Update: David Austin died at his home on December 18, 2018, aged 92.
David Austin’s Rose Garden in Shropshire was on my to-do list from the start so it was with much pleasure that we discovered that not only was it free to visit (free for us as we couldn’t haul away piles of plants) but the onsite cafe produced one of the best cream teas of our trip!
The rose garden is divided into several gardens and although we struck it between main flushes (there were many buds waiting to burst), there was still enough out to make it a worthwhile stop and a lovely place to wander on a hot summer’s morning.
David Austin, who began his working life as a farmer, started experimenting with rose breeding in the 1940s and 1950s, opening his eponymous nursery in 1970. And it’s still a family business with the great man’s son, also David, and his grandson, Richard, on board.
David Austin has called the results of his breeding programme ‘English Roses’, explaining in his 1993 book of the same name that he used 18th and 19th century roses, such as Damasks and Gallicas, with modern Hybrid Teas and floribundas to create the roses that he began releasing from 1969 “… although there had been three earlier varieties – Constance Spry in 1961, Chianti in 1967 and Shropshire Lass in 1968 – but these were more in the nature of stepping stones towards the true English Rose”.
He goes on to define an English Rose as combining the form of flower, fragrance and general character of an Old Rose with the wide range of colour and repeat flowering of a modern HT or floribunda and “they retain much of the shrubby, bushy growth of the old varieties”.
Of the first roses he introduced in 1970, two of the seven are still available – Wife of Bath and Canterbury. David Austin Roses has now released more than 200 varieties.
According to his Wikipedia entry, he has more recently separated his roses into four groups:
- Old Rose hybrids
- The Leander group, often with Rosa wichurana in their breeding, with larger bushes and arching growth tending to make them pillar or low climbing roses
- English Musk roses, based on Iceberg and the Noisette roses, with pale green, slender and airy growth. The musk rose scent is missing from most, though other scents are present in many.
- English Alba hybrids, with tall, rather blue-leaved bushes like the old Alba roses.
Graham Thomas may be the best-known of all Austin roses and is the only English rose to be inducted into the World Federation of Rose Societies Rose Hall of Fame.
In a nice coincidence the NZ Rose Society is promoting a David Austin rose as its Rose of the Month for October.
Thomas A Becket features clusters of rosette-type blooms, crimson red in colour (more so than has transferred to the image above) with a moderate Old Rose scent. It is a medium-growing plant with a shrubby habit and has excellent disease tolerance. Read about the life of Thomas A Becket.
The rose is available in New Zealand from Tasman Bay Roses (pre-order for winter 2019).
David Austin’s tips for growing his English Roses (in Britain):
- Mix ample quantities of farm manure or other hummus in the soil before planting
- Plant in groups of two or three, particularly the smaller-growing varieties
- Prune in early winter to half or three-quarters of the length of the shoot and thin out any weak growth
- Mulch with farm manure or hummus annually or every other year; feed with a rose fertiliser twice a year
- Maintain a regular spray programme, particularly in spring.
“Provided you follow these broad instructions, as well as of course, using a liberal dash of common sense, your roses should repay you with years of enjoyment.”
The company’s website has particularly thorough advice for the planting and care of roses. Read The Basics of Growing Roses.