I joined the Historic Roses Group last year (at the Hampton Court Flower Show in fact) and have been looking after a collection of Old Roses for a few years now – as well as following their use in the breeding of modern English roses from David Austin. There is much to admire and hundreds of years of history to follow relating to their development, the characters who bred them, and the people after whom they were named.
Many Old Roses flower just the once and the colour palette might be considered limited – but the variation between the various classes (Bourbon, Gallica, Portland, Alba etc.,) can be significant, the plants superbly healthy and the fragrances unsurpassed. Many do repeat flower, in one way or another – Why do we expect this class of plant to be in flower for six months of the year when much else we are happy to see for just a few weeks? The romance is undeniable – bringing to life names from history with stories we can discover for ourselves.
This is a little slide show of some of the Old Roses that are available – if not in every garden centre or nursery – but worth seeking out. Gotta love a label! These were photographed at RHS Wisley a couple of weeks ago and most should be in stock most of the season, but go early if possible. An unexpectedly large collection is usually available at Petersham Nurseries, with more choice earlier in the season. They can be found between Ham and Richmond. Otherwise, head to Mottisfont in Hampshire, or try Peter Beales (classicroses.com).
I shall return to Mottisfont in Hampshire for their collection of Old Roses is encyclopedic (thank you, Mr G. S. Thomas), and will watch the weather to visit at the optimum time.
There are plenty of books that I could recommend – Peter Beales’ Classic Roses springs immediately to mind. I’ve dozens of books on roses now, antiquarian and modern, so watch out, you might become a little compulsive too…