The Garden of the Rose - The Rambling Rector rampant on a roof.
Copyright © Sisley Garden Tours
Blowsy, precocious and seductive are words often applied to roses. These are words you rarely hear describing other flowers. The rose has its own following, its aficionados, who revel dreamily in the perfume, form and sheer beauty of its blooms. On a warm summer's evening, a stroll in an English rose garden ranks among the best of life's experiences.
But an English rose garden has a power to enchant even in pouring rain. I was recalling such an occasion on one of our tours with a visitor, when I met her back in her own garden in New Zealand two years later. It transpired that we had both had a lump in our throats as we turned the corner into the rose garden at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire under our umbrellas on a warm wet summer's afternoon. There, under weeping silver pear trees, the roses were sadly inviting us in, with tears tumbling down their petals.
I personally believe roses belong on balustrades and pergolas in gardens like Heale House in Wiltshire and Hestercombe in Somerset, but I'm a romantic. Others see them as a breeder's challenge. The climate in England was kind to species brought in as guests from far off lands in times of old and they soon became residents, grew up, bred and cross bred. Today we have a rich variety of hybrids and cultivars. The Victorians invented the formal rose garden where they could display their horticultural prowess. Such gardens are still popular in municipal parks and in the gardens of rose breeding enthusiasts.
Peter Beales in Norfolk and David Austin in the West Midlands both have lovely little rose gardens at their famous nurseries, but the best place of all for un-restrained variety is the Garden of the Rose in Hertfordshire. This is the home of the Royal National Rose Society and is sheer paradise for rose lovers at the height of the season. Like a big game hunter, you can stalk the rosebeds with your camera in search of perfect blooms to add to your collection of beautiful rose photos.
Kiftsgate garden in Gloucestershire is claimed by the family to have the largest rose bush in England, being 80ft x 90ft x 50ft high. It's a memorable sight when in flower, covered with panicles of white blooms, each consisting of 300-400 flower heads. The best time to visit rose gardens in England is in late June and July. The season tends to be later as you go north, so plan your itinerary that way. Although roses need rain, they soon get battered if it's too heavy, and mildew is a constant worry, so unless in a microclimate, they seem happiest when growing in gardens at the drier center and east of England.