Get naked at David Austin: some useful rose info

The leaves are off, or nearly, and  I’m taking my mind  back to David Austin and February.  I went there for a day’s course on designing with roses run by the inexorable Diana Perry, fount of rose lore.  Due to dog trauma (another story altogether) I did not write a blog log but  now I want to tell you about that day and why it was so useful.  Forget the design bit, you too can pay and go on the course and have an absolute treat of an outing.

detailing of paths

What interests me is the lack of distraction in a  garden in the winter months.  It is a golden opportunity to concentrate on shape,  form, content and construction detail.  The bones  show themselves.   No heady scent and colour, no beguilement of rose faces nodding in passing, just hard tack.  The uncluttered beauty is restful, calm and focused.

A perfect opportunity for garnering information and learning.  The manmade elements  come to the fore.  The detailing of the paths, for instance, herringbone brick, edged with flint pebbles.    Quite wide too to cope with the summer visitors and bordered by the perfect edging plant.  Yew kept drilled to minute tidiness and low size, less than 30 cm tall.  I have never seen Taxus baccata designated to such a controlled place in the garden and I will try this elsewhere.

The secrets of how to treat a rose properly are revealed.  It is the dormant season and  stems are bare, pruned, trained and tied in.   Notebook at the ready,  I can go round the David Austin garden and learn how to deal with different types of roses.  In particular, the  climbing or clambering ones.  The exercise is invaluable as most of these grow full spate in the spring and summer and it is impossible to work out how to treat them correctly.

A few photgraphs pass on the knowledge in the most concise way.  Rambling roses tend to have whippy, lax and abundant growth.  Below is Princess Louise – which is of medium vigour – twined round a brick pillar and ready to grow along the pergola.

This rose is quite a restrained rambler – it only makes about 5 metres of growth.  But  remember to treat the rose as defined by it’s size.  There are ramblers that can grow to 10 or more metres.  Check with the nursery before choosing.  David Austin have a comprehensive catalogue that gives the height.

For a strong-growing rambler, try the support of pillars linked by heavy ropes or chains hung as festoons.  Here is Paul’s Himalyan Musk  – this one of the beast size of ramblers that can make the 10 metre target – could cover your unsightly shed, pull down the less than vigorous tree:

It is interesting to get a squiny of it in the dormant season.  The crazy clawing around of its branches give a good indication of a plant that needs plenty of space.

By contrast, it is handy to look at what could be called a polite climber – the sort that does not throw massive green branches out in gawky fashion midsummer, knows its place, so to speak.  David Austin has specialised in breeding such types and so below is The Generous Gardener –  base and top:

The Generous Gardener, how to prune

Climbers tend to be much more military and upright in growth.  They do not usually have trusses of flowers and quite often they repeat flower.  The image of the  base of the Generous Gardener shows the new stems, fresh and red and closely tied in .  The oldest wood will the be the thickest and hoariest and a few stems can be taken out to encourage the new growth.

And then at the head of the rose – and this one is listed as only making about 3 metres growth, it is neat and tidy after a prune during the winter months.  New shoots can then be trained in along the wooden struts as they grow.  This will be excellent for a good show of flowers.  Forcing the branches to go sideways will promote the formation of buds and blooms.

Visit gardens in winter and you will learn a good deal.  The added bonus for roses is that of course it is the best time to buy them as winter is the time for lifting and despatching bare rooted.


  1. This is an interesting post in that it encourages me to really take a good look at my roses this winter. I just moved a few of them to a better spot with more sun and air circulation. I need to train two climbers along a fence but I’m not completely sure how to do it effectively. I’ve had great luck with a few David Austin’s that do well in my hot, humid climate. I wish I could visit his gardens in the summer!

  2. Tatyana says:

    Very useful information. I have two climbers, and they don’t do well several last years. I need to pay them more attention.

  3. I too have some issues with climbers so this is very helpful Catharine.

  4. Martin says:

    Great article on roses! But I find nudity and roses can be a painful combination!

  5. Chimeneas says:

    Haha, love Martin’s comment!

    Very useful article, thanks!

  6. I would like a Mermaid rose, but my garden doesn’t lend itself to climbers.

  7. your choice of images and descriptions are succinctly informative so that even I can now remember that climbers have a military bearing and ramblers are ill-disciplined. One of the best ramblers for getting naked with is Rosa Banksia lutea – just requires a trim and not a prickle in sight

  8. Dewi says:

    Would love to visit the garden one day.

  9. alistair says:

    Catharine, I am so glad that I visited your site today. Not only for the useful information on the Roses but also for the picture which you show of the dwarf Yew hedge. Three years ago all of our box hedging fell foul to box blight. I replaced it with Yew in the hope that I could keep it to a height of 14 inches. Its looking fine but I have had my doubts on the longevity of keeping at this height. very happy, alistair.

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