Roses can still thrive in small town gardens

June is the time to think big with roses — to make the most of their buds, bright blooms and intoxicating perfume
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Growing roses in small town gardens is a tough call. The temptation is to scale down with neat pompom roses, potted miniatures and bred-for-purpose, frequently scentless — and soulless — patio roses.

Keeping them contained and small is a mistake, however, as even if it's just for one moment in summer, roses need to dominate the garden with a profusion of bud and blooms as well as intoxicating perfume.

'You may not have room for climbing roses, but you could have one heartbreaker'

At south-west London's Eccleston Square, long-term resident and world-renowned rosarian Roger Phillips, who has managed the garden since 1981, there are species roses that he brought back as seed from China rubbing stems with modern repeat-flowering roses such as David Austin's Abraham Darby.

Some of the 300 climbing and shrub roses planted over the years are tender, but thrive in this central London microclimate; here, the rare but sometimes temperamental Bengal Rose is only out of flower in November.

Full-time gardener Neville Capil, a New Zealander who has introduced cabbage trees and other southern hemisphere exotica to the nearly two-centuries-old garden, doesn't spray the roses and doesn't mind blackspot because, he says, it doesn't affect the blooms.

Climbing roses
© Marianne Majerus Garden images
Early flowering Rosa banksiae lutea clambers over the Eccleston Square garden shed

Robust survivors

New roses are planted with mycorrhizal fungi to stimulate root growth and first-year roses are given a feed of powdered chicken manure, not just in early spring along with the rest of the roses, but at the beginning of autumn as well.

Capil will also give them a leaf mulch at the end of winter. "Roses are survivors and I think they actually perform well under stress," he says. He simply prunes back the shrub roses by a third or a quarter at winter's end.

"The important point is to prune with the bud growing outwards. And if you cut back repeat-flowering roses by half after they've performed, they'll flower again."

Capil, who will be on hand to offer advice at the London Open Gardens Weekend 2012, promises a lot of colour. The exquisite butterfly-like flowers of Rosa mutabilis will greet you at the main gate, together with the more demure sugar-pink climber, Cecile Brunner. Roses such as apricot-flowered The Garland scramble into every tree. Alister Stella Gray's soft yellow blooms will smother the arbour near the garden shed.

The point to learn from this sensational garden — which also holds the National Collection of Ceanothus, and has a hundred-plus camellias — is to think big, just this once. You may not have room for even several of the climbing roses and shrub roses of Eccleston Square, but you could have one heartbreaker. Coax Francis E Lester into an apple tree. Grow Albertine over the garden shed. Train The Garland against the house wall. Got a garden seat?

Copy the visionary at a Norfolk garden I once visited, where five Gypsy Boy roses crowded around a bench, serenading the enchanted visitor with their burgundy flowers and sublime fragrance. The clever gardener also trained the rambling roses to shimmy up the walls and left the remainder of the long flower-studded stems unpruned, so they bent over, and cascaded right down again. Let other shrubs be workhorses, offering different features through the year. For a few glorious weeks in June — sometimes beyond — let roses rule your garden.

Eccleston Square Gardens, SW1, open Sunday June 10, from 2pm to 5pm; an Open Garden Squares ticket can be used, or bought at the main gate for £12.

Click here more on the London Open Garden Weekend (June 9-10).

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