Tag Archives: rose garden

A love-hate affair with rose bushes continues

Is there anything lovelier than beautiful, soft, fragrant rose blooms? Not for me the stiff, hybrid tea types. I will leave those for others. But the David Austins are so deliciously voluptuous that I just want to bury my nose in all those scented petals. In a vase. And therein lies the rub.

The rose garden here is on borrowed time. It dates back to Mark’s mother who had a love affair with old fashioned roses and it has undergone several makeovers in the decades since. But it just doesn’t work aesthetically. We are not a good rose climate here – humid and high  rainfall without enough winter chill to kill off the greeblies, fungi and diseases that afflict roses. Our rose garden is too sheltered which restricts air movement. One of the beds is now too dry and the competition from the roots of our massive rimu trees nearby are an issue. Mark has always refused point blank to spray roses, being of the opinion that they must thrive on their own merits.

I have tried. Oh I have tried. I was recommended varieties by experienced rose producers and growers and I have crowd sourced others. Alas I have pulled out and burned more roses for poor performance than any other plant I have had to buy. After 20 years, I am going to cut my losses this winter and pull out the central beds that surround our sunken garden.

Not all will be burned. Fortunately we have large vegetable gardens, but not a picking garden as such. A couple of years ago when I was getting discouraged at  the underperforming, defoliated, ugly rose bushes, I dug some out and Mark planted them in a row in one of his veg gardens. He has several. Veg gardens, that is. The rose bushes with the most gorgeous blooms can be added to that row. It does not matter there if they have black spot and are defoliated and ugly. I can go and pick the blooms when I wish. But only those with gorgeous blooms will be relocated to this position.

It is very, very pink is Rose Flower Carpet Pink but just look at that foliage. Superb.

Rose Flower Carpet Appleblossom – a prettier pink, still with good foliage though it does not flower as long through for us. The white version flowers all year round, however.

Not all the roses are a dead loss. What the Rose Flower Carpet series lacks in individual flower form and scent is more than made up for in fantastic performance throughout the season and brilliantly healthy foliage. They are what we call *good garden plants*. Not blooms for cutting, but all-round garden performers.

Mme Plantier, I believe?

Madame Plantier is only once flowering but I can forgive that for her month or so of glory, her gorgeous scent and healthy foliage. There is one super healthy rose that I think is a David Austen but I have lost its name – again lush, strong growth and very good blooms in apricot pink. That one is to be relocated and trained as a climber up a pergola pole. Though as the pergola is not yet built, it may have to go to temporary quarters. The white rugosa, Rosa Blanc Double de Coubert, stays a healthy bush for us though there are more prolific bloomers in the rose world.

The central borders in the grass are to go. This may take a year or so.

The sunken garden, seen here at its tidiest, is to be the feature without the distraction of the borders

The so-called rose garden here is the area of the garden where I have put in the greatest effort  over the last 20 years. And while it has times when it looks pretty enough, I have come to realise that it is also the one area of the garden that I really do not enjoy maintaining at all. In fact, I avoid it as much as I can which is an indicator that all is not well. A landscaper friend looked at it recently and immediately suggested that we pull out all of the central borders that edge the deep, marble and granite sunken garden. “Feature the sunken garden,” he said. “The borders just detract.” I had to think about it for a while. But he is right. It was just a bit of a shock after all my efforts down the years. More on that in the future. We can’t do much going into summer but mentally I am relocating the plants that are worth saving and discarding the rest.

And I am mentally remaking the one border that we will save but renovate which runs along to the left. It is the garden we look out to from a favoured late afternoon seating position. Not a lot has changed in the nine years since the photo above was taken. We are still often to be found in the same seats in the same location. But it is a good reminder of why we want that one border looking good with a high level of plant interest, because we see it often.

“Doing the flowers” in the laundry. I only show this for overseas readers because I love my laundry room, a space much favoured in NZ and Australian houses that does not seem to be adopted as widely in other parts of the world. I can’t imagine living without a separate laundry room.

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Renovating the rose garden

At its best, the rose garden looked good...

