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A part of our landscape since Roman Britain

An article by our feature writer Christine Walkden

The rose had been part of our history since the Tertiary period which started 70 million years ago. They have been part of the English landscape in the form of Rosa canina, the dog rose, which would have been a common sight in Roman Britain.  The Alba, Centifolias, Gallicas and Damask roses began to be seen in cultivation about AD 1200.

Roses are still one of the most popular garden shrubs today and there are several good reasons why this is so.

They have a long flowering season, often from June through to October depending on the type being grown, and they are remarkably hardy. I have not heard of a single rose being killed by last year's very hard winter whereas a lot of other shrubs did not survive. Many have a fantastic scent, while others such as the Rugosa types have heavily-veined leaves which make them very attractive and often they go on to produce great hips.

The gardener can use them in so many situations, in mixed borders, specific rose beds, climbing up walls, trees, pergolas, up tripods in the vegetable garden to attract pollinating insects, in containers, as ground cover, in among other plants, in window boxes and hanging baskets, as hedges and screens and they offer plants for formal bedding, courtyard planting or the informal cottage garden style.

For success, they do need good light and this can be achieved by following the spacing suggested and supplied with the plants when you receive them. Do not be tempted to plant too close as this will encourage weak growth that will become susceptible to the three common diseases which may attack roses, blackspot, powdery mildew and rose rust. All of these diseases are so much worse and more difficult to control when plants are grown too close together.  Ideally, the rose should receive at least four hours of the sunshine per day.

Roses do not survive well in very drafty situations or those which are bone dry for much of the year but, by the same token, they will not like having their feet standing in water over the winter and in this situation most roses will die. The mixing into the soil of well-rotted compost and sharp grit will help if drainage is poor.  The idea site will have deep soil which is rich in organic matter into which the plants can produce extensive root systems which will exploit the available food and water.

Most soils will grow roses well if plenty of well-rotted compost is dug into the planting hole and then heavy applications of good mulch (about 3” thick) each year in February will ensure the organic matter content remains suitable.


On arrival remove the plants from the packaging and soak the roots for a couple of hours before planting.  Dig a deep enough hole so that the bud union (where the branches start) is covered by at least 2” of soil.  By the time the soil settles naturally the rose will be at the right planting depth.

Do not place the mulch right up to the stem of the plants as this can cause the stem to rot or the graft to root, encouraging sucker production. Mature compost, well-rotted manure, old grow bags or leaf mould and even rotted grass clippings may all be used to advantage.

Feeding Roses are very simple if you use a good quality rose fertiliser. This should ideally be applied in February and then again in July.

Regular deadheading of the flowers will ensure a long season of a display. This is best done by snapping off the faded flowers just below the swollen part under the flower head.  You will find the roses come back into flower quickly and will produce more blooms than when using secateurs to remove the blooms and a small section of the stem.


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