A Rose Masterclass with David Austin Nurseries (An October Showcase)

292053_268357303203223_2034923660_nMichael Marriott at the David Austin Rose Nursery in Albrighton providing some insights into rose planting, care and pruning on a bright October day a couple of years ago.

He is the Technical Director at David Austin, a Rosarian of renown, accomplished designer of rose gardens for the great, grand and good across the globe. If you see a rose garden that features David Austin roses at all, chances are he’s the man behind it!

This was a day-course at the Nurseries in Albrighton (west of Wolverhampton into Shropshire) on a bright October day and tells a little of the David Austin story. I’ve posted a potted history of the operations recently and a search of my own back catalogue will reap great rewards I’m certain!

How to plant a rose

Here (the first photograph) he was discussing planting bare rooted roses – though also by association container-grown plants too – in the sandy soil that is a challenge to them and every other rose grower. For bare root roses, the season runs from November to February – we are probably too late now to obtain bare root stock. These are exactly as the name suggests, a small cluster of roots and a matching crown of bare stems. It is important to keep these moist at all times – there is no protective pot of soil to protect them from drying out – and they should be thoroughly soaked before planting.

Plants presented in containers will develop a rudimentary root system, with finer feeding roots that will bind the soil together. For plants bought in February, March and April, do not worry that a lot of the soil is likely to come away loose from the roots when the pot is upturned to take out the rose. But keep the time the roots are laid bare like this to a minimum and make sure they are planted quickly.

316919_268357509869869_1851791791_nIf memory serves, he was pointing out the knuckle of the rose plant, the graft union between the root stock (most often now Rosa laxa, though for many years before, Rosa canina) and the scion – the part of the rose that will give you the rose you actually want.

Current thinking is that this rough swelling should be planted just below the soil surface – it anchors the plant more securely by being that little bit deeper in the ground and by excluding light, reduces the incidence of suckering from the wilder root stock.

305452_268357386536548_657004087_nHaving dug a wide, deep hole – it is best to be generous, at least half the depth of the container  and about as wide – this is equally generously improved by a couple of shovels of good garden compost, composted manure or even John Innes Number 3 if you have it.

This will provide a welcome meal for when your planted rose wakes up and demands breakfast. On sandy soil it will add some well-needed bulk and organic matter, on clay it will ultimately help break up the heavy clods of soil and aid drainage.

What Michael did next was a little surprising – we all though he had forgotten something – that important bit when the rose is planted. He backfilled the hole with the spoils taken out, mixing it with the added soil improver. Like he hadn’t dug a hole at all!

313208_268357593203194_480424768_nWhen the original larger excavation was completely filled in, only then did he re-dig a smaller planting pocket and plant the rose, spreading the roots out carefully before trickling the soil back around the roots and filling in the hole completely. I think I can just about see the freshly planted rose in the photo above.

309821_268357353203218_484231789_nI should have mentioned that he used a mycorrhizal fungi supplement before planting – these are obtainable in small sachets that will suffice for two or three roses, or in larger quantities. Fine sandy grains, these are patted onto the roots – this contact is vital – with a smattering placed at the bottom of the planting hole (within a hole) ready to meet the new roots as they begin to grow and explore.

This supplement exploits a very natural association between mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots but helps to speed up the process – one that might take several years to become established without this helping hand. Plants are able to take up more water and more nutrients early in their life, making them stronger, more drought tolerant and ultimately healthier for this association. There is no need for additional fertiliser, bone meal or otherwise if you use the mycorrhizal supplement. The additional organic matter in the planting hole will be food enough.

Roses in the ground will have a deep tap root and quite an extensive root system. Like Dick Whittington, we want these to travel, explore and find their own food and water reserves. Making the conditions in the planting hole too rich, too comfortable and there is a possibility the new roots will just swirl around in the rich, friable, fertile soil you have carefully and generously provided. We want the plant to become self-sufficient, for food and water.

If your soil is especially rich in clay, rough up the edges of the planting hole so that fresh young, probing roots, can break through into the ground around. lf it is feasible to dig a square hole, rather than a round one, then again the new roots are more likely to go exploring as we want them to do into the surrounding soil environment.

