“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.
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
“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.”
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.