Old roses and their place in my garden

I am here at Country Living for a two week work placement while studying for a journalism qualification. When I was deciding which magazines to apply to Country Living was at the top of my list, as picking up a copy never fails to take me back to my countryside childhood of wide open spaces in rural Devon― even if I am sitting on a rush hour train, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to temporarily join the team.

When I am not wrestling with the vast amounts of post that arrive, or lurking near the Good Housekeeping Institute kitchen in the hope of snaffling some cake, I’ve been writing up a couple of blog posts on my countryside inspirations and passions.

It may be spring, but here at the Country Living office summer is in full swing. The June issue is going to press, on sale 10 May― look out for the rose inspired theme― and the July and August issues are underway, too. For me, summer in the garden means one thing― roses. My mother collected old roses, and even as a child I was fascinated by their history and beauty. By the time I was an adult my own love affair with old roses was well underway.

Lush and luxuriant, they are the stars of the summer border, the ones for whom poems are written and songs composed. Like performers, not all roses are created equally. There are modern Hybrid Teas― brash starlets that are easy to grow but lacking in depth, but then there are the old species, such as Damask, Gallica and Bourbon, that are effortlessly beautiful. They might not make many appearances, but when they do they command your attention.

Whether tumbling in the herbaceous border of a cottage garden, or softening hard landscaping in a formal scheme, I think old roses bring romance to any garden.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Rosa ‘Souvenir de La Malmaison’


I fell in love with Rosa ‘Souvenir de La Malmaison’ at first scent. Named in remembrance of Empress Josephine’s beloved rose garden at Chateau de Malmaison, this delicately shaded and headily perfumed Damask rose embodies the rich history of the old roses.  Introduced in 1843, the loosely quartered rose blooms in early summer, but repeats well. Preferring a sunny spot it can tolerate some shade, but is susceptible, like many heritage species, to mildew and the flowers can rot before they open fully if there is prolonged heavy rain.

Rosa ‘Celsiana’


The first rose I ever bought myself, Rosa ‘Celsiana’ was depicted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté for the 1813 book Les Roses and has been cultivated since at least 1750. Photographs and illustrations don’t do justice to either the tissue paper-like delicacy of the flowers that fade from pink to white, or the rich and exotic scent. Although the flowers are not affected by rain like its fellow Damask, ‘Souvenir de La Malmaison’, it does not repeat.

Rosa ‘Reine Victoria’


This rose grew near the garden gate of my childhood home and its first flower signalled the start of summer.  The rich pink-lilac blooms of this Bourbon rose are like soft cups poised above the rich green foliage. A practical choice as well as a whimsical, Rosa ‘Reine Victoria’ repeat flowers all summer long and is reasonably disease resistant, though its slender, upright growth means it needs to be staked for structure.

Rosa ‘Constance Spry’



















Though not, strictly speaking, an old rose, Rosa ‘Constance Spry’ features heavily in the background of my wedding photos (after weeks of dead-heading, feeding and pampering by my mother to ensure it was at its best), so is included here. Combining the beauty and myrrh-scented delicacy of its better-established counterparts with the best of modern disease resistance,  it was the first rose bred by David Austin in 1961. The huge cabbage-like flowers are a deep pink that is unmatched in vivacity. Vigorous and upright, it works well as a climber in a sunny position.

Previously published on Country Living blog- countrylivinged@wordpress.com

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