Coming up Roses

In the last post, we left a front bay window border all newly rejuvenated, dug, levelled and poked with canes to mark out where the roses were going to go; and wouldn’t you know, it just so happens that this is about the best time of year to be getting bare root roses in. I could step out of the door into the freezing cold and make my way to one of the several garden centres around us to buy said roses but there’s a few things wrong with this scenario:

  1. It’s freezing cold with arctic blasting winds outside
  2. I might have to visit a few garden centres before I find all the roses I want
  3. It’s freezing cold with arctic blasting winds outside
  4. I want bare-root as opposed to potted roses because they’re cheaper
  5. It’s freezing cold with arctic blasting winds outside

Instead, I got all pragmatic by filling up the hot water bottle, making up a mug of hot chocolate and settling in front of the computer to go shopping. I only need one web site to accomplish the task: David Austin Roses. A bit of browsing and my head was soon swimming with visions of glorious rose beds spilling over with the most exquisite flowers. Their perfect forms, spotless foliage and headiest sweet fragrance drifted virtually through my mind as I incessantly clicked, “Add to Basket”.

I did have a plan of sorts; the border I have to work with is narrow and probably has room for about three or four medium-sized rose bushes, of course, that’s completely unacceptable, I decided to fit seven. You see, I cannot resist the “English” roses, for me, there’s no point in giving other rose shrubs the time of day. Filtering through the varieties, sizes, perfume and colour, I systematically copied and pasted the pictures of the roses I liked from the site into an “Untitled Document” and moved the pictures around until I had a pleasing arrangement that looked like this:

Bay Window Border Plan

So who do we have here? Well, starting at the back (top row) we have (from left to right):

  • Gentle Hermione
  • Wollerton Old Hall
  • Generous Gardener

Then at the front of the border (bottom row) we have (from left to right):

  • Olivia Rose Austin
  • Jude the Obscure
  • Munstead Wood
  • Princess Alexandra of Kent

The roses at the back are larger than the ones at the front and I moved and varied the colours around a little. The scent for all these roses are supposed to be “strong”, but I’ve discovered that it really does depend on the nose.

So we have this most beautiful picture of the virtual reality, here’s what the real world sent through the post a short time later:

Bare Root Roses on Drive

Triffids on the drive? No, these are the bare-root roses that are the substitute for the pictures above. How such ugly looking sticks can produce such beautiful flowers, I will never know. At the bottom-middle edge of the picture you’ll see the Post-It note that has my design scribbles of what’s to be planted in which position. These roses were delivered during the day and so were kept in a trug of water until I got home and was ready for them.

It certainly pays to be pre-prepared and knowing that winter’s short days and long working hours aren’t conducive to getting bare root roses planted in a timely manner, the border was already prepared for the plants at the weekend by digging seven large, deep holes:

Bay Windows Border with Planting Holes

I took the opportunity to blame the mess of holes on the neighbour’s dog. The preparation of this border (detailed in the previous post) meant making these holes was actually pleasurable and not a hard slog through solid, wet clay.

Despite the best intentions and even coming home early the day the roses arrived to get them in the ground, I still ended up planting by streetlight and with the help of an LED work-lamp. The neighbours have seen it all now.

With a final levelling of the soil and a few watering cans later, all seven roses were settled in, still dormant but snug and cosy. Just as well as the next morning found them with a collar of snow.

Snowy Front Bare Root Roses

When the season starts in a few month’s time, they will wake to find themselves in a warm, sunny, west-facing border with meticulously prepared rich soil around their roots and the picture of roses above, printed and laminated with a note stuck to it saying “this is what you are meant to be, make it happen!”.


  1. They’ll be fine, Sunill….. and I can smell them already! I do love the scent of proper roses, back in the 1960/70s, floribundas had just about had all the smell bred out of them. Looked lovely, but smelled of nought! They have a month or so before they start sending out more roots, and they’ll enjoy digging in to all that lovely stuff. It’s going to be such a treat!


