We have been planning some celebrations at Petersham Nurseries for their 15th Anniversary next month, and I had been tasked with soliciting suggestions for 15 favourite – Roses, Garden Plants, Houseplants and Dahlias.

Our final lists will, of necessity, miss on out some outstanding candidates. We have focused on plants within the Nurseries, that we sell as well as those treasures planted in the Cutting Gardens and House Gardens.

Roses come first, for me at least for those who know of my singular passion for them. I was quite willing to repeat Lady Emma Hamilton 15 times and be done with it. The vast panoply of Old Roses have almost entirely been passed by. I would love to have included Mme Hardy (white lace and emeralds), the superlatively fragrant Mme Issac Pereire, a raft of Hybrid Musks (Ballerina, Penelope), the China rose Mutabilis, tea-scented Lady Hillingdon Climbing (growing in the Kitchen Garden), the Rugosa family, amongst them Blanc Double de Coubert. Of the ramblers, Phyllis Bide has become a favourite – teamed with Alchymist it is a triumph and if you have room, Paul’s Himalayan Musk will rarely disappoint. How to choose a favourite amongst so many favourites. Modern roses? Sally Holmes, Jacqueline du Pre, Bonica, Rhapsody in Blue, Margaret Merrill …

Therefore I sided predominantly on the side of the English Rose bred by David Austin and his eponymous company, together with a few that planted out, grace our Nurseries.

  1. Lady Emma Hamilton
  2. Gertrude Jekyll
  3. Munstead Wood
  4. Jude the Obscure
  5. Wollerton Old Hall
  6. The Generous Gardener
  7. Summer Song
  8. The Lady of the Lake
  9. Veilchenblau
  10. Eden Rose ’88/Pierre de Ronsard
  11. Seven Sisters (Rosa multiflora Platyphylla)
  12. The Mill on the Floss
  13. The Poet’s Wife
  14. Scepter’d Isle
  15. Boscobel

I may have included Princess Alexandra of Kent and Golden Celebrations in the gallery too.

A travesty, really, missing out on Desdemona; Olivia Rose Austin ought to be in there too, since it is one of the most important contributions to improved rose health within the breeding programme at David Austin in recent years. Gentle Hermione is just glorious, and I understand a favourite of the late Master.

I love Harlow Carr for its dense bushy habit, rich Old Rose scent and flurries of small neat rich pink flowers. Morning Mist forms a large shrub with huge great butterflies of salmon pink; give it room. Abraham Darby has the most delicious fragrance and while Lady of Shalott does not, it is a prolific flowerer and makes a fine show over a very long season. Snowgoose, like The Lady of the Lake, is a repeat-flowering rambler, with pure white pompoms of petals. I’ve set myself up to fail, I can see. The only constant in my reverie and rose day-dreaming is Lady Emma Hamilton.

I’m looking forward to the rose season ahead, which should be upon us, down south, in just a few weeks. I shall return to Mottisfont Abbey, take some of the team from Petersham Nurseries to David Austin’s rose gardens and trial fields in Albrighton a little later in June (it is cooler there). And I should like to take in more gardens that are Old Friends, and some new gardens – of which it is almost a crime that I have not visited before – this season

  • Border Hill Gardens, West Sussex
  • Penshurst Place, Kent
  • Coughton Court, Warwickshire (recommended in Claire Massett’s book ‘Roses and Rose Gardens’
  • Kiftsgate, Gloucestershire
  • Closer to Home, Queen Mary’s Garden in Regent’s Park, London
  • Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Kent (but only if I am first in the queue)
  • Abbey House Gardens, Wiltshire
  • Loseley Park, Surrey
  • Pashley Manor Gardens, Kent
  • Cothay Manor Gardens, Somerset

Any suggestions greatly appreciated, both for your favourite rose and for a particular favourite rose garden you can recommend.

Meanwhile, the floating flowers at the Nurseries are moving on from Hellebores to Tulips. We have roses, and Clematis, to look forward to –


Coming up, our favourite garden plants and a selection of choice plants for the home.

Finally, I should make some comment on my mental health, since I foisted my circumstances on you in January, or thereabouts, after quite the prolonged absence and time has moved on since then of course. I’m recovering, thank you – and thank you for all those kind folk who commented so warmly and sensitively when I made my announcement. I was in a very bleak place but like Winter turns to Spring, I am much more like myself these days. A conscientious and considerate GP, a brilliant Mental Health team in Teddington that have really looked after me, a spell in The Retreat in New Malden, which was really the turning point for me and please may the Health Service invest in more places like this. It took me several months to become ill, and over five months on here I am. Not quite there, but absolutely coming back.

I hope to learn lessons from this episode of depression (such a trite little phrase for something so enormous), and apply them in so many areas of my life. To take something positive and life-affirming from such a dark period of hopelessness and fear.

Oh, and I have a houseplant collection to build back up again. It’s been carnage. The larger Cacti and Sanserveria have survived, as you might expect, Euphorbia tirucallii, as toxic a houseplant as any if you accidentally break a bit off or forfend, get the sap in your eye; and indestructible. Oddly a Maranta has flourished, a stoic Fish Bone Cactus (Epiphyllum anguiliger) and a couple of Begonias, Raspberry Flash and B. luxurians. A leopard Calathea and a wide-leaved, apricot-flushed Chlorophytum (amaniense?) are hopeful for better treatment. The rest, RIP … Happily I don’t have to invest in any new pots, since the tops of the kitchen cupboards have them neatly stacked ready for new occupants.

With warm wishes, Martin


PS. I’ve rejoined Instagram, under a new account @teddington_gardener. I need to get my technical head on and link it to this blog. @thugthepetershamcat continues of course featuring the three feline residents at the Nurseries, and memories of Thug, of course.