Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The kindest cut

Inspired by getting my own straggly locks chopped off this morning, wielding my sharp secateurs and a disinfectant rag, I ventured into the thorny midsts of my roses today and took out all the lanky, dead and twiggy bits:  I want them to work hard for me in the cutting garden come early summer.

Most of my choices in the garden were made for glorious scent - the thing that turned me on to roses about 15 years ago. I was visiting a friend who suddenly exclaimed "Sniff that".  No, it wasn't anything more intoxicating than a beautiful white rose - and that was the start of my perfumed rose addiction.

I started off with 'Gertrude Jekyll'  (even though I thought I was buying Constance Spry).

Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll'

She's beautifully perfumed and flowers well but does get a bit leggy and straggly so I had to reduce her height by about a third this afternoon. Sorry Gertrude, but you'll thank me for it later, I hope.  Growing at the back of the border, climbing up an obelisk,  the lower growing peonies and hardy geraniums hide her naked legs, and it's good to have her pink blossoms giving height to the overall scheme.

A later purchase delivered a  'Constance Spry' to keep Gertrude company in the same stretch of border. I cut this one back quite a lot last year without any loss of flower power, and as a result have slightly less work to do on the pruning front this year.

Rosa 'Constance Spry"
I'm always slightly tentative about cutting back Old English type David Austin roses as I don't want them to lose their relaxed, arching habit.  This same habit, however, does mean that for arranging they are best cut on a shorter stems as they tend to droop with their thinner stems and large, heavy flowers.  Or you can support them in denser arrangements with your filler flowers as below:

Here, they're arranged with my yellow floribunda rose 'Absolutely Fabulous' which lived up to its name from June to November with amazing repeat flowering despite the pouring rain. The deep pink rose pictured is a small shrub 'John Betjeman' which has fantastic colour but, like Ab Fab, little scent.  The jury is still out on this one as his stems are rather weak and spindly - the glorious colour, however, buys him another year of grace to see if he can merit his space with sturdier stalks after a prune.

My other loves are the petite Felicite Parmentier;  the most perfect shell pink cluster flowered rose with amazing scent, and Falstaff; another leggy scrambler of the deepest magenta hue and nostril-thrilling whiffage.

Felicite Parmentier
Falstaff and foxgloves

The harshest cut was today reserved for my newly planted hybrid teas.  I've cut the ones which weren't already shortened by the nursery to about half their previous size - want them to grow into nice sturdy plants with strong flower-bearing stems.  My new additions are Black Baccara and Peace roses - the former seems to be reliably dark and dusky. The latter, however, in the images I've seen, seems to vary wildly between pastel hued lemon/cream delicately fading to pink edges,  and horribly canary combined with  lipstick pink - so I'm waiting with bated breath to see how that one pans out.  Will keep you posted!

Can't wait for them all to put on a show for me come June and to breath those smells again.  (But before that will come their manure top dressing in spring - not quite so pretty...).

So what are you waiting for?  You can't do a lot else at this time of year.  Take up your secateurs, sturdy gloves and your tweezers for spike removal surgery afterwards.  Some time between now and the end of February, nip out between the showers and give your roses a prune.

For advice on rose pruning, check out the Royal Horticultural Society website


  1. O so lovely a rose post in winter. And.....you mentioned my all time favorite rose Felicite Parmentier, such a delicious scenting beauty. I have a great number of old roses too, which I will show in June. Do you prune your roses already in January? We start end of February until end of March because earlier they can suffer of heavy frost. Until now we had a mild winter but coming weekend frost is forcasted.
    But I also like to be in my garden with my secateurs, winter or not.

  2. I do mine any time between Jan and beginning of March - depending what else needs doing! I've been out attacking my blackcurrants at the allotment today as I've got my pruning head on!

    We've also had mild weather so far, but today is more like normal January weather - around 4 degrees C I think. But BLUE sky and NO rain!!!!!!!!!!! Makes me happy. Still too wet to dig though.

  3. You have some beautiful roses - I'm new to growing roses and hope I don't get too addicted!
    I have The Wedgewood Rose growing as a climer on both side of a seated arch. It's in its first year, still very heathly looking and has all it's foliage and a few buds. I expect that the bad weather being forecast will soon put paid to that!

  4. there are yet more varieties lurking within my garden - I just thought I'd better focus on a few. Beware, if you get a good one, it's hard to resist them from then on. I never used to be bothered about them until that first sniff....

    Your seated arch planting sounds lovely - would love to see a photo of it when the roses bloom!

  5. Gertrude Jekyll is my favourite and that perfume is divine! All my roses were chosen for their perfume except Bonica which was chosen because it never has blackspot and never stops flowering! Like you, I have been busy pruning, must have done about a third of them so far which are near paths, the rest of the garden is still too soggy to walk on, they will have to wait for a dry spell.

  6. Have you smelled the hybrid tea 'Alec's Red'? A deep red rose that smells of intense Turkish Delight - it's absolutely amazing. Very healthy and sturdy plant to with dark glossy leaves and the flowers are really good for the vase, which is where my fondness for it began. I do love all the floppy pink ones too - I have 'New Dawn' growing against my garage and it is gorgeous when in flower and has done really well - not strongly scented but the delicate pink shade, the flower shape and its reliability more than compensate for weakness on the perfume side. I do love a smelly one though!

  7. I can't wait til all my roses start producing again - plan to try selling them this year, so glad you approve!