Roses in Containers

We looked at planting roses in containers too – and they can be happy container plants given a little (OK, much) care and attention. The flowers are brought a little closer to our eyes and nose and they can be a colourful and fragrant addition to a courtyard garden, patio or terrace, being moved elsewhere when they are out of flower.

There are patio roses, miniatures too, that are diminutive little plants that will grow well in relatively small pots, though they will require regular watering and feeding with a suitable liquid feed to keep them healthy and flowering well.

Other roses, shrubs, English Roses, floribundas and hybrid teas – some climbers and ramblers too – can also be grown in containers but often this really has to be a large container – at least 50cm wide and deep (and deeper is always best) – with good drainage and a decent rich soil; John Innes No. 3 is always a good choice. Multipurpose composts will not be up to the job – they will continue to break down themselves, they will shrink and compress the roots when dry and may be difficult to re-wet. Internal tunnels will form that water can quickly sluice through without even attempting to wet the compost and your expensive liquid feeds will go the same way, straight through the pot and out!

304211_268358899869730_2134799903_n299914_268358793203074_1945436839_nMolineux (above) and Charlotte (above that)

313219_268358833203070_508367563_nPrincess Alexandra of Kent (above)

These plants will need regular watering – more so if the pots are porous like terracotta – and should be fed well, once a month from April to August with a liquid feed. I’m a huge fan of liquid seaweed which can be added as a drench from a watering can. You can also mist over the leaves of the plant with a solution in a spray bottle. I’m quite sure that aphids dislike the saltiness, it acts as a mild anti-fungal agent and the  mineral feed is delivered straight to the leaves where it can easily be absorbed.

314558_268356506536636_741059716_n307770_268356703203283_1234770880_n294790_268356746536612_309959802_nLady of Shalott (above)

These are the collection of English roses being grown at Albrighton. While a rose in the ground may have a long and flower-filled life, allow 10 years for a potted rose, though you might rehabilitate it and plant it in the ground after maybe two, three or four years with little impact on future growth. Given their ability to flower in several flushes in a good summer, that may be, over ten years, 30 or more period of flower and fragrance. Not a bad bargain to be made.

All of this allowed, that roses can thrive in containers, roses potted-up do rely on you for everything – you are their sole provider!  As such they can be more easily stressed than their counterparts in the ground and you can do a lot to minimise this. Choose the largest container possible at the beginning, when the rose is potted up – they are not plants that can be incrementally potted on into ever larger pots as they develop. Choose the smaller varieties unless the container is very large. A climbing or rambling rose in full leaf and flower is a great sail of a thing, a mass of vegetation that needs ballast to stop if blowing away and sufficient growing medium to supply it with a regular supply of food and water. Feeding should be monthly in the growing season – a good balanced liquid feed – and watering, in a hot summer period, may even be daily.

Drought and deluge is not a good regime for roses (or any plant, really).

Do not use water-retaining crystals in the potting compost though – often an excellent addition to a hanging basket, but not at all good for mature plants such as the rose.

For a good choice of fertiliser, I’d recommend liquid seaweed, Maxicrop, perhaps alternating later in the season with a tomato feed, to encourage flower. Feed from April to August, according to the instructions.

The container displays at Albrighton are perhaps the best that anyone might achieve and I have little doubt that they are given every advantage in their care regime – they bask in a sunny position and are likely to be fed – and fed – and fed.


316712_268358116536475_225142212_nMichael is looking at a lovely specimen of Rosa mundi, a summer-flowering Gallica, an Old Rose of great charm and antiquity. It is a shrub rose and forms a pretty much permanent feature in the border (contrasted with hybrid teas for example which are generally rather brutally cut back each year). Pruning this – and many Old Roses – is a much more gentle process.

296777_268358216536465_1404161186_nPossibly no more than a third to a quarter of the stems will be pruned back, shaping the plant at the front to create different lengths.

318572_268357653203188_1919264748_nHere he is looking at Paul’s Himalayan Musk (rambler) – looking at the older canes that have flowered in the summer and perhaps looking to take some of these out, in sections, before tying in some of the young stems thrown up since March, which will bear flowers next year and for a few years ahead.

