Welcome to our November newsletter. We have a couple of news items to share. Firstly, for fans of OZACT Shakespeare, we have just begun selling tickets for their twilight performance of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to be held Friday and Saturday, the first weekend of January 2016. Of course these tend to race out the door! Give friends a hoy to see how many tickets might be required and book on our
Twilight Events Page
Secondly, this coming weekend I am conducting a workshop into the design and maintenance of hedges as part of the Diggers Garden Workshop series. As one might imagine, this will involve a pleasant stroll around the garden examining hedges. I might well begin with the box parterres in the Maple Court. Anyone visiting these past few weeks will appreciate we chopped them to pieces in August, many plants went back to old wood and this frightened everyone no end. “Will they come back?” was the constant question and I must say I wasn’t absolutely sure whether they’d grow back this summer or next.
Anyway, all’s well! Our box plants are roaring back and look as though they will be green and full by Christmas and will make a nice talking point next Saturday. The Workshop begins at civilised 1pm for just under 2 hours. The cost for Diggers members is $29 and non-members: $39.
Find out more at the Diggers Club website.
Finally, a little froth and bubble - the first flower on our ‘Munstead Wood’ rose has opened as you can see above. Now, I have grown David Austin roses in our Gallery Walk from day one. For years visitors would spot ravishing ‘Dark Lady’ flowers and wonder what they might be. However, the graft of this specimen suddenly broke down and out the rose came and last summer I was thinking “how about another try at a good deep crimson David Austin?” I’ve always had a fondness for this colour. One of my first interests in gardening were the old roses, the Gallicas, the Cabbages, the Mosses, especially those in crimson and purple. However these roses all had the problem of a brief flowering season, made worse by their scrappy growth habit the other 50 weeks of the year. Still, reading GS Thomas’s enormously inspirational trilogy on the old roses (published way back in the 1960s and ’70s) I had to at least try them and for years on my farm at Mogumber in WA there were a few scattered through the hibiscus and pelagoniums and succulents and yuccas.
I first came across David Austin’s work on breeding repeat-flowering older style roses in a book published way back in 1975. At that time he had released less than 12 and his most famous was ‘Constant Spry’ which, blimey, still only flowered for three weeks. Mind you, despite its season it still ranks as one of the all-time great roses – hunt it down and try it out! However in this book there was intriguing mention of Austin’s Canterbury Tales series of older style roses. From memory these were eventually released in Australia in the early 1980s.
So what was Austin trying to do? Why are the old, single season rose so worthwhile that we should try to resurrect them? Graham Thomas I think summed up the strengths and weaknesses of the two groups by quoting Keats talking of the unsurpassed beauty of the ‘full-blown rose’. In other words, to achieve this the bloom had to be open and the richness of its often ‘quartered’ heart fully on display. Modern hybrid teas and floribundas are at their peak while still in bud. One need only think of long-stemmed roses in cellophane wrappers, they’re always presented in tight bud and lose their form as they open.
In 1981 Valerie and I flew to England and enjoyed ten weeks traveling visiting gardens, and a few nurseries. One of these was David Austin’s, in Shropshire. It was right at the end of a dryish summer and curiously I remember the place looking a bit tired. It was frustrating because the trial beds seemed to go on for acres and in amongst a surprising number of weeds were some astonishing flowers, colours and forms I’d not seen before. I drove off thinking “by golly there’s been a lot of work put into that project – but it’s under pressure and will it survive?” Anyway, two years later, international contracts had been signed, a book published and David Austin roses were well on their way to becoming famous everywhere. With over 200 varieties now released and his plants in every second garden I’m sure he ranks as the most the most important rose breeder in the annals of the subject.
I planted two Austin roses last summer. Apart from Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’ (named for Gertrude Jekyll’s seminal garden in Surrey) I also made space for ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ herself. For all sorts of reasons I thought the two should go together. The latter has cerise-pink blooms, wonderfully quartered in the style of the best gallicas and possesses perhaps the finest perfume of any rose. And ‘Munstead Wood’, its fragrance is not so rich perhaps but its flower comes as close to the finest of the gallicas for intense colour and perfect form as we are ever likely to see in a repeat flowerer. I suspect to achieve such a bloom is why David Austin first began making crosses between the old French roses and modern roses all those years ago in the 1950s. In Munstead Wood we have the culmination of a lifetime’s work. Come along this summer and see.