Rose-tinted spectacle Who can imagine an English garden without roses?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's been 15 years since the eminent gardener Christopher Lloyd threw the roses out of his rose garden at Great Dixter in Sussex, planting tropical bananas, cannas and castor oil plants in their place. Then, it was as if someone had chucked the baboons off the Rock of Gibraltar. There were full-page spreads in the national press. You expected questions to be raised 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. There are still gardeners who do not want gardens entirely filled with spiky things from the southern hemisphere and for whom June means roses spilling out of as many places as possible. I like them on walls and pergolas, climbing and rambling. I am not so keen on them in beds, when for too much of the year, they provide little to look at beyond a prickly bunch of sticks.

But at the beginning of this month, the best thing in our garden was a rose called 'Easlea's Golden Rambler'. I first bought it for its languorous name and in our old garden, planted it on a home-made pergola. Then in one of the vicious north-easterly gales that sometimes roar at intervals through May, the whole thing blew off its supports and lay spreadeagled over the raspberry patch. A clematis (a vigorous Macropetala type) growing with the rose, added to the muddle.

It was one of those moments when you longed to be able to rewind the tape, as it were, run the action backwards, 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. It only flowers once in a season.

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' has enough ammunition to have turned my head on that occasion into a bloodily leaking colander. The rose did not look comfortable either. It had the air of a patient recently fitted with a neck brace, stiffly forced to look out in a direction it would not have chosen for itself. When it had finished flowering, I cut the whole lot down and started it off afresh.

You might have thought that episode would put me off 'Easlea's Golden Rambler' for life, but when we came to our new garden, I planted it again because it's such a fabulously extravagant rose. The buds are elegant and pointed, but the flowers open into huge, wonderfully messy double blooms, soft apricot yellow, fading slightly to a paler lemon-yellow as they age. The smell is astounding. It is far better suited in its present position than it was on our pergola. Its growth is too stiff to train on a pergola where you need whippy, softish stems such as those on 'Goldfinch' to wind round the poles. 'Easlea's Golden Rambler', though classed as a rambler, actually has the rigid stems more typical of a modern climbing rose.

In our present garden, it is planted against a trellis which we put up to hide a new oil tank. The one plant now covers the whole space, more than five metres across. The trellis is less than two metres tall though, so we've pulled the stems over into long arches and tied them in to the support behind. Left to itself, 'Easlea's Golden Rambler' can be slightly leggy, but pulling the growths over almost horizontal disguises the habit. And persuades the rose to bloom more freely. I don't mind the fact that it blooms only once. The extravagance of the display is worth waiting for. Various clematis fill the gaps before and after, with just one, velvety 'Niobe' in purplish magenta, flowering at the same time as the rose.......... The rambler gets its name from Walter Easlea, who set up a nursery at Leigh-on-Sea, Essex in 1900 and bred this particular rose in 1932. Although an old variety, 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 to fancy 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.

I grew up with pre-war roses, which were still novelties for my parents, both of them keen gardeners. Perhaps that's why, subliminally, I feel comfortable with them. 'Chaplin's Pink', introduced in the late 1920s, sprawled all over the east-facing wall of the house where I grew up. I associate it with long summer holidays, breakfasts outdoors (my mother was a fresh air fiend), pink petals in the cornflakes. It's an unfashionable rose now. Refined gardeners shudder at the brightness of its colour. Greedy gardeners resent the fact that it has only one midsummer flush of flowers.

Nevertheless, when it does flower, it is generous; it's 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 there as white 'Aimee Vibert' or the creamy old rambler 'Alberic Barbier.' Among the yellows, 'Maigold' will put up with a north wall too, though any rose will flower better in sun than without it. 'Maigold', bred in Germany in the Fifties, flowers earlier than most climbers with clusters of gold-coloured blooms, netted over with orange.

The roses I've put in the new garden have been chosen for their fruit, rather than their flowers, because I've been putting together a hippery, a place that will come into its own in autumn. The idea came from a huge old thorn tree (Crataegus crus-galli) at the back boundary of the garden, which has superb clusters of haws in October and November. It's a place where the garden needs to shake hands with the landscape beyond – not be too gardenesque – so I've chosen wild-looking roses such as Rosa moyesii 'Geranium' (in flower now with small, brilliant red single flowers), 'Eddie's Jewel' which has slightly bigger flowers of carmine and Rosa davidii, a Chinese species with deep pink flowers. There are three of each. The flowers are fine, the foliage on all the plants is light and ferny, but the hips are the real point: outrageous flagon-shaped hips in brilliant sealing-wax red. So I've enjoyed these roses in June, but I'll enjoy them even more come autumn.

See roses this month at: Toddington Manor, Park Rd, Toddington, Beds LU5 6HJ, open Tuesdays (1-5pm), £4; Moor Wood, Woodmancote, Cirencester, Glos GL7 7EB, open 28 June (2-6pm), £3; Kiftsgate Court, nr Chipping Campden, Glos GL55 6LN, open Sat-Wed (12-6pm), £6.50; Castle Howard, York YO60 7DA, open daily (10am-4.30pm), £8; Malleny Garden, Balerno, Edinburgh EH14 7AF, open daily (10am-6pm), £3

Comments