Of course there is a lot more to pruning than just this one Old and one ramblers. Again recent posts in this blog will give you much more information and will cover formative pruning, regular annual pruning and then renovation of roses. I hope to draw together all of these strands in one ‘Workshop’ but I’m not quite there yet!

How to breed the perfect new David Austin rose

A whistle-stop tour of the breeding program – I’ve written recently more fully about the millions of crosses they make to breed and select new roses.

301240_268355556536731_1021773585_nThe ‘Mother’ plants here, the genetic library for much of the breeding that goes on at David Austin.

296672_268355739870046_761258306_nThere is about an acre under glass for the breeding programs.


316230_268357196536567_756674782_nThese plants have been cross-pollinated and labelled to identify the parentage. From the hips, seeds are gathered and sown – these seedlings flower in the first year and the initial assessment – for future stars – is made that first summer. A huge proportion are discarded.

294860_268355909870029_1310064049_n308744_268359713202982_29600559_n294287_268359799869640_509500052_nThe young hopefuls are planted out in the trial fields and watched for six or more years. Those that deserve special consideration are marked with a Red post – and having walked through these fields, with so many gaps where the unworthy have fallen, some plants look pretty much perfect, healthy and full of flower. They are not fertilised nor are there any treatments for pests and diseases. If they can look this good in their sandy soil and brutal regime, how much better should they perform given even a modicum of love and attention in a garden situation!

The Tour

A final gallery tour of the 2-acre gardens – in October mind you – starting at the entrance which is graced with my favourite, Lady Emma Hamilton, a tangerine-orange with gold centre, burgundy foliage and a heady scent of guava, melon, sauternes and citrus. A remarkably beautiful rose and deservedly the first one you come to at their nursery!

319591_268359619869658_1727104612_n298544_268357726536514_1106269584_n294209_268356376536649_1795076630_nThere are a selection of their Fragrant English Climbers in the loggia here, which clearly provides for some shade. Doing quite well despite the situation!

316242_268356933203260_1587924174_n308493_268356989869921_1517020024_nIn this circular garden, the wide grass paths have equally generous borders, edged in box, the planting almost entirely of roses – but every colour is represented and if you find yourself there in the summer, it is all very dolly-mixtures, if you understand me. But then it is a showcase for their catalogue, rather than a private garden, so I expect they can be forgiven!

Peacocks add to the display.


Statues created by David Austin’s late wife, Pat, create focal points in the gardens.

303931_268358366536450_281662987_n310382_268357849869835_1410957960_nIn other gardens, there are roses with herbaceous companion planting with some evergreen shrubbery for highlights. For a garden comprised solely of summer-flowering Old Roses, whose display is a great ‘Whoosh’ in June, this extra dimension, unless the garden is hidden away and taken out only midsummer, is essential in prolonging the season of interest. The Old Roses settle back and form part of the green shrubbery, although with repeat-flowering roses, like the David Austin English Roses, the show goes on for several months into the Autumn.

299631_268358293203124_1045147503_nStandard roses add height and a rhythm in the borders in this garden.

296870_268358519869768_618259917_n293526_268358709869749_583279950_n301485_268356446536642_800053967_n308150_268358653203088_47112681_nRoses are grown skywards too in several ways in these gardens – on pillars, arches and pergolas as well as being trained on the brick walls and boundaries. Climbers and ramblers all have their place.

Finally, it is all for sale in the rose nursery!


317245_268359746536312_296051681_n…. and you leave with a view across the Trial fields (to their modern offices). The selection process for a new rose takes at least seven or eight years – more – so the many of the new roses we will be seeing at Chelsea, not just this year, but for several years to come, are already either chosen or there are at least very strong contenders. I wonder what we will see this year.

Last year gave us The Poet’s Wide, Olivia Rose Austin and The Lady of the Lake. As I book my tickets for Chelsea 2015, what will they offer us this time around?


One thought on “A Rose Masterclass with David Austin Nurseries (An October Showcase)

  1. Reblogged this on The Teddington Gardener and commented:

    Michael Marriott lending his expertise at David Austin – planting and pruning masterclass at their eponymous nursery and gardens. The last trawl through my own back-catalogue though there are so many many more items to choose from … All to refresh my memory for an upcoming workshop at Petersham Nurseries

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.