The answer lies in the soil? A new rose garden


Jon who helps us in the garden has just sent this photo. I suspect (in the nicest possible way) he sometimes sends photos from the house when we’re not there as a way of confirming that his normal Tuesday visit is proceeding as planned. That’s great. But he also knows (some of) what floats my boat.


Manure; fabulous stuff. Its not always easy to source, or at least its not always easy to source -delivered- but we have been fortunate to make contact with a lovely horsey couple just across the field opposite who are happy to deliver a giant trailer-load of manure as often as they can. We’ve had about 6-8 loads so far and I’ve told them that we’ll take as much as they’re happy to deliver!

Jon is currently spreading it on the area which has been designated for the new rose garden. Just before Christmas we planted a hedge around the perimeter of the area, hornbeam on the north side abutting the car park and yew around a circular east, west and southern perimeter. We marked out a central circle, cross-angled and perimeter paths, which will be mown grass, and Jon has been busy since then shovelling manure and doing the other necessary preparation tasks.

Rationale and modus operandi

I’ve never had such a large area to plant before and it can be quite daunting at least until one has worked out the rationale and modus operandi. My husband (who’s a whizz at drawing – I’m hopeless) drew a roughly scale plan so we could work out how many rose bushes we would need.

Suppliers from UK and France

Then I started on the websites and catalogues. I found Peter Beales Roses’ site the most informative to work from, with every attribute clearly and succinctly listed. I also looked at David Austin roses of course, and Style Roses because good old Twitter had helped me identify them as the only UK source of the Verschuren rose, a very unusual rose with variegated leaves. Many people might find that an abomination, but I’d had one in our old Surrey garden (which I’d nobly left behind for our successors) which I’d bought from East Lambrook Manor many years ago and I wanted to carry it with me. That covers the UK suppliers I used, all of whom are despatching to France.

But I also wanted to use some French suppliers and I’ve ordered from Promesse de Fleurs (from whom we’d previously bought some nut trees, Planfor from whom we’d bought several hundred metres of hedging plants, and Rosiers Anglais whose owner I’d got to know on social media and who now specialise in supplying David Austin roses to a French gardening public hungry for them.

Producing a list in (apparently) zero time

How on earth did I produce my short list? Like many others who have full-time day jobs I’m quite short of time. For my sins (and I have many, clearly) I’m also co-Treasurer with my husband of our local church in Sussex, a task which is about 1,000% more time-consuming than we ever feared it might be. So I had to find a method that would produce a reasonable result … and actually get done in the time available. I was reminded of the maxim that an 80% job completed is better than a 100% job that you never finish.

Perfume, colour characteristics, and placing the orders

I knew that scent was a very important characteristic for us. And we also love colour and variety (rather than tasteful “design”). So, I divided the total number of plants needed into 8 different colour categories, and then initially went through Peter Beales’ excellent catalogue selecting the most scented within my categories. I’d also selected some David Austin roses (from Rosiers Anglais) at an early stage too. Peter Beales weren’t able to supply all my initial list so at that point, rather than succomb to disappointment I just went to Promesse de Fleurs and Planfor to make up the gaps.

I completed the orders (and the payments!) last night. One of the challenges of only living part-time at the French house is timing orders so that delivery is coordinated with our visits. I hope I’ve managed to get it right this time. It will be a rather expensive mistake if I haven’t!

The Twitter poll

Before selecting the actual roses there was another important decision that needed to be made and that was whether to plant just roses, to plant roses with traditional edging plants (such as lavender or alchemilla mollis), or to underplant more extensively with herbaceous. Whilst pondering this I had the bright idea of setting up a Twitter poll. I’d never done one before but of course it was simple as chips and – amazingly – received many responses, enough for me to feel that a reliable sample was involved. Here’s the result:

Just roses? 5%
Plus herbaceous? 69%
Plus lavender edging? 26%

Fairly unequivocal I think you’ll agree. However that also presents a decision to be made in that the ground hasn’t been as *perfectly* prepared as it would have been in an ideal world. It hosted a wonderful array of annual flowers (sown as a temporary measure)  last spring in which quite a few “weeds” also grew. So we know the area isn’t going to be weed- free and the last thing I want to do is see this all overrun with undesirables. I have therefore decided that I will keep it as just roses (with the exception that if any of last summer’s colourful annuals set seed they will be welcome) so we can monitor and eradicate any nettles, thistles or similar. Then next winter/spring I shall begin to include some herbaceous.

The rose garden has begun to come into being …