The romance of roses

PUBLISHED: 14:05 24 May 2007 | UPDATED: 14:33 20 February 2013

The wonderfully fragrant blooms of 'Gertrude Jekyll'

The wonderfully fragrant blooms of 'Gertrude Jekyll'

If you're looking for some tips on growing roses, don't miss the chance to visit Four Aces in Pirbright. This garden in Surrey has around 300 varieties and is sure to inspire ideas for your own garden

Words and pictures by Leigh Clapp

Gardening trends may come and go but roses will always be one of our best-loved flowers. Each year, as they come into intoxicating bloom, you can't help but be won over again. What is more, these eternal favourites offer the greatest variety of colour, scent, form and length of flowering season.

Not without their flaws, however, it is important to choose varieties appropriate to your site's climatic conditions, soil and, of course, the style of your garden. Often in the past, roses were grown together, but these days it is generally acknowledged that they are at their best amongst other plants.

Growing roses with perennials, for instance, encourages beneficial insects to visit, making it more difficult for diseases to spread, thus keeping the roses in the best of health. Towering foxgloves, lupins and delphiniums can add pleasing contrasts to the arching nature of roses. Contrasting flower shapes such as spherical alliums or the open faces of achillea work well also. Try underplanting with geraniums, lavender, catmint, violas or bulbs to create pretty scenes.

Although there are many beautiful gardens in Surrey that feature roses, one of my favourites is Four Aces in Pirbright, which opens as part of the National Gardens Scheme several times this summer. With around 300 varieties, it is sure to inspire ideas for your own garden.

Owned by principal violinist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bob St John Wright, and his opera soprano wife, Jane, the garden is a symphony of colour, texture, form and rhythm. This very creative couple have transformed a blank canvas into an informal plantsman's garden, resplendent with an enormous variety of roses, perennials, shrubs and herbs. In 1985, when they moved into their home, it had just been converted from three tiny cottages with long, narrow gardens that consisted of rough grass and also a derelict nursery.

A high front wall gives little indication of what lies beyond as you enter the garden. Immediately you are drawn into the charm of the space, with beautifully orchestrated plantings and glimpses of what is to come. "We wanted rooms and areas that flow together rather than formal hedge divisions," explains Jane.

Working together in the garden, Bob focuses on structure, while Jane's plantaholic tendencies are unleashed on the harmonious combinations. Cottage garden favourites blend beautifully with voluptuous roses and clipped box spheres add accents.

A paved courtyard extends out from the house with curving gravel paths, softened by mass plantings, leading out to an expanse of lawn, borders and a pond. With their busy lifestyle, Jane has kept the garden as low maintenance as possible. "We do our real gardening in the quiet of winter, with pruning etc., while in summer the garden comes up and tends to look after itself," she says, "We don't have labour intensive beds so we can leave the garden pretty much to its own devices."

The roses are the stars of the show in June with perennials and grasses extending the display later in the season. Jane has discovered that although it is supposed to be difficult to grow roses in her area, older varieties, especially the wonderfully scented hybrid musks, do very well. Favourites include 'Penelope', 'Felicia', 'Buff Beauty' and 'Cornelia' for their reliable flowering. She has them climbing over supports, as shrubs or hedges and always with complementary groupings of plants. Clematis scrambles through some and campanula, phlox, peonies and poppies make perfect companions in the profusion. Jane shares her passion for gardening through her plant and design consultancy 'Plant Perfect'.

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