The Rose Whisperer: A garden fit for a queen

Photo courtesy of David Austin Roses.
A new rose named Kew Gardens celebrates the 250th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England.

It doesn’t happen very often, but a rose made headlines last week.

The occasion was part of the 250th anniversary celebration at Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The star was an unassuming, five-petalled English musk hybrid rose named (surprise!) Kew Gardens. And oh, Queen Elizabeth II was there, also.

If you've never visited the gardens, they're a must-see for anyone who loves plants and flowers. Kew covers more than 300 acres beside the River Thames near Richmond in southwest London. Among the attractions are 26 gardens ranging from the Azalea Garden to the Rhododendron Dell.

And there are six impressive botanical glasshouses including the centerpiece, the breathtaking Palm House.

The rose garden lies behind the Palm House, but in recent years it hasn’t exactly been a jewel in Kew’s crown. So, as part of the anniversary festivities, Kew worked with one of Britain’s most renowned rose specialists to completely restore and replant the garden.

Because Kew is a designated World Heritage Site, new landscape designs are not permitted. That meant that Michael Marriott of David Austin English Roses (Mr. Austin has sponsored the rose garden and is donating more than half of the plants) had to select a layout that had been used at Kew at some point during its history.

He chose a William Nesfield design from 1848 that was originally meant for American shrubbery. Roses were later planted in the 1930s.

It is an elaborate plan with approximately 24 beds that vary in size from room for just three roses to as many as 150. In time, more than 1,500 roses encompassing well over 100 varieties will be on display there along with a section that details the history of the rose.

Before the first rose could be planted, there was much work to be done. Old and diseased plants were cleared away in April 2008, then Mr. Marriott discovered that the soil was so poor and compacted, it had to be replaced to a depth of 24 inches.

Many of the new roses were put in this spring, and planting will continue into next year. Each bed will eventually include a mix of different shrubs including species, old garden varieties, hybrid musks, rugosas, modern shrubs, and, of course, the English roses for which Austin is famous.

A few fortunate hybrid teas and floribundas will be allowed to reside there as well. The garden should be in its full glory in two to three years.

Since so many older varieties will be featured in the design, a thornless white rose with a hint of lemon-yellow behind its stamens seems a perfect choice to carry the name Kew Gardens. It has Old World charm, which David Austin particularly admires, along with disease resistance and prolific bloom.

It is a newsworthy regal combination to be sure.

Psssst: The “new” Kew rose garden will also have pergolas and obelisks to show off climbing roses and ramblers. Roses trained as pillars can turn a ho-hum area of your yard into a head-turning accent. Stay tuned for details on how to make it happen in your garden.

Read more by the Rose Whisperer here and here.

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