With the World Cup now in full swing after weeks of feverish 'hype', you may be tempted to seek the peace and quite of a rose garden. Even here you will find strong links to sport and Englishness. The rose is of course the national flower of England, and whilst our national football team wear the three lions on their shirts, the rose is favoured by our Rugby Union team.
Now there is a group of roses called "English Roses" and for gardeners they will bring back the trophy every time!
These "English" roses started appearing in the 1970's and are largely the result of one man's brilliant plant breeding efforts. David Austin has successfully combined the old world charm of the oldest varieties with the disease resistance and performance of the modern Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses.
He describes these varieties as 'New roses in the old tradition' and they are just that. They have charm, form, fragrance, colour range and long repeating flowering performance that is unrivalled by any other roses and, debatably, any other garden plant!
With the steady introduction of new varieties since the seventies, we now have English roses to brighten up shrub borders, provide stunning bedding displays, train as climbers and even to grow in pots.
Most recently, this West Midland grower has turned his attention to breeding beautiful varieties suitable for cut flowers. These have a grace and beauty reminiscent of the flower paintings of the old Dutch Masters.
For me, what really makes them stand apart from other roses is the flower shape and colour range. They are just made for inter-planting with herbaceous perennials such as catmint, tall Campanulas, smoky Macleyas and hardy Geraniums. Many argue that these roses explode the myth that new varieties have no perfume. These certainly do! Their scents can be of myrrh, musk, fruits, Tea Rose and all those long forgotten Old Rose fragrances. They are worth growing for these reason alone.
Don't take my word for it, take a visit to the gardens laid out at David Austin's Nursery at Albrighton, Wolverhampton during the next week or two. The gardens there [see picture] are superb and well worth the trip. Details of their opening times can be found at www.davidaustinroses.com
English Roses are reasonably widely available particularly from independent nurseries and garden centres. They can be planted now (between matches!) and, given a little tender loving care this summer, will be winners every summer!
Tiny trees, not as big as many shrubs, have a great appeal for today's gardens. Their small and neat size adds a formality that is often lacking and compliments both contemporary and traditional styles.
For many years the small tree was invariably a row of 'standard' roses, popular bush roses budded onto tall wild briar rose stems to raise the blousy and sweetly scented blooms to nose height. A great idea for those who find bending difficult and an opportunity to grow 'normal' rose bushes or other perennials underneath. From June to the end of August the effect can be a real winner but, come autumn, winter and spring it can look decidedly sad.
This is where the wider choice of small trees that we have today really pays off. True, few have such showy and scented flowers but most pay their way in the garden every month of the year by having good foliage.
So which varieties will give us a better display?
Well, by no means new, there is the standard bay tree which has been in posh gardens for years. This really is a winner adding style and grace to the most formal and informal garden. Its' remarkably easy to grow and has few vices. If it gets overgrown and out of shape it can be ruthlessly cut back hard and will even rejuvenate from bare wood. However, a word of warning, a recent pest bay blister mite, will cause a yellowing and rolling of the edges of leaves and needs to be controlled with a timely application of insecticide. If you use the bay leaves for cooking then choose carefully and stop using the leaves until the pesticide residues are gone.
Evergreen Euonymus are far showier evergreens as my photo of 'Emerald 'n Gold' shows but don't try putting their leaves in the casserole! The naturally dwarf habit keeps this one neat without much pruning but like most of these small trees watch out for suckers growing from the stem. These will not be of the golden variegated type and should be rubbed off as soon as seen.
Standard Fuchsias will give a long lasting show of summer and autumn colour but like the roses look sad in winter and unlike them have the additional need to be protected from hard frost in winter. A honeysuckle or Wisteria trained as a small tree will be spectacular in flower and highly scented this time of the year but also lacks appeal in winter. As both are really climbing plants it is essential with these to stake them well throughout their whole life.
An 'in' plant at the moment is the Japanese dwarf willow called 'Hakuro-Nishiki'. This, when grafted onto a straight stem is a real eye catcher! The new foliage is shrimp pink and bleached white and as it ages it turns to the more normal green. It's this new growth that provides the spectacle and to encourage it more I recommend that all shoots are pruned back to just 10cm each winter and the tree is given a generous high nitrogen feed at the same time. Check first where you decide to plant it in your garden and avoid planting in the area of any drains because, like all willows, if there is a chink in the pipe anywhere the willow roots will find it and rapidly fill your drains with a mass of roots!
