Roses have been around for millions of years. Petrified wreaths of roses have been found in Egyptian Tombs while in Greek mythology, the red rose is said to have got its colour after a thorn punctured Aphrodite’s skin.
The Romans enjoyed baths scented with rosewater while Christians adopted the rose as a symbol for martyrdom and sainthood. The Virgin Mary was often called Rosa Mystica or Rose Without Thorns with many Gothic cathedrals dedicating rose windows to Mary.
There are numerous references to roses in literature from William Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot. In history, the fifteenth century War between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians was named after the flower. And in Art, Elizabeth I was painted as the ‘Rose Queen’ while fast forward to 2015, Rebecca Louise Law used roses in her art installation in Times Square, New York.
But what about the cultivation of roses? Today there are over one hundred species of roses and thousands of cultivars. They can be roughly divided into four groups.
These are the nearest we have to the wild rose and examples are Rosa moyesii or Rosa glauca.
This group is made up of any rose that existed before 1860s when the modern rose was introduced. They usually only flower once and are often white or pink and have a strong scent.
The most common family in this group is the Gallica rose. They have been grown for centuries often for medicinal use – examples are the Apothecary’s Rose and Rosa Mundi.
Another group is the Damask rose which originates from the Middle East – Ispahan is a beautiful pink rose from this group and has a strong scent.
And finally, the Alba Rose. These roses originate from the dog-rose and their delicate flowers are restricted to pink, blush and white. Amelia is a favourite of mine.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, roses were brought back from China. These new species allowed breeders to grow repeat-flowering roses for example bourbons and noisettes as well as hybrid perpetuals such as hybrid teas and floribundas.
In the 1940s, David Austin began to experiment with breeding roses. He wanted to combine the scent and habit of the old roses with the colours and repeat-flowering characteristics of the modern rose. David still runs the business from Wolverhampton with his son and grandson. At the nursery, they have created a large rose garden which is divided into different areas. It contains over 700 different varieties of roses.
If you are lucky enough to be in England during the summer, here are the best gardens to see roses flowering. And at the end of the article is a list of some specialist rose nurseries including David Austin’s.
Arundel Castle in West Sussex
Arundel Castle is in the middle of the town of Arundel in West Susssex.
The gardens at Arundel Castle have recently been developed by the current Head Gardener, Martin Duncan and the garden design duo, Isabel and Julian Bannerman. Look out for the White Garden outside the Fitzalan Chapel, The Stumpery and the Collector Earl’s Garden which was inspired by the London garden of the 14th Earl, Thomas Howard. A newly planted rose hedge leads to the Rose Garden which was created below the Castle from what was originally the Bowling Green.
The estate is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk
Borde Hill in West Sussex
Situated just north of Haywards Heath in West Sussex, Borde Hill is easily accessible from London and Brighton.
The garden at Borde Hill is spread over seventeen acres and is divided into a series of linked garden rooms, each with their own character and style. The Rose Garden at Borde Hill is next to the Mediterranean Garden and was designed by Robin Williams in 1996. The formal beds are surrounded by box hedges and contain over 100 varieties of roses.
Borde Hill is owned by Mr and Mrs A Stephenson Clarke.
Hestercombe in Somerset
Hestercombe is near the village of Cheddon Fitzpaine in Somerset and is only a few miles outside the town of Taunton. Follow the daisy signs from J25 of the M5.
The gardens at Hestercombe were created at two different periods in history. The eighteenth century landscape garden lies above the house while the roses at Hestercombe can be found in the twentieth century garden which was designed by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. Standing on the Terrace in front of the house, there is a wonderful view over the Great Plat.
Hestercombe is now owned by the Hestercombe Gardens Trust.
Hever Castle in Kent
Hever Castle in Kent is 30 miles from London, near the village of Edenbridge. It can be reached via J10 of the M23 and is signposted from junctions 5 and 6 of the M25.
Hever Castle has a long history and was once home to Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. It was bought by William Waldorf Astor in 1903 who restored the house and gardens. There’s lots to see at Hever including the Italian Garden, the Blue Garden and dahlia and herbaceous borders. The Rose Garden has been planted with over 4000 roses.
Hever Castle was bought by Broadland Properties in 1983.
Houghton Lodge in Hampshire
Houghton Lodge Gardens in Hampshire are c90 minutes from Central London by car. They are a five minute drive from Stockbridge – follow the brown signs to Houghton Lodge Gardens.
The fishing lodge or cottage ornee was probably designed by John Nash for the Pitt-Rivers family at the beginning of the nineteenth century. On the west side of the River Test, the estate has been owned by the Busk family since 1910 and includes a water meadow, kitchen garden, herbaceous borders and topiary garden. The roses at Houghton are magnificent – this arch is in the Walled Garden.
