Roses have turned out to be better "doers" than others, and there is always the chance you may buy one that turns out to be a disappointment, especially if you happen to live in a cold district. A good guide to the particularly reliable ones is whether they are found in other rosarian's catalogues, or garden centres. Universally available are `Gertrude Jekyll'; `Graham Thomas', `LD Braithwaite', `Heritage', `Mary Rose' and `Winchester Cathedral', for example; these are all excellent garden plants.

Pruning a particular variety is often a matter of trial and error, of getting to know the habit of the rose you are pruning. Some have arching growth (`Lilian Austin'), some are more upright (`The Pilgrim'), and some more spreading (`The Prince'). Their use in the garden also dictates how they are pruned. Some of the shorter growers, if planted very closely, around 18ins apart, will make a bedding rose bed; according to Michael Marriott, of David Austin Roses, if pruned hard, they are better at filling the space in such a situation than the conventional denizens, bush roses.

I grow my English Roses in groups, in mixed borders. For them to thrive when competing with hardy perennials, I need to be able to weed underneath them easily and feed them regularly, so I remove any stem growing horizontally low down, as well as all dead and obviously diseased growths.

I remove the odd old stem at the base, and perhaps trim back one or two of the longest shoots by a third, but that is all. I certainly retain the twiggy, thin, mingy-looking side-growths, because from these grow leaves which are vital for food manufacture.

Although it is well-established that you can successfully prune your roses with hedge-trimmers, I prefer a sharp pair of secateurs, to avoid shredded and split ends. In pruning, I am looking to create an attractive shape, as much as I am to renew the rose's vigour, and I prune lightly to promote quantity of bloom, rather than size.

If we accept that our winters are shortening and warming up, it makes sense to change some of our gardening habits. These days, we demand a good early autumn flush of rose flower almost as much as the traditional summer one.

By pruning in the next few weeks, and thereby promoting an early first show of flower next year, I am very much hoping that my beloved `The Pilgrim' won't waste so much of its sweetness on the wet and windy November air.

David Austin Roses Ltd, Bowling Green Lane, Albrighton, Wolverhampton WV7 3HB, telephone 01902 376300 for details

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...