Lady Emma Hamilton – a deliciously fragrant English rose, of rich tangerine with golden centre, paling to apricot, with raspberry flashes on the reverse of the petals. Fresh foliage is a beautiful rich dark bronze which sets off the flowers perfectly. The scent is a heady mix of citrus, pear, mango and tropical fruit, Sauternes – quite exceptional. It grows into an upright bushy shrub 1.2m x 1m, and flowers freely throughout summer and autumn. The petals make a stunning compote or jam too. Our No. 1 Favourite from David Austin Roses. (AGM – Award of Garden Merit)
Gertrude Jekyll – the quintessential English Rose, with a fine heritage and a rich true Old Rose fragrance that is carried freely on the breeze. A strong pink, many-petaled flower, starting out small, scrolled and cupped and swelling to large full rosettes. Mid green healthy leaves set off the display. Versatile, it can be grown as a large shrub though fanned out against a wall, it will behave as a short climber and will flower even more prolifically, in flushes throughout the season. Introduced by David Austin in 1986, it is in every way a winner (AGM – Award of Garden Merit).
Munstead Wood – another stellar rose from David Austin, the flowers starting out a bright rich crimson, and maturing to a velvety, rich deep blackcurrant and plum, with a fragrance to match, strong, warm, fruity Old Rose. Forms a broad bushy shrub 1m x 80cm, with good disease resistance and with an Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
The Generous Gardener – A fragrant English Climbing rose, though it can equally be grown as a large shrub. An English Musk rose, with beautifully formed not quite-double flowers of a soft glowing pink at the centre, paling to palest pink at the outer petals. When open, the numerous stamens create an almost water-lily like effect. Fresh spring leaves are red-tinted, the scent has a strong character of musk, myrrh and Old Rose and it flowers freely throughout the season, growing up to 3.5m. Rosehips, if left to develop at the end of the year are a large bright cherry red and long-lasting. AGM.
Scepter’d Isle – An English Rose again from David Austin, bearing numerous cupped blooms above the neat green foliage, fifteen or more on each spray. The colour is a soft clear pink, paling towards the outer petals, with an award winning, rich strong myrrh fragrance – redolent of aniseed. An upright shrub, growing to 1.2m x 1m, it is charming addition to any garden.
Lady of the Lake – Rambling roses tend to be huge, clambering through large trees and clothing substantial walls. And they flower just the once, small flowers held in dense clusters. Spectacularly it must be said, but fleeting. David Austin has taken the form and bred a series of much more manageable ramblers, this one up to 3.75m, with pretty 5cm wide, semi-double pale peachy-pink, fruitily fragrant flowers with boss of stamens making them attractive to pollinators too. Held in delicate sprays on flexible, purple-flushed stems, they have the added bonus of repeat-flowering throughout the season.
Olivia Rose Austin – A very important recent introduction to the English Rose canon, with superlative health. Flowering from very early in the season, with outward-facing rich mid-pink flowers with a light fragrance, set against dark green leaves it will continue to dazzle, flowering in flushes right through into the Autumn. A well-balanced shrub rose growing to 1.2m x 1.2m. Named for David Austin Snr’s grand-daughter.
Eden Rose `88/Pierre de Ronsard – we have this superb rose flowering over an wooden pergola at the heart of our Cutting Garden at Petersham Nurseries and it never fails to delight, nor is is rarely ever not in flower during the season, no matter how many blooms we seem to cut. It can be grown as a large shrub but well-trained as a climber, it will flower even more prolifically, with huge, pale ivory, tightly packed flowers washed in pink and carmine at the edges. The perfectly round buds are an enchanting pale green, only hinting at the delights to come. There is little or no fragrance, but its many qualities allow us to overlook this. It was voted the World’s Favourite Rose by the World Federation of Roses in 2006, deservedly so, for it is a beautiful rose, with a romantic Old Fashioned look, healthy glossy green leaves setting of perfectly the whole display. It can be found under two names, Pierre de Ronsard, a poet well-known in France, though elsewhere, Eden Rose is meant to convey the idea of paradise conjured by this exceptional bloom.
Boscobel – a bright richly coloured, fruitily fragrant English shrub rose, with large rosettes that are in turn more strongly pink in cooler weather, warming to coral, salmon and peach in sunnier periods. The scent is good, with hints of myrrh, hawthorn, elderflower, pear and almond. It forms a well-rounded shrub, 1m x 0.8m, with healthy glossy dark green leaves.
