The Art of Gardening With Roses

The Art of Gardening With Roses

by Graham Stuart Thomas

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Graham Stuart Thomas stands alone as the world's pre-eminent rose gardener. In this unique presentation he focuses on the uses of a variety of garden plants--flowering and nonflowering--with which to create enduring garden designs that rescue roses from the stiff formality of most ornamental gardens. Here, Mr. Thomas employs the lessons of the magnificent garden at Mottisfont Abbey, first created by him in 1972 and extended in the 1980s, to demonstrate thrilling design choices and methods of lengthening the flowering seasons open to any alert gardener. As Henry Mitchell, the Washington Post's distinguished horticulturist, puts it: "It was Thomas who launched the revival of interest in roses long out of commerce...He found many of the unheard-of nineteenth-century roses at Bobbink and Atkins Nursery in New Jersey and the old Lester and Tillotson Nursery in California. The authority of Graham Stuart Thomas is by no means limited to roses. He writes authoritatively on perennials, garden design, the grouping of plants, on groundcovers and much else...Few gardeners are so catholic or such connoisseurs."

The present book is a glorious display--in words and color illustrations--of Mr. Thomas's gardens, providing an education for the reader in the design of his own garden.

Photographs show roses close up and in garden settings with complementary plants that extend the flowering season of the gardens into the late fall. The author explores the origins of the roses selected and explains how he has employed their particular qualities in his designs. He includes a checklist to assist gardeners who wish to re-create these sumptuous plant combinations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466882904
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/07/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 845,707
File size: 41 MB
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About the Author

Graham Stuart Thomas had made up his mind at the age of eight to make gardening his career. he later studied at the University Botanic Garden, Cambridge. Artist, photographer, writer, he has been awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticulture Society, the Veitch Memorial Medal and the Society's Gold Medal for his paintings and drawings, the Dean Hole Medal of the Royal National Rose Society, and was honored with the OBE in 1975.

Graham Stuart Thomas had made up his mind at the age of eight to make gardening his career. he later studied at the University Botanic Garden, Cambridge. Artist, photographer, writer, he has been awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour by the Royal Horticulture Society, the Veitch Memorial Medal and the Society's Gold Medal for his paintings and drawings, the Dean Hole Medal of the Royal National Rose Society, and was honored with the OBE in 1975.

Read an Excerpt

The Art of Gardening with Roses

By Graham Stuart Thomas, Bob Gibbons

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1991 Robert Ditchfield Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8290-4


The Art of Designing a Rose Garden

You violets that first appeare,
By your pure purple mantles known,
Like the proud virgins of the yeare,
As if the spring were all your owne,
What are you when the Rose is blown?

Sir Henry Wotton, 1568–1639

People instinctively LOVE gardens designed for roses — our favourite hardy flower. It is a tradition to have a pattern of beds in lawn or paving; this tradition has arisen from the fact that modern roses provide low colour over many weeks, thus being favourites for filling the beds which had their origin in the parterres of the seventeenth century. But few plants are further removed from their wild originals than our modern roses.

A botanist would tell you that there are some 150 species wild in the Northern Hemisphere; some as low as 1ft (30cm), others ascending to 60ft (18m). Of these the vast majority are of pink or mauve with a few white; yet a few more are of pale yellow, from Asia. Any tint of red is confined to one Chinese species and to abnormal "sports" of two species that are normally pink or brilliant yellow.

Very few of these species from the wild have given rise to our modern garden roses. In fact gardens in Europe before 1800 were almost entirely peopled with ancient hybrids of a mere four species, all natives of southern Europe and the Near East, together with Sweet Brier and the Scotch Rose and a few more. These were all in tones of pink. In China only two species, a red and a pale yellow, became hybridized likewise in antiquity, four of the hybrids having reached Europe between 1792 and 1824, comprising two pink, one pale yellow and one crimson. These became hybridized with the Europeans during the nineteenth century with the result that garden roses by 1900 embraced crimson, purple, lilac, pink, white and pale yellow, with a few of apricot or peach tint — the mixing of the pale yellow with the pinks. Just prior to 1900 a hybrid was raised in France combining the brilliant sulphur-yellow of the Persian Yellow rose with the soft mauve-crimson of the old European garden roses. Soon the Persian Yellow's sport, the so-called Austrian Copper, of a bright tomato-red, was brought into bearing and colours became much more vivid, enhanced by a curious happening: in 1929 a new colour occurred as a sport (pelargonidin — a very vivid orange-red). With this addition modern roses have assumed ever brighter colours.


