By Louise Clements
When our group of eleven old-rose enthusiasts, led by Bill Grant, arrived in England we found that summer had' not yet taken hold. On the itinerary were over 20 English Gardens with an emphasis on roses. I was thankful that my husband, John, had urged me to bring a fold-up plastic rain poncho. It covered me and my camera through several rain showers. Even so I took 1404 slides during our two week tour.
Both public and private gardens were on the itinerary. My experience with English gardens had been mostly the small but beautiful patches of door step gardens which line the streets of most any residential area of any town in England. In store for us on the tour were wonderful sights of beautiful gardens which showed not only the love of flowers and growing things but the ability to imagine the use of much larger areas of ground and turn imagination into a glorious feast for the eyes and spirit. I can mention only a few here.
This banquet of visual pleasure was no more evident than at Wisley where 240 acres have been used to create a showplace of a vast variety of plant life. It serves as inspiration and refreshing retreat for the public, obvious by the number of people enjoying the garden the Saturday we were there. The person with a small garden is not left out as there are several model gardens to stroll through. This is where I saw a mature bush of 'Pink Bells', a ground cover rose that by pruning was made a perfect dome shape and was absolutely smothered with lovely, little pink blooms. I could hardly tear myself away, the sight was so intoxicating.
Sissinghurst Castle had a variety of formal and cottage garden styles. An outstanding feature was the white garden where I saw an amazing plant of Rosa mulliganu. It was growing over a domed gazebo-like structure that was maybe twenty feet across. The dome was absolutely covered with the criss-crossing canes that were loaded with thousands of buds. I could not believe the proliferation of buds and wished I could see them in bloom. Vita Sackville West took the acreage, with its castle-like tower, in 1930 and turned it into a garden paradise, using the soft, red brick walls to great advantage as a background for climbing roses such as 'Alan Chandler', 'Colcestria', 'Paul's Lemon Pillar' and 'Paul Transon', to name only four. Despite the large area the grounds covered, there was often a feeling of cozy intimacy provided by the smaller walled gardens and gardens using the wonderful English Yew hedges. I saw 'Vanity' here and noted that we must get it. '1?. calsfomica plena' was a striking standout.
The individual private gardens, though most were not as large, were never-the-less impressive. Gardening on the grand scale, while awesomely beautiful, is for most of us prohibitively expensive and impractical. We saw many private gardens that offered great satisfaction to their owner-caretaker on a much smaller scale. Hazel le Rougetel, gardener/author, gave us an enthusiastic and unforgettable tour of her 60' by 60' garden where carefully chosen roses and companion plants stood or nestled around a small green lawn. Her use of a tn-pod structure of wooden posts effectively provided a meeting place for three different rose bushes, each trained to a post. The combined blooms of 'Honorine de Brabant', 'Gloire de Ducher' and 'Mine. Isaac Pereire' made a lovely collage of color. Underplanting 'Raubriter' with bulbs was another feature. Mrs. le Rougetel's small garden is such an achievement in discipline and order that it has commanded enough interest to attract a tour group from America to visit.
Dr. and Mrs. Richard Perks of 'The Old Parsonage' used a steep hillside with switchback paths to create several little "secret gardens" each a place to stop and contemplate a different grouping of roses. 'Scarlet Fire', an intensely red single, caught my eye as did 'May Queen' and Rosa webbiana' (said to be drought hardy).
In my photo log I noted several times to get 'Romona', 'Alba Maxima' and 'Prince Charles' (an 1842 Bourbon). 'Conditorium', a dark red Gallica from the 1600's also makes the list with stars.
At the Gardens of the Rose in St. Albans, the home of the Royal National Rose Society, there are about 30,000 roses. This enormous garden kept us all busy taking pictures and making lists. 'Dembrowsky', 'Mine. Louis Leveque', 'Fantin-Latour', 'Tour de Malakoff', 'Chaplain's Pink', 'Pink Robusta' and 'Summer Wine' all made my must-have list.
A highlight of the tour was meeting David Austin again. This very creative and busy man took time to show our group through his hybridizing greenhouse and the 45' by 150' seedling house. We wandered through this greenhouse 'ohing" and "ahing" at all the new possibilities for our gardens in the future. There was an unnamed, wonderfully fragrant, pink climber that I hope he puts on the market soon. Besides a beautiful display garden of English Roses there were an ample number of Old Garden roses and Species roses. It was a fabulous trip with great company. Maybe on the next tour you'll be along too. Those roses which I've mentioned and we do not carry this year we intend to obtain and make availiable through our catalog in the near future.