There are many more varieties and not enough space to describe them all but whether your garden is large or small, posh orâ€¦ ahem, shall I just say informal(!) these small trees can transform the effect in just a few minutes
Have you ever watched a butterfly as it emerges from its' chrysalis and wondered at the way it pumps blood into those papery crimpled wings? Well watch an Oriental Poppy bud open and you will be reminded of that miracle.
The hairy egg-sized flower buds split and reveal such delicate looking petals that unfurl and fill like spinnakers. Traditionally these are yell-at-you red and okay if 'hot' colours are your scene in the garden but, as the photos of plants in my garden show, there are "quieter" colours to grow too.
These are easy sun loving plants to grow and thrive in deep well drained soil. Rich and wet soils should be avoided and coastal gardeners will find that they tolerate salt laden winds if the tall stems can be supported. Here's a plant that slugs and snails hate so no worries on that front! Their main weakness is that after flowering they tend to go to sleep for the rest of the year, that is unless you are quick to cut everything to ground level when the flowers fade. If you do that, then you stand a chance of getting more leaves to fill the gapping hole they can leave. Better to plan for this and fill the void with potted Dahlias or Lilies that come to their best when the poppies are over.
From the original Armenian plant introduction in the early 1700s we now have plenty of varieties from which to choose. 'Mrs Perry' is a delicate soft pink, whereas 'Perry's White' is, as its' name implies, white but both have dark mascara like blotches at the base of each petal.
'Patty's Plum' on the other hand caused huge excitement in the late 90s when this new colour was discovered growing on nurserywoman's compost heap! West Country plantsman Nori Pope came to the rescue and this variety is now reasonably widely available. The papery pink petals have a hint of blackcurrant and fade to brown and perhaps unlike the others doesn't mind a bit of shade as bright sun can make this rich plum colour fade.
Why can't we leave things as they are? We are always meddling and trying to change things so that we can cultivate something not naturally suited to our garden!
Twenty years ago, when my wife Felicity and I reclaimed our garden from the wilderness it had become, we decided to take advantage of one or two odd features that existed. One area that has become particularly attractive is where the nursery dump was! This is a raised border in full sun but with fierce drainage and virtually no nutrients. It is also full of broken greenhouse glass and smashed clay pots! Not the easiest of "soils" to handle! In between this vicious mixture there are lashings of ashes and clinkers from the ancient greenhouse boilers. In fact hardly any soil at all!
We were tempted to just cart it all away and bring in fresh top soil but glad that we didn't. Instead, we just looked for a combination of plants that we suspected would like these unpromising soil conditions. We knew that plants with bluish-grey leaves and very small leaves would be likely candidates. In fact, lots of plants at home in the Mediterranean regions of the world would be good too. So we started from the back with taller plants such as the gorgeous Californian tree poppy Romneya coulteri. Now this a tricky plant to get going but when it does, stand back! The pure white papery petals are as big as a hand with outstretched fingers and the large yellow centre completes the fried egg look. Not only can this be difficult to establish but it is also hard to find so don't expect to pick this plant up at every nursery.
Far easier and more common are evergreen varieties of Berberis with their showy yellow spring flowers and blue berries that the birds love. Rosemary is a good choice too but it will need a regular trim after flowering to stop it getting too woody. For summer colour we planted masses of catmint and yarrow. We went for 'Six Hills' catmint which is not torn to shreds by our cats and 'Moonshine' yarrow which is so reliable. Spiky pale blue Perovskia 'Blue Spire' sits in the middle of the border and is very hardy and tough due to its' dry Himalayan origins. Anthemis, Lavender and Rock Roses all cope well with the shards and broken glass and need virtually no attention.
In spring, this area is full of dwarf Narcissi and this provides colour before the summer performers get under way. We plan to add more bulbs for the autumn show and will be slotting in Nerines and Agapanthus but keeping their bulbs near the surface. This will not be difficult as making any sort of deep hole is tough with all the rubbish that's buried there and requires a good pair of leather gloves to avoid ripping our hands to threads.
One distinct advantage with this plant selection is that, after watering in after planting, we have never had to add more! Perhaps this is a range of plants that the dry South East of England should be planting more of.
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