Our mixed borders at Mottisfont are mostly peopled with short growing plants to enable the visitor to see across them to the small lawns surrounded with roses. To give height at regular intervals are Rambler roses supported by panels of woodwork. They are composed of riven timber which lasts longer than when sawn. Two uprights and some crossbars support the creamy yellow 'Goldfinch', an almost thornless rose of R. multiflora derivation, named in 1907 when raised by George Paul of Cheshunt, England, who was famous for several good roses, such as his 'Paul's Lemon Pillar', 'Tea Rambler' and 'Una'. As companions in the picture there are pale pink pyrethrums (Tanacetum coccineum 'Eileen May Robinson') and the glorious blue of Veronica austriaca (V. teucrium) 'Royal Blue', while to bring in firmness of outline and solidity there is the tall Iris 'Ochraurea' and the leaves of Bergenia cordifolia 'Purpurea'. The iris is one of the best and most imposing of the Spuria group which flower after the usual Bearded or German irises, and have dramatically shaped, long-lasting flowers coupled with superior, tall foliage.

The trend of fashion, fostered by rosarians and rose-breeders alike, through the last 200 years or so, has been towards plants which will give bright colours over a long period. It is a strange fact that these have been bred from such a tiny handful of species, leaving so many species untapped.

It is mainly among what we may call the European ancestral hybrids and their derivatives that I have devoted much time since before the Second World War, trying to recapture the appearance of a collection of roses of the late nineteenth century. They were of white, mauve-pink and purplish crimson tints and were stalwart hardy bushes, mostly very fragrant. From China the pale yellow, rather tender climber gave rise to the early yellowish climbing Noisette and other roses; the dark crimson was a weakling and only slowly deepened the colours. Therefore in re-creating a garden composed of these old roses there are three important factors to be taken to heart. There are the colours of the flowers borne mostly on big vigorous shrubs often over 4ft (1.2m) in height and width; the flowering season which is limited to three or four weeks at midsummer except with a few varieties; there were also a few graceful ramblers but these were of pale colouring.

'Harison's Yellow'

Vivid colouring at the beginning of the long mixed borders which extend from the entrance right through the centre of the rose garden. In the picture is the brilliant sulphur-yellow of Rosa x harisonii or 'Harison's Yellow', raised in New York in 1830. This is a hybrid of the Scots Brier with Rosa foetida, the so-called Austrian Brier. The supposition that the latter rose was in the parentage of Harison's rose is confirmed by its heavy smell, not the fresh fragrance of the Scots Brier. It is a thorny bush reaching to about 5ft (1.5m) and requires no pruning beyond the removal, immediately after flowering, of a few old, weak, twiggy shoots. It ushers in the rose season with verve and brilliance, here grouped with an early scarlet peony, Paeonia peregrina 'Fire King', the straw-pale yellow spires of Sisyrinchium striatum and the old Bearded Iris, 'Iris King', dating from 1907. The Sisyrinchium (see also here) seeds itself all over the place but has a long flowering period and its cool colour blends with anything, while its iris-like foliage (it is a close relative of the irises) is attractive for many weeks.

Given that colours other than green are dominant in most garden scheming, we have before us that fundamental division of hues so important in successful associations: while the old roses are almost all on the blue side, the moderns are on the yellow side of the reds and pinks in the spectrum. To those sensitive to colours the two simply do not blend. It is the same in the genus Rhododendron in which there are fiery reds, oranges and strong yellows that fight with the pinks and mauves and crimsons. Later in the season similar clashes of colour occur when seeking to combine hydrangeas, fuchsias and Japanese anemones with the many orange-yellow daisy flowers and montbretias.

Though the old roses tend to flower but once, the moderns may bloom from midsummer till autumn. But here comes another thought: would you rather have a small bush producing, say, up to 100 flowers over three or four months or a large shrub giving 200 or so blooms over three or four weeks? It has been said there are roses for all tastes. To demand of roses that they shall flower from summer until autumn has become second nature. Perhaps we have been spoiled. We do not expect this of our daffodils, irises, peonies and lilacs. Is there not sufficient variety for us to enjoy flowers in season, to be ready to welcome the next in the pageant of beauty through the summer?

When in full flower, a big wild rose — such as our native Dog Brier — and all the great shrub roses of the nineteenth century produce a somewhat spotty effect, the dotting of the flowers all over the shrub and the comparatively small divided foliage both contribute to this. These result in a frothy display which can only be taken in moderation. They need the steadying power of smooth lawns, paths and hedges and a sober underplanting. While it is my opinion that shrub roses are supremely beautiful and should dominate their places in the garden, they need a good blend of companion shapes and colours and should not be overdone.

With regard to ramblers and climbers, much enjoyment can be obtained from training them on walls, pillars and arches, but however much training and care may be given them, those of graceful growth do not reveal their greatest beauty and joy until one can contemplate the falling spray. Then and then only do these roses reveal their ultimate charm.