At its best, the rose garden looked good…

Don’t ask us for garden advice. We hand out endless plant advice and I write regularly about many gardening matters but we do not dispense personal on site advice. This is not for want of requests but oft-times, all the person asking wants is for you to affirm that they are right. Besides, advice carries an implicit suggestion that you think the gardener is not doing it as well as you could. And that doesn’t always go down well.

But there are times when an outside view can be extremely helpful. We have a garden which we loosely call the rose garden or the “sunken garden area”. It is a formal area, laid out in the early fifties and planted by Mark’s mother with her beloved old fashioned roses. These days it would be called a garden room. Over the years, it has had a lot of work done on it including several major renovations. And still it didn’t work as well as I wanted. Sure it looked pretty in spring but it didn’t look pretty enough for long enough. Worse, I just didn’t like working in the garden. I would avoid it until it could no longer be ignored. Clearly something wasn’t right but we were failing to come up with a diagnosis.

Enter a house guest last spring. It was Neil Ross, whom some readers will know from his writing in NZ Gardener. He used to be head gardener at Ayrlies in Auckland but since then, has been working in gardening and design in England. I asked for his thoughts but in busy schedules, it came down to grabbing a few minutes at dusk. To my surprise, that was all we needed. We stood in the garden, wine glasses in hand and Neil nailed it for me.

“Gosh,” he said, “that really is a deep sunken garden.” (This had never even occurred to me. I just knew it had been dug by hand by Mark’s dad, aided by a draught horse). “And that is accentuated by the height of the standard roses. They’re really high. I’ve never seen such tall standards.”

In the following 90 seconds, he fired out suggestions. Get rid of the tallest standard roses. Remove the far border “which merely creates yet another path that I bet nobody ever walks down” (true, Neil). Make the borders wider on the main bed to compensate and lift all the perennials and reorganise them. Instead of the classic mix and match of perennials and bulbs, he suggested I opt for “more blocky plantings” and simple combinations of two or three plants in each block.

That was it. I knew instantly that he was right on the mark but I left it to percolate in my brain until a couple of weeks ago. Besides, such drastic changes needed to be done in winter. It clearly involved moving a lot of plants. Besides, while the advice may have been given in 90 seconds of inspiration, there was quite a lot of solid work in implementation. The garden beds are all hard edged – with footed concrete. Getting rid of one bed entirely is a major operation in itself, especially as we wanted to salvage the 15 year old maples and handsome weeping camellia. There are a lot of plants in just one bed. That said, roses are easy to move – at least compared to other shrubs.

Recycling the turf from the extended borders to the defunct garden bed

Recycling the turf from the extended borders to the defunct garden bed

I admit I have had help. The concrete garden edgings have been cut into manageable lengths and recycled where needed. This means that once completed and in full growth again, the garden will look as if it has been in place forever. Nothing shouts recent renovation more than pristine fresh concrete. And I am not the one who is recycling the squares of turf from the enlarged borders over to the area where the surplus bed has gone. But my job involves digging the entire garden, lifting all the perennials and bulbs, dividing them and replanting in new combinations. That has been Serious Fun. I speak in gardening terms and while gardening is many things, Serious Fun is not usually one of them. More on new perennial plantings next week.

We have been blessed with wonderful weather. A very wet winter would not have made this easy at all and I am hoping to finish this week before we get the wet, cold rains that will arrive, without doubt, sometime soon.

The upshot of all this, is that I would counsel readers that if you have an area of your garden that you do not enjoy working in, this may be an indication that there is something inherently wrong with it. I was lucky that the right person happened along eventually and gave me a rapid fire diagnosis. The best people to give advice are those who know at least as much as you do about gardening and design and who do not have an emotional investment in you acting on their advice. If you can find a really good garden designer (not just any old one), who gives on-site consultations, they should be able to assess the situation quickly and decisively but they are not easy to find. You may end up having to listen to a lot of ideas from different people before someone hits the mark for you. Just, don’t ask us, please.

A major makeover in mid flight

A major makeover in mid flight

As it was - the borders are too narrow and proportions wrong

As it was – the borders are too narrow and proportions wrong


First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.