By Tim McMillan
The David Austin family of roses is as renowned as the breeder himself.
David was fascinated by the old roses. He wanted to recreate the drama and majesty of roses by breeding roses that featured forgotten colors such as apricot, yellow and red. He would call this new line of fragrant ever-blooming roses, English roses.
Born out of this passion was the David Austin Roses nursery. The rose world embraced David's later signature collection which included Heritage, Mary Rose and the Graham Thomas. If you're ever in a nursery, note the roses you are drawn towards. Nine times out of ten they will be the English Rose family.
The flowers are gorgeous. The scents are mesmerizing. They are easy to care for with their charming and somewhat unorthodox growth. They've earned a reputation for sturdiness, can survive as climbers or shrubs in a variety of environments. Their increasing popularity can be attributed to the fact that they are very attractive in the garden, versatile and the fragrance is more intense than most any other rose.
With the advance of breeding techniques one of the missing ingredients has been fragrance. David's flowers are densely filled with petals, much like antique roses, and most possess a strong fragrance that hearkens back to old-fashioned tea roses. Yet their growth habits, health, and, most of all, their tendency to repeat bloom, are an improvement on their ancestors.
In fact, just this year the David Austin 'Graham Thomas' was selected for inclusion in the "Rose Hall of Fame". The World Federation of Rose Societies sponsors the "Rose Hall of Fame" and has over 40 member countries representing tens of thousands of rosarians.
You haven't experienced a rose until you've seen, grown and cultivated a David Austin rose garden. You'll marvel over the depth of beauty, blossom formations and the seemingly impossibly fragrance coming from what appears to be fine crumpled silk. Words don't do these roses justice.
Although I'll try to describe my David Austin collection, but I am sure words will not do. After my first experience with these roses I decided to dump (not literally), my other roses and focus exclusively on developing my own exclusive David Austin rose garden.
Whether you choose organic or inorganic, climbers or bushes, the best advice I can give you about growing David Austin roses is to get one of each, care for them per your experience and and watch for the ones that respond. Then play them up all over the garden.
Here are some of the varieties I've come to enjoy and grow with a high level of success:
(1) Abraham Darby grows tall and blooms in the old fashioned peach pink blooms. The flowers are strong, firm and fruity, and will dance in your garden as a free standing shrub or a trained climber over almost any pattern.
(2) Shropshire Lad boosts glossy wax-like leaves, a healthy stalk and grows as a massive shrub. Coming in a light, fragrant soft peachy pink, this beauty starts out with cup shaped flowers that morph into perfect rosettes.
(3) Ambridge Rose has that old fashioned look with pink and apricot blooms that form on a three to four and half foot wide bush. Like all roses in the Austin family it is nearly always disease free and boasts an alluring light fragrance from flowers that have well over 100 petals.
4) Brother Cadfael actually looks like a peony. The flowers are clear pink, huge and round as a globe. The hardiness of the plant supports a massive shrub and everything from the leaves, to the blooms to the stalks are all in proportion. If you've every smelled the Old Bourbon Roses, then get ready for this fragrance which is times two.
(5) Charlotte is soft. It has a medium yellow flower with distinct cup shaped blooms. It loves winter weather, stands strong against the north wind and has got to be the truest representation of the yellow English rose.
(6) Christopher Marlowe is compact, taunt, free-flowering and ideal if you enjoy container gardening. Mine is in the bedroom and emits light scents of lavender.
7) Cottage rose is medium height. It features the warm, old fashioned pink blossoms you see in the the 1940's movies. Like nearly all the Austin breeds you get excellent disease resistance and 100 plus petals that give off the signature light rose scent.
(8) Crocus start out with rosette shaped flowers whose petals flex at full bloom. Its free flowering nature comes in a soft pinkish apricot changing to a pale cream at the edge of the outer petal. It's extremely robust, with arching stems, culminating in large clustered blooms. The rose tea smell is ever present.
(9) Eglantyne flowers as petals that turn up at the edges making them look like shallow spacers filled with small free standing petals. The flowers are quite large and of exquisite formation - the petals turning up at the edges to form a shallow saucer filled with small petals. There exacting formation is truly reminiscent of the traditional English rose.
There you have it. My David Austin rose collection. It is the most stunning garden plot on my property and I would advise and dare any rosarian to out class me on this one. If you don't have David Austin roses in your garden, please get some now. You haven't truly experienced rose gardening until you do.
Tim McMillan is a rose gardening enthusiast and chief editor of Rose Gardening News. For more great