    1. Hi Mrs Mac, I’m really looking forward to it! There are a lot of roses in this garden, the largest ramblers at the back, a Banksiae Lutea for the house and this border of roses at the front – I’m expecting lots of good pickings for arrangements to bring inside. You’re right about the floribundas through, I think it’s the fact that the smell was bred right out of them that put me completely off and I’ve stayed away.


  2. What a well-planned planting – these roses should be very happy indeed – and beautiful!


    1. Hello Alain, I hope so too, I hope they have at least a few flowers on this year and the summer season is long and warm. Now they’re in the ground, I can think about what to underplant them with as well as what bulbs would look good, a clematis or two to grow through the shrubs and something for winter interest – that bed is far from planted!


  3. Your new bed is going to be gorgeous Sunil! I hope you have better luck with Wollerton than I have. It may just need time to settle in like some of the English Roses do. I LOVE Munstead Wood and look forward to your report on Olivia Rose Austin. We won’t have her here till 2016. By the way, if you are ever in that part of the country, go visit the actual Wollerton Old Hall. What an amazing garden!!


    1. Hi Lynn, I hope it does look fantastic in time. I’ll be reporting back on Wollerton Old Hall as well as all the others later on in the summer. Munstead Wood nearly didn’t make the list because the red colour of the flower doesn’t fit in as well with the rest of the colours, but it was so highly recommended that I thought I’d try it – I can always transplant it elsewhere if it doesn’t work out. I was very taken by Olivia Rose Austin, it has a particularly beautiful form. Wollerton Old Hall is about three hours away – closely by your standards, but a long, long way by mine!


  4. Underplanting…… did you know (I’m sure you did) that there are some ground cover clematis? Worth looking perhaps?


    1. Hi Mrs Mac, I’m planning for a bit of clematis to weave around the rose bushes, but for ground cover I’ve got Ajuga and as the roses grow, I can introduce short bring bulbs like miniature daffodils or snow drops. There’s also small ferns for deep shade. There should be lots of options, the only trouble is going to be avoiding the thorns while planting!


  5. Waaaaahhhh!!!! I want all those roses! WANT WANT WANT!! Don’t even mention Virginia near those beauties or they’ll break out in black spots and die. I do have Jude and he’s a tough nut. He survived the Black Spot Plague as did Abraham Darby and Sceptre D’Isle. How fabulous to stand there with your nose stuffed in a rose. Sigh…..


    1. Hello Tammy, we actually suffer quite a bit from rose leaf black spot too. The existing roses now are pretty bad with them so as the new foliage appears in the spring, I’m going to have to do a clean up job with the old foliage so that it doesn’t spread. I think black-spot is one of those things that I’ll just have to live with and try and occasionally control to stop it getting out of hand. I think the rose catalogues photoshop it out in all their pictures!


  6. Sounds like excellent selections. It can be rather hard to trust that bare root plants, which always make me think of dried squid, will turn into beautiful flowers. And yet, it happens.


    1. Hello Jason, I hope I chose well, the only problem I might have a few years down the line is that they might grow too large for the space, but then that’s really a plus point in the way I garden. I can just imagine trying to turn the car around on the drive and getting stuck in a mass of roses.


  7. This rose border will be beautiful! I’m hoping to add roses to my own garden in the next year or so, but choosing them is more of a problem in my area because so many are not cold hardy enough for our winters; and many of the ones that have been bred for cold-hardiness sacrifice fragrance (not an acceptable trade-off for me). Still, I look forward to spending time at nurseries looking at and sniffing roses.


    1. Hello Jean, I hope those roses knit together into one solid continuous mass of flowering roses. I reckon it’ll take about three or four years before it really gets going and then by year six the whole border should be almost out of control. It’ll be so dramatic that I’m hoping to get people staring into the front garden! I wouldn’t buy a rose if it had no fragrance (what’s the point?) but I have made exceptions for special rambling roses and the Banksiae rose (which is lightly fragrant) as these are in a class of their own.


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