How have your roses been this awful summer? Sumptuous and lovely or hanging their heads in shame?
In truth, the Westcountry doesn't provide the best climate for roses – even in an ideal summer – as the wet weather lends itself to those rose vectors like powdery mildew and blackspot. That's why, at my nursery at Powderham Castle, we focus on good performers for the South West which not only cope with the weather but are disease-resistant and don't need to be sprayed week-in, week-out with chemicals.
When I get asked which is my favourite rose – which I often do! – I struggle to answer because roses are so fabulously versatile. I love 'Gertude Jekyll' for its pink, clove-scented flowers and closely packed petals that clutch on to their fragrance right through the day. For me, roses need to repeat-flower through the summer rather than all over by the end of June. That's why I like repeat performers such as velvety red 'Hot Chocolate' and plum-coloured 'Rhapsody in Blue'.
Like most gardeners, I grow a few old favourites because the scent reminds me of running around in the garden when I was young – my mum adored the shrub rose 'Felicity' which is pink and particularly fragrant.
I'm also very interested in new breakthroughs – roses that offer something different, like 'Alissar, Princess of Phoenicia' which looks more like a hibiscus than a rose, but is also good for the drier soils of sloping Westcountry gardens.
When I first worked on a rose nursery, the Holy Grail for rose breeders was a "true blue" flower, like 'Rhapsody in Blue', which always draw admiring glances here. But though fashion and vivid colour is always valued, one thing gardeners really want is lots of flower over a long period, health and when you bend down to sniff it, a nose-full of something sweet and rosy!