The Telegraph 3:00PM GMT 17 Mar 2010
Train Vintage Roses with old-fashioned style
By Bunny Guinness
Vintage or old-fashioned roses are highly evocative. Their very names – Damask, Musk, Gallicas – are redolent of the age of cucumber sandwiches on the lawn, trysts in bowers and tennis parties. All the things we no longer have time for.
These old roses are not flowers that you just brush by, you have to linger and enjoy. For roses with vintage appeal, try training them in a traditional and more structural.
Choose those that have the older characteristics in their blooms and produce a delicious and powerful fragrance.
Gertrude Jekyll festooned and trained roses in many of her schemes. Not only do they impart more structure to the garden when manipulated, but their flower production is enhanced. This is because it involves bringing branches down near or even below the horizontal, so more flowering shoots are produced. The winter appearance of the structure over which you grow a rose, whether a metal dome, swagged rope or trellis is a year-round asset in today’s smaller gardens.
Training roses over domes is sadly less common today. You can either have one made by a blacksmith or buy them from Helmingham Hall (helmingham.com/rosesupports.asp; 01473 890799) for £35 each. The roses should be about three years old and established before you start training. You do this by planting one, or maybe up to four, depending on the vigour, around the edge of the dome and tying it/them up around it. These domes are perfect for the more lax roses, giving them more form.
I asked my uncle David, of David Austin Roses, for his favourite old-fashioned roses. He has a passion for many, but picked out a few specials.
‘Mme Legras de St Germain’ is ivory tinged with a yellow-flowered large shrub or climber that grows about 4m. It is ideal for training as it is thornless, yet has strong growth and good perfume. It would be ideal for dome or balloon-training, bringing a controlled extravagance of perfume and colour to a border.
David’s favourite rambler is ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’. Its trailing growth extends up to 10m and it produces hanging, open sprays of small, blush-pink rosettes, each on a spindly stem. It is abundant and graceful, with a strong fragrance. This would be the ideal rambler to grow up an old apple tree or run along the top of a pergola. Choosing roses for pergolas needs care. ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ would be no good for a 2m support, but you could run it up a 2m pergola and along the top (which it would do quickly) and then plant shorter climbers that repeat-flowered up the pergola posts. If you want one rose to go up and over your pergola, avoid stiff-stemmed climbers, such as ‘Compassion’, which are virtually impossible to train horizontally.
‘William Lobb’, which is an Old Velvet Moss, was in my uncle’s (and mine) top handful. It is robust, has dark crimson flowers and will grow 1.8m high – perfect for a simple tripod or wigwam. Encourage the roses to grow up and then tumble down so they form a flowering mound.
Climbers can be trained on a light trellis fence, to form a see-through division that can informally demarcate space in a garden. Choose climbing roses that form lots of basal growth so you can train them against and along the fence. Some of the climbing hybrid teas such as ‘Lady Sylvia’ climbing and ‘Lady Hillingdon’ climbing tend not to produce a lot of shoots from the base, so the effect is not as good.
At Sissinghurst, the climbers are trained so they form a series of arches against the wall. Not only do they look highly ordered in the winter, but by bringing down the stems to well below the horizontal it makes them bloom prolifically. I have seen gardeners train roses against wire fences this way, too. Choose larger varieties with flexible stems, such as ‘A Shropshire Lad’, ‘Tuscany Superb’ or ‘The Generous Gardener’ and avoid those that don’t produce many basal stems. Roses tumbling down a vertical surface in abundance add a romantic air. At Bodnant, ‘Debutante’ falls 5m or so down a wall. A rose with a lax habit and ones that don’t mind growing down, such as the Wichuraiana hybrids, are ideal.
Growing climbing roses up pillars or obelisks adds a strong vertical dimension to a border, which is especially useful if you want to add height to otherwise low-level planting (perhaps to conserve a view) and yet you want a little bit more three-dimensional appeal. Most of the climbing stems are twizzled around the obelisk or pillar (to encourage the production of side shoots and so extra flowers) and one or two can be taken straight up.
Roses are greedy and will respond to generous helpings of manure – repeat-flowerers need extra. They also prefer slightly acid soil so try sulphur chips in limey gardens. Prune dead, dying and diseased wood, but otherwise roses are forgiving of virtually any method of pruning, just keep dead-heading.
My favourite suppliers of roses are Peter Beales (peterbealesroses.co.uk) and, of course, uncle David (davidaustinroses.co.uk).