Meeting Rose Hybridizers of England

By John & Louise Clements

We celebrated our wedding anniversary while in England by spending two nights at Thombury Castle. Originally owned by the Earl of Buckingham, who had the audacity to criticize King Henry the VIII and lost his head as a result, the castle became the property of King Henry and was the residence of Anne Boleyn. It boasts the oldest Tudor garden in England though we took issue with the Hybrid Teas occupying a portion of the garden. It was a once m a lifetime treat.

We searched out Sanday's Rose Nursery, which had been in business for many years, only to arrive on the day after their last day in business. It had become impossible to compete with the much cheaper rose imports from the Eastern Block countries and with deep regrets they had to close their doors. We walked through their display garden with sadness.

Warwick Castle was a grand experience. The Victorian Rose Garden, which Louise had seen in 1991 when it was newly planted has now come into its own and though only the David Austin English Roses were in bloom, including, of course, a bed of 'Warwick Castle' the garden was lovely with its formal planting and tidy paths and ordered structures. The castle itself was delightful, extremely busy with visitors and entertainers roaming the grounds, entertaining with music, song and story.

Our purpose was to meet some of the rose hybridizers and nurserymen currently in business. We arrived at Gandy's Roses to meet with Mr. Gandy and though he is 85 years old he was cutting budwood in the field; which can be a backbreaking job. Gandy is an energetic man who is passionate about roses. He plans to hybridize till his dying day he says. We believed him. He has been in the rose business for 72 years. We are evaluating several of Mr. Gandy's Shrub roses for future introduction. We walked his test field and breeding greenhouses to the accompaniment of colorful stories from his life with roses. A spritely gentleman he is.

The future to him is another 50 years ahead. The future of the present, however, definitely rests in the genius of David Austin. We traveled to Albrighton for a scheduled meeting with himand his son David Austin Jr. We talked roses and business in the conference room of their brand new office facility. While we were talking John glanced out the window and said, "Isn't that your friend from France?" I excused myself quickly and ran outside to greet Odile Masquelier, who was visiting the nursery for the first time. She was as astonished to see me as I to see her. Such a coincidence for people from two different countries to meet in a third country. Great timing, I must say. I returned to the discussion with the Austin's, and they gave us a marvelous repast of little sandwiches and delicately prepared fruits. The display garden has been expanded, and a faux temple or porch has been added which makes an excellent backdrop for the roses. The test fields are full of promise.

We made our way to Hitchin, The Sun Hotel, built in the 1200's, and its wonderful food and to see Harkness Roses. Robert Harkness drove us to the growing fields, where we spent two hours in the test plots choosing numbered test roses to be shipped to us for evaluation with an eye toward putting them in the catalog. Robert told us that he had located a few of his father's (Jack Harkness, who had just died) book Roses and would like to see us sell them in our catalog. You will find it on the Book pages.

St. Albans was our last stop and yet another serendipitous event. We arrived on the day of the RNRS Annual Miniature Rose Show. What a treat! Sean McCann was there, and we shared notes about his award winners and ours! Our 'Golden Beauty' was a first place winner. Don't you think we were excited. The next day we returned to pace the test beds and take pictures by the dozens. Can you imagine how much we have had to leave out of so brief a report? We returned home tired but happy and would you believe...NO jet lag!! What a perfect ending to a dream trip.