Another jolly good year for David Austin's English roses

New English roses introduced by David Austin will add flair to this year's gardens and flower shows.

Courtesy of David Austin
The new English rose named Sir John Betjeman is a 2010 David Austin introduction featuring bright deep pink rosettes.
Courtesy of David Austin
Young Lycidas was named for a poem by John Milton, who introduced the word 'fragrance' to the English language.

Everything seems to be coming up roses for David Austin in 2010. For starters, he is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his first repeat-blooming English rose varieties. And:

– His family-owned company is about to introduce several new roses to the American market, one of which may already be sold out.

– He has been named this year’s honoree at the Great Rosarians of the World (GROW) lecture series. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, and New York’s Manhattan Rose Society cosponsor the GROW lecture series, designed to recognize those who have contributed significantly to the Queen of Flowers.

In the case of Mr. Austin, “significant contribution” is an understatement. Here is a man who literally changed the rose world by creating an entire new class of “old fashioned” roses.

As a result of a hybridizing program initiated in the 1950s, he captured the appealing features of Old Garden Roses (those introduced prior to 1867) – such as cupped flowers and strong fragrance in bushes that have the repeat bloom and vigor of modern roses.

For many like myself, the graceful charm of these shrubs was the beginning of a complete rethinking of the philosophy of rose gardening.

As readers may recall, I contracted English Rose fever while living in London in the early 1990s. Since then I’ve been a huge David Austin fan. And even though I might be prejudiced, it seems well deserved that he is now joining past honorees such as the visionary Wilhelm Kordes and the hybridizer of Knock Out, Bill Radler.

Of course, the Austin team is always looking ahead, working to create new enticing varieties to keep us coming back for more. This spring, Sir John Betjeman [see top photo], Munstead Wood, Young Lycidas, Princess Alexandra of Kent, and Wisley 2008 become available to American gardeners for the first time.

Velvety crimson Munstead Wood is also another heavy bloomer with a “delicious fragrance” that will remain compact even in hotter areas.

Young Lycidas [see photo at left] boasts a rich color blend of purplish magenta-pink-red, a first for English Roses.

Soft pink Wisley 2008 is reminiscent of the old Alba roses and is a good choice for both formal and informal gardens, as well as hedges.

And Princess Alexandra of Kent has unusually large pink-cupped flowers with “a glorious fragrance that changes from tea to lemon.”

Among the new introductions, two were recently heralded with international awards. At Concors Internacional de Roses in Barcelona, Wisley 2008 won Best Rose for Landscaping, while Young Lycidas was awarded the top prize for fragrance.

There’s one more reason this will be a rosy year for David Austin. He’s recently been under the weather, but now is back in fighting fit form, as they say across the pond. To that I add an enthusiastic “Hear, hear!”

PSSSST: I really, really, really wanted a Munstead Wood rose (named after Gertrude Jekyll’s own garden in Surrey.) Unfortunately, I may have to wait till next year to give it a try because according to rumors, it is already sold out.

Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, is one of nine garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. She grows roses and other plants in her garden on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.


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