Gardeners will always garden despite lockdowns. And, although many garden centers are suffering and unsold plants having to be destroyed, the green fingers are going on-line to order their plants by mail order. None more so than David Austin Roses. The world’s must-have luxury roses.
David Austin, who died in December 2018 at the age of ninety-two, was the pre-eminent rose breeder and author. A self-taught horticulturalists, he oversaw the breeding of over 200 new rose cultivars. He specialized in breeding old garden roses like gallica, damask, and albas with the repeat flowering habits and wide color profiles of more modern hybrid tea and floribunda roses. Reinventing the rose, he put the romance back into the quintessential British plant combining the shape and fragrance of Old Roses with the modern Hybrid Tea variety.
The son of a Shropshire farmer, “Mr. A,” attended Shrewsbury School. He had dyslexia. His grandmother and Edward A Bunyard’s “Old Garden Roses,” a 21st birthday gift from his sister Beatrice, fostered his love of gardening.
His first commercially available rose, the pink climbing Constance Spry with a myrrh fragrance, was introduced in 1961 when Austin was thirty-five. It was named after the writer and society flower arranger. In the late Sixties, he introduced the once-blooming ‘Chianti’ and ‘Shropshire Lass’ Then “remontant”)repeat-flowering) varieties, including “Wife of Bath” and ‘Canterbury’). David Austin’s Roses” (he called them “English Roses) quickly became the world’s most successful rose brand and Austin the world’s most celebrated rosarian and rose ambassador.
Since its founding in 1969, David Austin Roses has always been based at the family farm on Bowling Green Lane in Albrighton, near Wolverhampton in Shropshire. Its famous plant center and gardens – The Renaissance, Victorina – contain roses named in honor of his family (like wife Patricia, a sculptress), famous Englishmen (Charles Darwin, Sir John Betjeman, Sir Benjamin Britten, Raold Dahl, Wedgwood, Thomas a Becket, Mountbatten) and women (Ann Boleyn), well-known rosarians and influential gardeners (Graham Thomas, Gertrude Jekyll, Aln Titchmarsh), actresses (“Dame Judi Dench”), musicians (James Galway), royalty, landmarks, writers and books – “The Mill on the Floss,” “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” Even Henry V111’s flagship, “The Mary Rose.”
In nearly every garden in the Uk, there will usually be is a David Austin rose of some kind, climbers, ramblers, teas, perpetual, patio roses, standard roses, scented or unscented, single flowering or repeat-flowering, good for cutting or not so good for cuttings, disease-free (The Mayflower ) or not so disease-resistant, an old rose hybrid, a leander (with larger bushes and arching growth tending to make them pillar or low climbing roses), musks, noisettes, and English Alba Hybrids, with tall, rather blue-leaved bushes. David Austin Roses sow 300,00 rose seeds every year in its greenhouses.
As well as two new generations of rose lovers, Austin also bred a rose-growing dynasty. His eldest son, David Jr, and grandson Richard have executive roles in the company, and his daughter Claire has a nursery in Powys in north Wales specializing in perennials, irises, and peonies.
The company’s founder spent six decades obsessively trying to create the perfect rose. It brought him 24 gold medals at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show and the Order of the British Empire in 2007 for services to horticulture. David Austin roses are available in thirty countries.
He used to say that the easiest way to kill a rose was to give it a bad name.