Jude the Obscure – for a strong clean citrus scent, grapefruit we think, but guava and sweet white wine too, it is a firm favourite of ours. Large, almost egg-shaped flowers of pearly, clotted cream, darker on the outside and paler within, it is very free flowering, with bushy habit and strong arching stems. In warmer situations it can be grown as a wall-climber, but otherwise forms a shrub, a little broader than tall, 1.2m x 1.5m. A real delight.
Summer Song – with large cup shaped flowers, the perfect outer petals forming a perfect ring enclosing the many inner, informally arranged petals. It is a strong rich burnt orange, the colour of a Caribbean sunset, with s fragrance hinting at raspberries, chrysanthemum leaf, ripe bananas and tea. It forms a bushy upright shrub 1.2m x 1m, the display blending well with other warm shades, particularly in the late summer border.
Seven Sisters Rose / Rosa multiflora Platyphylla – what an extravagant rose this, being grown in our Nurseries over a Victorian umbrella frame. In full bloom, it is a pure cloud of mixed pinks, hugely fragrant even at a distance. Seven Sisters describes the transition from rich pink to lilac, palest pinks and white as each truss of flowers age and mature. At it’s peak in late May and June, there is barely a hint of the small neat mid-green leaves that clothe the plant from early in the season, hidden as they are by the blizzard of blooms. A rambler rose, raised in 1815, it flowers just the once but my-oh-my, what a sight. 5m x 4m.
The Poet’s Wife – a recent rose from David Austin, with spicy-scented clear, rich yellow cup-shaped rosettes held above shiny foliage. A charming neat shrub roses introduced in 2015, it is ideal in the garden or in a large container, growing to 1.2m x 1.2m.
Wollerton Old Hall – originally introduced as a shrub, it has proven to be best suited to being grown as a vigorous free-flowering climbing rose with a delightfully strong fragrance dominated by that elusive scent of myrrh – referring to Sweet Cecily, Myrrhis odorata, redolent of aniseed (as in Pernod and Ricard!). Plump buds, with attractive flashes of red, open to chalice-shaped blooms of soft apricot, eventually paling to soft pearly cream. Happily it has few thorns, producing many stems from the base to form an easily trained, attractive climber, ideal for a wall or pillar.
Our final list has, of necessity, missed out on some outstanding candidates. We have focused on plants within the Nurseries, that we sell as well as those treasures planted in the Cutting Gardens and House Gardens.
Roses come first, for me at least for those who know of my singular passion for them. I was quite willing to repeat Lady Emma Hamilton 15 times and be done with it. The vast panoply of Old Roses have almost entirely been passed by. I would love to have included Mme Hardy (white lace and emeralds), the superlatively fragrant Mme Issac Pereire, a raft of Hybrid Musks (Ballerina, Penelope), the China rose Mutabilis, tea-scented Lady Hillingdon Climbing (growing in the Kitchen Garden), the near-wild and fragrant Rugosa family, amongst them Blanc Double de Coubert. Of the ramblers, Phyllis Bide has become a favourite – teamed with Alchymist it is a triumph and if you have room, Paul’s Himalayan Musk will rarely disappoint. How to choose a favourite amongst so many favourites. Modern roses? Sally Holmes, Jacqueline du Pre, Bonica, Rhapsody in Blue, Margaret Merrill …
Therefore I have sided predominantly on the side of the English Rose bred by David Austin and his eponymous company, together with a few that planted out, grace our Nurseries.
A travesty, really, missing out on Desdemona; Gentle Hermione is just glorious, and I understand a favourite of the late Master; Spirit of Freedom with huge pink-lilac blooms set off by grey-green foliage, grown well, cannot be beaten, though perhaps best in a warmer, dryer climate; Abraham Darby regularly tops the list of the most heady, beautifully fragrant roses.
I love Harlow Carr for its dense bushy habit, rich Old Rose scent and flurries of small neat rich pink flowers. Morning Mist forms a large shrub with huge great butterflies of salmon pink; give it room. Abraham Darby has the most delicious fragrance and while Lady of Shalott does not, it is a prolific flowerer and makes a fine show over a very long season. Snowgoose, like The Lady of the Lake, is a repeat-flowering rambler, with pure white pompoms of petals. I’ve set myself up to fail, I can see. The only constant in my reverie and rose day-dreaming is Lady Emma Hamilton.