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Smelling of roses

13:21 22 May 2015

Huntington rose

Huntington rose


The colour and scent that June brings to us is impossible to envisage in the depths of winter. But here it is and let us revel in it because like all good things it is only transitory. You can’t have Christmas every day.

There is an art to growing any plant. When it comes to roses, surely the varieties with a strong scent are the ones to opt for. Then you need to visualise the sniffing procedure : there’s an art to a really good sniff. THE most important thing to remember is that the nostrils should, if possible, be at the same height as the flowers when you are sitting down.

This is where the arbor comes in handy. An arch over a bench means that you can entertain climbing roses like ‘Compassion’ (apricot and copper with yellow highlights), ‘Constance Spry’ (bright pink), or ‘Guinee’ (very dark crimson), or indeed ‘Souvenir de Docteur Jamain’ that prefers semi-shade to prevent its dark ruby-red flowers from becoming scorched by the sun. Roses can be planted out in the garden when in flower so long as the roots are disturbed as little as possible. The ground must have been well prepared beforehand, thoroughly enriched with manure. Judicious feeding and watering will also help them during their first summer. If you have never tried to grow strongly scented old-fashioned roses, try Roseraie de l’Hay (crimson purple), Belle Poitevine (magenta pink) and Blanc Double de Coubert (white). A sumptuous mixture indeed.

I well remember a chat I had with the well respected rose guru Peter Beale who has very sadly died in recent years. He first became fascinated by roses during his five mile walk to and back from school every day (irrespective of the weather) and studying the wild roses growing in the hedgerows. He was very keen on growing roses in pots, a subject that is music to the ears of people with very small gardens, balconies or roof gardens. Some of the roses he showed at Chelsea had been growing in the same pots for six years.

He said that so long as you gave them a good start in life you had a far better chance of success. He planted his containerised roses in John Innes Compost No.3, fed and watered them regularly and gave them a spring top-dressing. He never found pot-bound plants to be a problem, and Portland roses like ‘Jacques Cartier’ and ‘Comte de Chambord’, and climbing forms of Noisette ranked among his greatest successes. Apparently one major factor that puts people off from growing roses in pots is that they prove so prone to the fungal disease ‘black spot’.

Peter always felt that we should all learn to become more laid back about diseases and say to ourselves “What’s a few black spots amongst friends ?” He was a firm believer that if a rose succumbs to disease we should throw it away rather than spraying it with chemicals. He told me the most important thing you should do to to a newly planted rose is to cut it back hard when first planted in order to promote basal growth. It’s always good to talk to the gurus.


An evening walk at about nine o’clock clutching a cold glass in hand and with the sweet smell of freshly cut grass underfoot is a joy. Then a wood pigeon joined by a cuckoo, the latter always more distant, the heady lilac scent makes you stop and smell deeply. June brings with her such a plethora of floral treasures that there is more than enough to feast the eyes upon. I find lilac one of the best scents of all. I can never understand how anyone can walk past it without sinking their nostrils into those large, magnificent flowers.

Lilac will grow in the coldest of climates. I noticed it growing in practically every garden I saw in St Petersburg where winter temperatures fall to minus 20 degrees on a regular basis. This is not altogether surprising as this hardy genus hails from regions of S.E Europe to E. Asia. Introduced to Britain during the late 16th century, lilacs prove to be perfect trees for the smaller garden as they do not exceed 4 – 5m (13 – 16ft) in height. Yes, their flowering season is brief. It is, therefore, the perfect tree for training a rose up and over it to ‘give’ it flowers later on in the summer. Such marriages are made in heaven.


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