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Gardening: Rusticity and roses

21 June 2019


“TO LET go” conjures a freefall into freedom, a forgiveness, or release from a past hurt that was constraining us. And yet in the context of a garden, it is usually seen as a negative. “Of course, the garden’s been let go,” we hear in connection with an illness or infirmity. Gardening is all about control, and to lose control is failure.

But, with any act of nurture, it is the small “letting gos” that allow the person or thing being cared for to flourish. So it is refreshing to see a trend in garden design towards the natural. The Chelsea Flower Show demonstrated this with a bias towards woodland-style planting, with green as the dominant colour. The flowers were understated in white and cream tones with just a sprinkling of brighter hues. Ragged robin and buttercups were no longer uninvited poor country cousins, but centre-stage at last.

Away from the shows, in the real world, more and more gardeners are relaxing their mowing regime to let patches of lawn grow and “weeds” flower and feed the insect population. Despite having more time than ever before to tend my own plot, I find myself letting be and rejoicing in fecundity. Self-seeded plants are spared the hoe.

An unexpected result of this shifting mindset is that certain garden plants are losing their appeal, and top of the list are some hybrid tea roses. I am looking with a critical eye at their tightly packed overblown petals that no honeybee could ever penetrate.

The roses I chose to add to the mixed boundary hedges still delight: “Kew Gardens” bears plenty of small single white flowers held in large heads almost like a hydrangea. The heavily fragrant flowers of Rosa rugosa have hot-pink petals like crumpled silk surrounding yellow stamens. It is their charm that I would like more of throughout the garden; so I consulted the latest David Austin catalogue.

Actually, “catalogue” does not do their redesigned “handbook” justice. It is beautifully produced, making the task of choosing a rose for a particular situation easy, and giving plenty of advice on rose culture. You can find lists of roses for north walls, coastal areas, or growing up into small or large trees; roses noted for their scent, for cutting, or having few thorns, and many more.

I turned to two lists: “Best for attracting bees” and “Best for wild areas”. The former suggests roses that produce a large quantity of pollen — perfect for bees and beneficial insects. I was drawn to the beautiful simplicity of “Tottering-by-Gently”, a shrub rose named to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Annie Tempest’s Country Life cartoon. The single pale-yellow flowers are borne in large open sprays.

Rosa moyesii “Geranium” appears on the “wild” list for planting in meadows or on the edge of woodland. Again, it has single flowers, but the brightest of reds and followed by strikingly long red hips in the autumn.

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