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Oh-so-romantic English roses

David Austin roses combine the best characteristics of modern and old-fashioned roses.

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He also notes that varieties including the dark-red Darcey Bussell and pink Scepter’d Isle not only maintain healthy foliage but also display resistance to damaging insects like rose midge.

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As for taming those megacanes, Mr. Marriott has concluded that a strict summer pruning program results in quicker repeat flowering and a shapelier bush.

“Roses like Graham Thomas want to conquer the world with enthusiastic growth the first few years after planting,” Marriott says. “Prune them back to within six inches of where the cane originated, and they should settle down and exhibit more manageable growth in two to three years.”

Peter Schneider, coeditor of the Combined Rose List, a directory of rose sources, notes that many English Roses – including frilly pink James Galway and yellow Charlotte – have shown impressive winter hardiness in his Ohio garden – often better than some Canadian rose varieties. At least 15 varieties of English Roses are hardy to USDA Zone 4.

In steamy Sarasota, Fla., Connie Vierbicky, known to friends as the “rose queen,” lovingly tends a garden that features more than 30 Austin roses. She became infatuated with English Roses almost 20 years ago.

“Although some of the roses don’t flourish in the extreme Florida heat,” she says, “most are blooming machines. And I think they are more disease resistant [than other roses] because their genetic relationship to old garden roses.”

Sophy’s Rose, Molineux, Pat Austin, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles are some selections that perform well throughout the South, including the Gardens of the American Rose Center in Shreveport, La.

But Ms. Vierbicky cautions Southern gardeners to avoid an excess of nitrogen fertilizer: “Too much and the roses tend to develop weird, green vegetative centers.”

Everyone who grows English Roses has a favorite, some of which are no longer in the good graces of the great hybridizer himself.

Each year the Austin staff looks at the roses with a critical eye and decides which plants are no longer considered up to snuff. In the catalog, those that make the grade have a small flower next to the name.

I was relieved to find one of my favorites, light pink Heritage, still gets the official seal of approval. I planted it in 1993 during the first flush of English Rose fever. And I jolly well plan to keep it.

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