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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The day I went to David Austin Roses

When my children were young, I didn't really appreciate roses. There were two trained up the arch to the lawn from the courtyard when we first moved into our cottage. A yellow and a pink one - don't ask me what they were, there were no accompanying labels.

I had to prune them back hard each year after all of my children got scratched by the roses. One eventually gave up the ghost (the pink rose, not my darlings) and the yellow one still looks as if it's on death row.

But in recent years, I've begun to adore roses for their virtues, not concentrate on their thorns. Their scent and the sheer beauty of those I've seen in gardens and at the big shows recently have made me determined to put in some more roses.

I've already written here about The David Austin Roses stand at Chelsea in May, and how beautiful it was.

So last month, I joined other members of the Garden Media Guild on a special visit to their nursery, based near Wolverhampton.  I took a wrong turn and took an impromptu tour of the perimeter of the  nearby air force base before skidding in just before the tour. Fortunately there was still time to stuff a croissant down my throat and visit the loo before Michael Marriott , the Head Rosarian, showed us . around.

From small beginnings on this Shropshire farm, this family nursery now sell between two to  three million roses a year all around the world. It's an amazing story of one man's determination (David Austin) to develop a rose which would repeat flower, be disease resistant yet capture the glory of the
old fashion English roses.

Michael  has been with the company for many years, and he's obviously very proud of what is being achieved here, especially in the glasshouses. These are full of possibilities....around 120,000 seedlings and plants being grown on , all potential stars of the future. Or are they? It takes a very special plant to make the cut and to be put on the marker....eight only out of 120,000 actually make it. I was staggered too by the time it takes to create a new rose and get it on sale to the public.  Hazard a guess? I tried but was way out. It takes ten years.

Fifteeen people work in the breeding programme  So who decides which roses go to market? David Austin senior and his son David do.

Across the road from the nursery is a field, with rows and rows of the roses being trialled which have made it this far. Under grey skies, the colours shone out, and it was like being a child walking through a pick and mix selection of sweets. Which ones did I like best? Which had the prettiest colour, which had the most attractive scent?

They're all factors in deciding which specimens to trial further, but being resistant to disease and adverse weather conditions is also important. That's why in the distance I could see a large sprayer, spraying copious amounts of water over the lines of roses. Would they be able to cope in this field's sandy soil?

A few of us rather liked a pale yellow rose at one end of the field...we called Michael Marriott over to show him and one of us, I can't remember exactly who, suggested a name for it...."Lemon Sherbert"
Michael stuck his nose as close as humanly possible into the petals, murmuring "Mnnnn". He said it had its merits, but that could mean anything!

We then walked back to the nursery, which was very busy with visitors. No wonder, this is not just a nursery where you wander around pots of plants deciding which ones to buy. This is a feast for your senses ....gardens planted with hundreds of roses, all carefully labelled, growing in situ, so you can see their spread, how they look when they are mature.

This is the view as I sat on a bench with Michael whilst I interviewed him for the gardening programme I was presenting the following week. The scent was intoxicating as we chatted about the nursery, the breeding programme and much more.

Afterwards there was a chance to walk around the gardens on my own

feeling heady at the fragrance and beauty of the roses

and admiring the design of the gardens which showcase the different types of roses beautifully....

and very importantly, there were plenty of places to rest, to chat, and admire the vistas.

There are also distinctive sculptures to admire...they were created by David Austin's late wife Pat.....

Back to the roses, this was a favourite - The Ancient Mariner

and this ...Olivia Rose Austin

Mind you, I also liked the cool calmness of the white climbing rose Claire Austin. As Alison Levy who blogs as the Blackberry Garden said to can always tell the really best plants when they're given the name of  one of the family. I agree, only the best for them.

By now, I was in the area where visitors were selecting their plants...I have a list of my favourites that are on my wish list...Olivia Rose Austin, Claire Austin, The Generous Gardener and Gertude Jekyll and James Austin.

But decisions decisions...there are so beautiful scented roses to choose from.

By now it was time to join the others for lunch, and as I scurried to the marquee, I could 'nt help laughing as I saw these satisfied customers taking their newly found treasure triumphantly back to their cars.

Their visit was over, but I had an even greater treat in store after lunch  - a private tour of founder David Austin's own garden.  You'll have to wait until my next blog to see how beautiful that is.....

But in the meantime, why not listen to my interview with Michael Marriott ? Click here.....

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