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In Appreciation of the Old Roses at Asthall Manor

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In Appreciation of the Old Roses at Asthall Manor

June 23, 2022

“The Cotswold country, old and quaint, ridden with ghosts and legends, is today very much on the tourist route,” wrote Jessica Mitford in her memoir Hons and Rebels (1960), and the same could be said now. Towns like Burford provide a service to the old and quaint villages by keeping crowds away from their country verges bustling with wild flowers, and stone walls spilling over with roses. Walking past Asthall Manor, where the Mitford family spent their happiest years, is almost too much to believe, with old roses tumbling onto the lane and giving a generous hint of what lies within.

We asked head gardener Owen Vaughan to take us around the garden, which is currently open for On Form, a month-long selling exhibition of stone sculpture that takes place at Asthall every two years.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista.

Above: Rosa ‘Cécile Brünner’ climbs over the front of the 17th century manor, “with a hint of R. ‘Sombreuil’ in the bottom right corner.”

Rosa ‘Cécile Brünner’, reaching towards the roof, is officially an old rose, having been introduced in 1841—before the first hybrid tea was born in 1867. However, there have been many new “old” roses bred since that date, and classifications are complicated already. Let’s just say that the roses that luxuriate at Asthall have been chosen for their atmosphere and romance, adding to the potential that the house already possessed, when the owner Rosie Pearson arrived in 1997.

Above: The dominating rose here is R. ‘Cécile Brünner’. It has, according to head gardener Owen Vaughan: “Masses of flowers and great health.”

There are some myths spread by rose breeders that old roses are difficult to grow, and that they are more prone to black spot. In fact, there are many varieties that hold the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Merit due to reliability and excellent performance, and Rosa ‘Cécile Brünner’, the climber shown scaling the walls above, is one of them (USDA zone 7a).

Above: Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ sends a cheery message out to the world, scrambling over the wall from inside the garden.

An additional misguided complaint is that old-fashioned roses tend to flower only once. In fact, there are many old climbers and shrub roses that come and go all summer. Most ramblers, on the other hand, have one long and overwhelmingly beautiful inflorescence, such as the ‘Rambling Rector’, shown here. The build-up is also worthwhile. Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ is healthy and vigorous; another AGM holder, USDA zone 7a.

Above: Rosa ‘Scentimental’, is a floribunda introduced in 1997 and not technically an old rose, except for our purposes.

Rosa ‘Scentimental’ is a floribunda, and therefore modern. It is splashed with burgundy and pink, resembling highly scented Rosa ‘Ferdinand Pichard’, which is a new-ish old rose (introduced in 1910) as well as the simpler Rosa mundi, with a medium scent, introduced 800 years ago. Says Owen Vaughan: “Rosa ‘Scentimental’ is one of the most fragrant roses at Asthall.” (USDA zone 6a).

Above: Rosa ‘Bonica’, pink in summer and orange in winter, when it is covered with rose hips (USDA zone 4a).

A word on pruning. There is a style known as the Asthall Method, developed by Mark Edwards, Rosie’s first head gardener after designers Isabel and Julian Bannerman implemented the garden. “The style has evolved over the last 20 years into what we do today,” explains Owen. The second head gardener was Jenny Barnes, whose very exacting pruning style has become an instagram sensation (see Ask the Expert: Jenny Barnes’ Way with Roses). “When Jenny became head gardener she put her twist on the style,” comments Owen, on the circles and indeed twists that bring interest to bare stems in winter, and help to conduct the sap for more flowers in summer.

Above: Rosa ‘Albertine’ (pink, USDA zone 4a)) mixing with an unknown pale yellow rose which is officially Rosa ‘Céline Forestier’. “I think the flowers are too small to be that one,” comments Owen.

“I have become the latest head gardener to give my interpretation of Mark and Jenny’s style,” says Owen.”My take on the Asthall Method is a little more relaxed, while still retaining the sculptural forms. I find the benefits are to soften the link between the house and garden.”

Above: One of the most captivating roses is another mystery, in a beguiling pink, with large hips in winter. Owen says “It could be Rosa ‘Lyda’.” Shown here with foxtail lilies, overlooking the wall toward the churchyard.
Above: Climbing over one side of a peaked roof, and falling down the other, Rosa ‘Rêve d’Or’, USDA zone 7.

Thriving in full sun at Asthall, Rosa ‘Rêve d’Or’ is an old-fashioned noisette rose and a tall climber that dates from 1869. It flowers more than once, and most growers agree that it is highly fragrant.

Above: Rosa ‘Rêve d’Or’ is a dream of golden apricot that goes brilliantly with other colors. Seen here mingling with white-pink ‘Félicité et Perpétue’ (‘Félicité et Perpétue’ holds an AGM, both roses are hardy to USDA 6a).
Above: Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ on the outside wall leads the eye toward ‘The Garland’, trained over the side entrance arch. Rosa ‘The Garland’ is thorny, and a favorite with legendary plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll. “Perfect for training,” says Owen.

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