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English Gardens: David Austin Roses in Shropshire

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English Gardens: David Austin Roses in Shropshire

May 13, 2018

Great Britain was awash with patriotic fervor last year as our queen celebrated her 90th birthday. But there was another national treasure celebrating the same milestone—and just like the queen, David Austin, rose breeder extraordinaire, still went to work every day at his Shropshire HQ, continuing his lifetime’s quest to create the perfect rose.

We take a tour of this vast operation with senior rosarian Michael Marriot, who has worked alongside the rose breeder for three decades, to find out what makes the English roses so very special.

Photography courtesy of David Austin Roses, except where noted.

 Rosa &#8
Above: Rosa ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ (Ausmixture) is $28.50 for US shoppers and ‘The Lady Gardener’ (Ausbrass) shown at right is $28.50 in the US and £23.50 in the UK.

Each year 450,000 roses will be crossed, creating 150,000 seedlings that are initially grown in huge greenhouses before 10,000 are selected to grow on. It takes eight years, and a long process of elimination, to release new roses to the market. From those initial seedlings, around three new roses will be eventually released. Each rose has its breeding name (which always begins Aus-) and a commercial name (e.g. ‘Munstead Wood’).

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Above: ‘The Shepherdess’ (Austwist) is $28.50 apiece for US shoppers; in the UK The Shepherdess is £23.50 from David Austin. Photograph by Clare Coulson.
Austin started breeding roses as a hobby after the Second World War, crossing old roses such as gallicas and albas, which have a fabulous scent, with hybrid tea roses, which have the ability to repeat flower. As well as beauty, a graceful growing habit is also key to these elegant flowers. His first commercially produced rose was &#8
Above: Austin started breeding roses as a hobby after the Second World War, crossing old roses such as gallicas and albas, which have a fabulous scent, with hybrid tea roses, which have the ability to repeat flower. As well as beauty, a graceful growing habit is also key to these elegant flowers. His first commercially produced rose was ‘Constance Spry’ introduced in 1961.

The long selection process puts each rose through its paces because while great beauty is fundamental, each new release must prove itself with an abundance of practical qualities such as good disease resistance, wonderful scent, repeat flowering, and strong growth.

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Above: ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ (Ausmixture), a delicate pink, shallow cupped rose with gorgeous glossy foliage, was introduced in 2014 and ticks all these boxes. It has proven to be wildly popular—and says Marriot, it performs brilliantly in very variable climates too.

Alongside the garden rose breeding program, the company now breeds roses for cutting too—new hybrids are developed in a similar process although with slightly different criteria as vase life is a key factor—and cut roses will then be grown commercially with partners in California, Columbia, and Ecuador.

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Above: ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (Ausboard) is $28.50 in the US and £23.50 in the UK; here is it planted alongside Epilobium and Geranium ‘Brookside’.

The newest garden, in the two acres of formal rose gardens at David Austin, mixes roses with other perennial plants, which, says Marriot, is a much healthier way to grow than in a monoculture. He recommends planting in groups with each shrub 18 inches apart to create a pleasing mass of flowers. Soil health is everything—annual mulching is key to good rose health. Pictured: ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (Ausboard) planted alongside Epilobium and Geranium ‘Brookside’.

 Photograph by Clare Coulson.
Above: Photograph by Clare Coulson.

Climbing roses are no different from shrub roses; they simply have the ability to scramble and wind up pergolas, posts, and structures. As well as Austin’s own roses, the company sells many other popular roses including ‘Mme Gregoire Staechelin’ (in the UK only). It’s seen here climbing across an arch at David Austin HQ. There are magnificent climbers at every turn in the gardens.

Few ramblers have the ability to repeat flower but one of Austin’s recent introductions, &#8
Above: Few ramblers have the ability to repeat flower but one of Austin’s recent introductions, ‘The Lady of the Lake’ (Ausherbert), will flower freely (even in shade) and grows to 15 feet. It is $28.50 in the US and £23.50 in the UK.
With all the demands placed on them—not least their exceptional ability to flower freely throughout the growing season—the English roses won’t always have the long life of old roses.
Above: With all the demands placed on them—not least their exceptional ability to flower freely throughout the growing season—the English roses won’t always have the long life of old roses.

Marriot suggests that after 20 years they are often best replaced. And contrary to received wisdom, he also (controversially) believes that it is possible to plant new roses where roses have previously been growing—but a nutrient-rich, healthy soil is essential.

For more of our favorite garden roses, see DIY Climbing Roses: From Trellis to Vase on Cape Cod and Gardening 101: How to Prune Roses.

Get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for roses with Roses: A Field Guide and 7 Best Climbing Roses for a Garden.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for our favorite flowering plants in our curated design guide to Perennials 101.

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