Gardening: Looking at a rose-tinted spectacle - Out of favour with some gardeners, roses remain Britain's favourite flower. Gatcombe Court has them in abundance, says Anna Pavord

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The Independent Online
When the eminent gardener Christopher Lloyd threw his roses out of the garden at Great Dixter in Sussex last year, it was as if someone had chucked the apes off the Rock of Gibraltar. There were full-page spreads in the national press; you almost expected questions in the House. In horticultural societies throughout the land, members debated whether this was the end of the world as they knew it.

The answer, of course, is no. The sky has not fallen in on the hybrid tea. Plenty of gardeners such as Charles Clarke at Gatcombe Court, Flax Bourton, Avon, still see their gardens chiefly in terms of the number of roses they contain.

Gatcombe Court, open this weekend for the first time under the National Gardens Scheme, starts in the road with the climbing roses 'New Dawn' and 'Chaplin's Pink' covering the outside walls by the gate. 'Chaplin's Pink', introduced in the late Twenties, is an unfashionable rose now. Refined gardeners shudder at its bright colour. Greedy gardeners resent the fact that it has only one midsummer flush of flowers.

I have a soft spot for it, though. My parents planted it on the east-facing wall of our house. I associate it with long summer holidays and breakfasts outdoors, pink petals in the cornflakes.

It is free-flowering, and a good rose to hang in a tree for it does not mind a bit of shade. It will even put up with a north wall, although it would not do as well as in its south-facing position at Gatcombe Court. Semi-circular steps lead up to the gate, with the house sitting on a high bank beyond. The facade is soft grey stone, gabled, bow- windowed, the whole thing smothered in a rampant climbing 'Cecile Brunner' rose. While the bush version of 'Cecile Brunner' is quite spindly, lacking in oomph, something explosive happens to the climbing version. Gatcombe has flowers that wave at you from the attic windows. The flowers, individually, are small, very pale pink, but the effect en masse is stunning. You need a good head for heights to keep a rose as vigorous as this on a house wall. Each year the eruption of growth has to be tamed, pruned, tied in. This is when roses are at their most malevolent, snatching at your hair, catching in the back of your jumper, scratching your arms. Now in full flower with the sun on its face, 'Cecile Brunner' looks as benevolent as a bishop at a diocesan tea party.

It is not far from the gate to the house, but the slope is steep and the ground has been levelled off into terraces. A swimming-pool garden on the left is cut off by vast bulges of yew. You could not call this a hedge. It has snapped the corsets that keep a hedge upright and rigid, and swelled into comfortable billows and curves.

A grass path leads between two narrow borders of 'Grandpa Dickson' roses, hybrid-tea types with plenty of glossy foliage to set off the big, clear-yellow flowers. Ahead are two steep sets of steps, awash with campanula, that lead up to an informal area known as the herb garden. Here Mrs Clarke grows sage, sweet cicely, rosemary, chives and thyme in spaces between the stone paving.

Fortunately for Mr Clarke, the garden at Gatcombe Court has plenty of walls, all of them now dripping with roses. To the left of the house he has planted the whole of one long wall with salmon-coloured 'Meg', climbing 'Lady Hillingdon', and 'Easlea's Golden Rambler'.

This last is of the same vintage as 'Chaplin's Pink', with big, double-yellow flowers held in generous clusters. A few years back I bought it for its languorous name and planted it on our home-made pergola. Then, in one of the vicious north-easterly gales that roared at intervals through May, the whole thing blew off its supports and lay spread-eagled over the raspberry patch. A clematis (a vigorous type) growing with the rose, added to the muddle.

It was one of those moments when I longed to be able to rewind the tape, as it were, run the action backwards and magically stick the rose back in its proper place. If it had already flowered, I would have slashed the whole mess, including the clematis, down to the ground and waited for new growths to train in. But I could not bear the thought of doing this just before the rose came into bloom.

Three of us fought to lift the thing off the ground and lash it roughly back where it belonged. Although not as viciously thorned as 'Mermaid', the unfriendliest of roses, 'Easlea's Golden Rambler' had enough spikes to make my head look like a bloodily dripping colander. The rose does not look comfortable now, either. It has the air of a patient recently fitted with a neck brace. When it has finished flowering, I will have to cut it down and start it off afresh.

'Easlea's Golden Rambler' is far better suited to its position on the wall at Gatcombe Court than it is on my pergola. Though classed as a rambler, its growth is too stiff to train on a pergola, where you need whippy, softish stems, such as those on 'Goldfinch', to wind round poles. But it is vigorous and healthy, a paragon (in this respect) compared with the mildew-prone rambler 'Albertine', or 'Compassion', which is a martyr to black spot.

Black spot seems fond of roses of the coral/apricot/orange type. 'Fragrant Cloud' is equally susceptible. So is 'Reveil Dijonnais' which has showy flowers of bright orange, yellow and red.

The swimming-pool at Gatcombe Court is surrounded by more climbing roses, mostly yellow varieties. 'Maigold' is here, an early-flowering climber with clusters of gold-coloured flowers, netted over with orange. 'Dreaming Spires', also growing here, is a more modern variety, starting off a similarly rich yellow, though the flowers fade to primrose as they age.

When I visited the garden, Mr Clarke was away on a visit to Bordeaux: his passion for wine, he had explained, equals his passion for roses. But the problem with a garden such as his is that if you miss the roses, there is not much to sustain you for the rest of the year. Bordeaux can wait.

Gatcombe Court, Flax Bourton, Avon, open today and tomorrow (2-5pm), admission pounds 1. More roses at Toddington Manor, Toddington, Bedfordshire, daily (10am-5pm), admission pounds 2.50; Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, near Reading, Berkshire, tomorrow (2-6pm), admission 50p; Favershams Meadow, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, today and tomorrow (2-6pm), admission pounds 1.50; Inglethorpe Manor, Emneth, near Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, tomorrow (2- 6pm), admission pounds 1.50; Askham Hall, near Penrith, Cumbria, next Sunday (2- 5.30pm), admission pounds 1.

(Photograph omitted)

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