English roses are perhaps the perfect compliment to any garden, but to a garden with cottage style most of all. By many gardeners’ accounts the “perfect” rose, these roses were bred by Englishman David Austin (they are also called David Austin Roses) to combine the positive re-blooming attribute of the modern tea rose with the vigor, form and intense fragrance of the old world roses. And did he ever succeed! Romantic and soft, cupped blooms with many petals and arguably the most intoxicating fragrance anywhere in a garden, these plants are easier to grow than traditional tea roses, and are more of a landscape shrub rather than a fussy and finicky rose. There are varieties that can be grown as climbers and as container plants for small gardens, and the shrub varieties combine well with other plants and flowers in a mixed border. There are pinks, whites, yellows and reds available with many subtle nuances in between. So be prepared for a new gardening obsession as we teach you how to grow English roses, the best varieties we love, (and where to get them!) and tips for having the greatest success in all areas of the country. Photos by ‘David Austin‘.
How to Plant
Most English roses grow well in zones 5-9, but a few can be grown down to zone 4. Plant them in the fall or early spring for bare root, or anytime but the hottest months of the year for potted roses. Add compost to your planting hole, and plant with the graft union (the big bump at the base of the plant) 2-3 inches under the ground level in cold weather areas. This will help protect the root system in the winter. If you live in an area with poor drainage, add as much organic matter as possible and plant with the graft union at ground level. Water well, and mulch with a 2 inch thick layer of bark or other organic mulch. Photo below is “Harlow Carr“.
Newly planted roses will need to stay moist the first season, so they may need water every other day. Once established, a regular moderate watering schedule for your climate will work well.
Fertilize with any rose fertilizer once in the beginning of the season, and then once after the first bloom flush to stimulate repeat flowering all summer.
Here is the area where English roses got it going on over tea roses… The secret to pruning David Austin roses is, there is no secret! Simply prune them to shape in early spring. If you want a smaller plant and larger (but fewer) flowers, prune it back farther. If you want a larger plant for landscaping with smaller (but lots more!) flowers, then just prune off damaged tips or to shape. Always prune off dead blooms at the end of the fall season. That’s it!
While I could never be convinced that there is a finer flower I would want in a vase, English roses can be problematic when it comes to cutting. They appear more like Peonies in some ways, being more cupped, many petaled and arching in vase. Some varieties have pretty short stems which make them different from tea roses in the sense that arrangements will usually be more casual. (Love!) Also, some English roses have very delicate petals that fall off when touched as they age. ‘Heritage’ is one example that is known for it. (Cut them in bud!) That having been said, nothing looks more English romantic than a few lost petals under an English rose arrangement. Besides, they have so many petals, it can be quite some time before the bloom looks worse for wear from losing a few! Some varieties hold up better in the vase, such as ‘Evelyn’, ‘Teasing Georgia’, ‘Abraham Darby’ and ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’. All varieties can be cut though, and they are worth the trouble even if they last just a few days. Be sure to cut flowers in the late bud stage with as long a stem as possible for the best life.
Pests and Disease
David Austin roses are very healthy and resistant to disease compared to tea roses, but no plant is disease proof. Watch for black spot and powdery mildew, which can be sprayed for with an organic or traditional fungicide. Pests include aphids and thrips, both can be treated with insecticidal soap. Many English roses (depending on where you live) have never been sprayed, and a few preventative tactics keeps them healthy. Water early in the day so the leaves are not wet as the sun goes down to prevent fungus from multiplying. Also, every couple of days, especially in bud stage, give the plants a direct hit of water from the hose to knock off any little pests trying to get established. These two habits can go a long way toward keeping your roses healthy! David Austin roses are also much more likely to stage an easy comeback than tea roses. Many times you can just remove diseased leaves and the plant will bounce right back on it’s own. (Be sure to destroy them, don’t throw them in your compost pile!)
Where to Buy
Most local nurseries either already have English roses, or they can easily order them for you. In the case that you would like to order your roses online, here are our recommendations for quality suppliers on “this side of the pond”.
David Austin Roses in the US does indeed sell their plant stock from their website, and has the absolute best selection. They also have an amazing “5 year guarantee” if your roses fail to grow! They also provide wedding roses.
Wayside Gardens seems to have a wide selection of David Austin roses in the states, and we highly recommend them as as a garden supplier.
Also, Heirloom Roses has been around forever, and are highly regarded even though we have not ordered from them personally.
English roses were bred for mild climates and cooler summers, but there are varieties that will do well in most parts of the country. Keep in mind in hot areas, rich colored blooms will fade in too much direct sun, so they will appreciate a little afternoon shade, or the east side of your house. Two varieties that will grow down to zone 4 include “James Galway” and “Harlow Carr”. Remember that no English rose is going to love windy conditions, so plant them in an area that offers some protection if that’s an issue for your garden. While most English roses are quite disease resistant compared to tea roses, if you live in an area with high humidity, consider adopting a regular spraying program for fungal diseases, or choose humidity resistant varieties. “Gertrude Jekyll” “Golden Celebration”, “Gentle Hermione” and “Abraham Darby” are all good bets.
All photos below are from ‘David Austin Roses‘ unless otherwise specified.
Considered by many to be the most gorgeous English rose and my daughter’s favorite memory of my garden when she was little. A pale, beautiful pink, these blooms are delicate and almost transluscent as the outer petals fade to white. A pure and strong fragrance make these irresistible. They don’t make great cut flowers in the traditional sense, but I loved putting a bunch into a bowl, and allowing them to drop a few petals each day, scenting the entire room. Healthy strong growth to 5 feet. Dead head this one after blooming to keep your garden full of these flowers.
English gardeners’ favorite rose and winner of 22 Chelsea flower show medals, “Gertrude Jekyll’ was one of the first English roses I grew, and I loved it. Tall and robust, it has an amazing Old World rose fragrance you can smell 20 feet away. Rich pink, almost magenta cupped blooms, this one re-blooms over and over, and is named for one of the most renowned English garden designers of her time.
This rose is deep and rich yellow with a strong fragrance. Available both in shrub and climbing form, they grow to 4 feet and 12 feet respectively. Healthy, upright growth. These flowers are medium size and cupped, and bloom over and over again. Also one of our first English roses, and we found they did very well in a hot climate.
A smaller rose at only 3 feet, this pale pink variety is good for use in containers or in the middle of the border. Strong fruity fragrance and healthy growth combine to make this a pretty perfect pink rose.
We love “LD Braithwaite” as our pick for a red English rose, because it’s bright crimson color doesn’t look muddy as many deep red flowers can. Very floriferous, it’s Old World scent forms as the bloom ages. Large cupped blooms, healthy bushy habit and a wide zonal range (from 4-10) make this a very versatile rose. The only down side to the rose is that it only has average to good disease resistance, so consider spraying for fungal diseases.
We love this rose because of it’s warm, apricot pink color and upright facing blooms. (Many English rose’s blooms droop slightly). A medium size rose at 4 feet, this is a good cutting rose with a more formal habit. A pleasant Myrrh fragrance, this rose does well in poor soils.
A tall white rose that can be trained as a climber, “Claire Austin” is a repeat flowering very fragrant rose that tolerates partial shade. It is a particularly healthy rose, and therefore a good choice in high humidity areas. The fragrance has a vanilla and meadowsweet aroma and is pleasantly strong.
This rose has a soft pink color that almost looks peachy when first budding. Taller at 4 feet, it has strong bushy growth that makes it perfect for using as a hedge. Raspberry fragrance. Many petalled, deeply cupped blooms. Is a great choice for both hot and cold climates.Image Credits: DavidAustin.com, David Austin Roses