The rose garden: a new and radical approach

Some recent passing comments on Twitter about our rose garden prompted me to write an update on how it is progressing. I promised one or two people that I would do so. Here it is …

I put a great deal of effort into planning the rose garden. It is situated on the south side of the parking area, on slightly raised ground, and is in a key position for easy observation by people within the garden and also from cars passing along the lane outside. It covers a semi-circular area, divided into four sections separated by mown grass paths with a mown grass circle in the centre, and is surrounded by low yew hedging. I selected a variety of different roses to plant, with no particular theme other than they were all repeat flowerers with strong perfume. A significant quantity of well rotted manure was added before planting, all were planted with mycorrhizal fungi on the roots, and the whole area was deeply mulched with compost from our local bio farmer who processes green waste. The mulching has been repeated at least once since initial planting. We mulled over whether to underplant the roses but decided not to at least initially as we kept an eye on couch grass and field bindweed both of which can be nightmares here.

I know and understand the theory of rose pruning (remove the “3 Ds”, cut to an outward facing bud, remove any branches thinner than a pencil …). And they’ve been reasonably well pruned (a job made much easier since I bought my wonderful powered pruners). They’ve been kept deadheaded, and we’ve learnt that we need to cut lower down when deadheading here as subsequent growth can be strong. The beds have been regularly weeded, and the grass paths have also been well maintained.

However, so far the rose garden has been a bit of a failure. Harsh judgement I know, but fair. Why a failure? Some of the roses I fear were mis-supplied since a few fall into categories that I know for sure I wouldn’t have ordered in my very careful initial selection. Many of them have become over-run by suckers (caused I suspect by careless digging/hoeing at an early stage around the plants). And some have simply died. The last couple of years have given us some very challenging weather with harsh late frosts in April, drought and heatwave in summer, and deep frosts for days on end this past winter. Roses are robust plants, but these conditions have challenged the best of them. The yew hedge is also patchy, with many having died at one stage (possibly due to over-exuberant strimming around them).

I’ve not quite finished pruning (one more bed to go). There is not a weed to be seen. And the dead bushes have been removed. And for the rest of this year we are adopting a radical approach. All bushes overrun with suckers, or simply not doing well enough, will be removed altogether. I know that will leave lots of gaps but gaps are planting opportunities for the future! We will plant more next winter, possibly repeating those varieties that we know do reasonably well here. There’s currently little repetition (just a cornucopia of exuberance!).

In the meantime what to do with all those gaps? Several years ago we had two large areas of bare soil in spring, after ground works had been completed. It was too late to put the more permanent planting in but leaving them empty would have simply invited weeds in and would have been an eyesore. In France large boxes of mixed annual flower seeds are readily available for reasonable prices. So I bought some, mixed them all together with some Phacelia tanacetifolia seeds, and sowed both areas. The result was quite spectacular, and we are still enjoying the progeny of some of the more robust varieties (cosmos sulphureus especially!) which self-seed year on year.

So we have decided to undersow the rose garden with a similar mix of annuals. I’ve already bought two boxes (to cover 100sqm each) and will buy more to make sure all areas are covered. Its an experiment. I’ve not seen or heard of anyone else doing it (I’d love to hear of other examples if you know of any). My ultimate question: “what’s the worst that can happen?”. I’m looking forward to seeing those colourful mixed annuals again, with the added bonus of fragrant roses above.

I see examples of my autistic brain in action in this rose garden story. Firstly, I have a great desire to deeply research topics and collect as many of something I am attracted to as I can (manifested in my initial planting plan). Secondly I’ve been very encouraged to read many thoughts about the positive attributes of autistic brains, in particular the ability to “think outside the box” and come up with novel solutions to problems.

I’m (we are) still very much in the early stages of coming to terms with what my autism diagnosis means. So please forgive slightly random comments like these, rather than a carefully thought through explanation. I’m resisting the temptation to trawl back through the past to examine events and people through this different lens I’ve been given. I’ve experienced a great deal of pain, rejection, and trauma across the years, and certainly don’t want to revisit any of that thank you very much! So, slightly random thoughts are currently the way forward.

Here’s a few rose photos from the last couple of years together with some cosmos sulphureum. I’m determined to persevere to try and get it right, and will certainly give you more updates in due course

8 thoughts on “The rose garden: a new and radical approach

  1. As an enthusiast for roses though lacking in any real gardening knowledge, I am strangely reassured that many of the roses I have planted have failed as some of yours have in your immaculate and carefully managed garden.I hope for the survivors to flourish this year . Your photos are lovely .


  2. Sharon you are such a wonderful writer!
    And those roses are fabulous! – Well done! Gardens are always a work in progress but also so healing and therapeutic.


  3. A lovely piece of writing and how frustrating. I think roses can be a mixed bag. My DA always get diseased but others such as Iceberg ( from Woolworths years ago) thrive. I think it was Thomas Stone who suggested underplanting with salvias help prevent disease.
    Also in my experience the more you prepare and try to get it perfect the less it works. The annual flowers sound a brilliant idea


  4. I loved reading your blog,  especially as I’m working on restoring a very old rose garden,  also overrun with suckers, comfrey and bindweed.  It did much better in the year since I started work on it but there is still a lot of room for improvement,  so I’ll follow your ideas with interest.  My youngest daughter is autistic, and I’m starting to strongly believe that I may have similar tendencies.  It’s certainly not all bad so play to your strengths,  as you clearly are.  👍Sent from my Galaxy


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