Kiftsgate in Gloucestershire
Kiftsgate Gardens are over the road from Hidcote in Gloucestershire. From Stratford-upon-Avon, take the B4632 towards Broadway and Cheltenham. At the end of the village of Mickleton, turn left at the mini-roudnabout and climb up a steep hill. Turn left at the T-Junction and the entrance is after 2.5 miles on your left.
Kiftsgate has belonged to the same family for the last hundred years. Each generation of women gardeners has added their own ideas, building on the work of their predecessor. It’s a beautiful garden with stunning views over the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately when I visited the gardens in late July, the eponymous Kiftsgate rose was over but there were plenty of other roses to see in the Rose Border and other parts of the garden.
Kiftsgate is still privately owned.
Manor House Gardens, Upton Manor in Hampshire
The Manor House is in the village of Upton Grey in Hampshire – a few miles from Basingstoke and J5 of M3.
Charles Holme, founder of the Arts and Crafts magazine The Studio, moved from the Red House, Bexley (also the home of William Morris) to the fifteenth century manor house at Upton Grey in 1906. The gardens were laid out by Gertrude Jekyll between 1908 and 1909. Using Jekyll’s planting schemes, the garden has been beautifully restored by John and Rosamund Wallinger. The gardens include s a Wild Garden, herbaceous borders, a rose lawn, bowling and tennis lawns, a kitchen garden, nuttery and orchard. The roses were looking magnificent on my visit in June.
The gardens are owned by the Wallingers.
Mapperton House in Dorset
Mapperton is 5 minutes from Beaminster in Dorset and 10 minutes from Bridport. If you are driving from London, allow about three hours.
The magnificent Jacobean House is surrounded by a twentieth century Italianate garden. It was created by Mrs Ethel Labouchere in memory of her husband who died in 1916. Look out for the Fountain Court, topiary, grottoes, Pool Garden and Arboretum. On my visit in June, the climbing and rambling roses were looking magnificent on the Pergola and all along the back wall of the Italianate Garden.
Mapperton is the home of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich.
Mottisfont in Hampshire
If you are travelling from M3, leave at J8 on A303 towards Andover. Just before Stockbridge and after the village of Kings Somborne in Hampshire, turn right following the signs to Mottisfont.
Mottisfont is one of the most famous Rose Gardens in England and during the summer, the garden stays open late so visitors can make the most of the beautiful roses in the Walled Garden. It’s about twenty minutes from where I live so I am a regular visitor.
It’s owned by the National Trust
Polesden Lacey in Surrey
Leave M25 at J9 and follow the signs to A243 before picking up the A24 and then the A246. Look out for the brown signs as you enter the village of Great Bookham in Surrey.
The Grevilles bought Polesden Lacey at the beginning of the twentieth century and laid out the walled gardens as a series of flower gardens: the Rose Garden, Iris Garden, Lavender Garden and Winter Garden. Mrs Greville left the house to the National Trust in 1942 in memory of her father, the brewer William McEwan. The Rose Garden has over 2000 roses including over 100 rambling roses climbing up the Pergola.
Polesden Lacey is owned by the National Trust.
Sissinghurst Castle in Kent
Sissinghurst is 2 miles north-east of Cranbrook in Kent and 1 mile east of Sissinghurst village, just off the A262. If you are driving from Sissinghurst village, look out for the brown signs on the left.
Sissinghurst is known throughout the world as the home of Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Nigel Nicolson. Together they created the romantic garden which is laid out as a series of garden rooms. Vita was a keen gardener as well as author and she wanted ‘a tumble of Roses and Honeysuckle, Figs and Vines’. Vita particularly enjoyed the old roses with their colours, scent and history and planted around 200 different types of roses in the garden.
Sissinghurst is now owned by the National Trust.
Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire
Sudeley Castle & Gardens is situated near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. It is c10 miles from J9 of the M5.
Sudeley Castle has a long and turbulent history. In the ninth century it belonged to King Ethelred, it was home to Catherine Parr thirty-four days after the death of her husband, Henry VIII and was visited by Queen Elizabeth I. The Castle was damaged during the English Civil War and was not restored until 1830s. The extensive gardens include the Moorish Knot Garden, the Mulberry Garden, the White Garden and a series of Tudor gardens. The Queens Garden has been planted with over 80 variety of roses while roses climb up the magnificent ruins of the Banqueting Hall.
The Castle is owned by Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe and her two children.
Tyntesfield in Somerset
Tyntesfield is close to Bristol on the B3128. Follow the brown signs to the main entrance.
The property was transformed in nineteenth century by William Gibbs whose company had made its money by importing guana from South America. The gardens include terraces, ponds and an amazing Kitchen Garden which was restored for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. The Rose Garden was created by William and Blanche Gibbs in 1860s and has magnificent views towards Blagdon and the Mendips
Tyntesfield is now owned by the National Trust.