Into the art of arranging a rose garden must be brought the practicalities. Though the older shrub roses are remarkably thrifty and mostly long-lived, they root deeply and demand thorough and deep digging prior to planting. No rose will do well in an average hole dug in an old garden border. It is a known fact that no members of the Rose Family — roses, apples, plums, etc. — grow well in soil previously used by one of the genera; the soil should be replaced or sterilized. Gardeners wish that roses were not prickly; the prickles are produced for defence and also as a means in the wild of helping to hoist the branches into the sun, for they are all ardent sun lovers. The prickles prove that in the wild roses surmount other growths and thus prefer to grow where the soil is cool and sheltered from the sun. From this I deduce that they are not so dependent upon large doses of nitrogenous manures as they are on fertilizers containing plenty of phosphate and potash. Richly mulched with peat, leafmould, bark or garden compost and fed with a balanced fertilizer, the unsightly black spot and debilitating rust (prevalent in some seasons) will be less insidious. Mildew is more often caused by dry soil and damp air than by soil deficiencies.

The vast majority of roses are propagated by nurserymen 'budding' the leaf-eyes onto easily reproduced root-stocks. This is the best method to ensure a uniform crop. The union of scion and stock should be planted just below the level of the ground. If and when the rootstock produces a 'sucker' it is useless to cut it off: it will simply duplicate itself. It must be pulled off at the point of growth from the root; this entails uncovering the root and giving a pull with a gloved hand or a claw-headed hammer. Sometimes the presence of such suckers prompts the longing for roses on their own roots. Believe me, roses of the Gallica, Alba and Rugosa groups in particular are extremely prone to sending up their own suckers yards away from the plants, and can be a persistent nuisance.

The First Rose Garden

He who would have beautiful roses in his garden must have beautiful roses in his heart.

Dean Hole, A Book about Roses, 1870

We are now at the garden door. Few better sites could have been found for a garden of old roses than this. It is roughly square with cross-paths meeting at the central pool and fountain guarded by eight Irish Yews. Following the line of the old soft-toned, red-brick walls are gravel walks hedged with box. In the middle of each quarter of the whole plot is a small rectangular lawn. There were several old apple trees which make good hosts for climbers. The main path from the garden door leads to an arch in the distant wall and the whole walk is given almost entirely to four borders of hardy plants of soft colours. Only at the very beginning of the borders are a few strong colours allowed to give point to the general scheme. Tall plants are kept to the beginnings and ends and around the junction at the pool where four Sweet Briers are planted in order to stop the eye from taking in too great a length at once and also to give warm fragrance from the foliage to those occupying the seats — and, of course, the added bonus of the glittering scarlet heps in autumn. The pool is decorated with one plant of a modern rose, 'Raubritter' in clear pink; no other rose that I know would so exactly fulfil its purpose — an off-centrepiece to the whole garden.

Originally there were several old clumps of peonies, bearded irises, pyrethrums, erigerons and phloxes which were kept and incorporated in the new planting plan. With some alpine phloxes, aubrietas, Alyssum (Aurinia) saxatile 'Citrinum', bulbous irises and tulips the borders bring some early colour to the garden echoed in the rose borders by more dwarf early plants including Saponaria ocymoides and lots of seed-raised pinks in white and tones of pink, often with maroon centres, together with the lavender-blue and white of Campanula carpatica.

While the tradition of central borders of flowers has for long been the decoration of a kitchen garden, I did not want it to assume too great an importance in what was to be principally a garden of roses. The majority of hardy plants were therefore chosen for their short height and long-flowering habits, so that over them could be seen the small lawns surrounded by roses. Height is given by some pillars of rambler roses placed at regular intervals where the borders abut onto the lawns, with a firm edging of bergenias and Kniphofia caulescens. Taller plants and some Buddleja 'Lochinch' surround the bases of the pillars and, echoing their position in the borders, there are standard specimens of varieties of Hibiscus syriacus for late summer display. The whole of the main areas of the borders are filled with clumps of dense-growing hardy plants and a few dwarf shrubs to give a continuous display of low, soft colour which, at rose time, is mainly white, blue, lavender and pale yellow. Pinks and crimsons occur later. The fact that most of the plants are of short growth means economy in staking.

Among the shorter plants are Centaurea hypoleuca 'John Coutts' noted for its greyish leaves and long succession of pink "Sweet Sultan" flowers, crimson Clove Carnations, Catmint, the dark purple spikes of Salvia nemorosa 'East Friesland' and blue, pink and white Hyssop. The vertical line, though still short, is given by the straw-yellow Sisyrinchium striatum and silvery Stachys byzantina (S. olympica) or "Lambs Ears". For rather later and long-continuing display are the nemophila-blue Geranium wallichianum 'Buxton's Variety', the white "ever-lasting" flowers of Anaphalis triplinervis and lavender-blue daisies of Aster thomsonii 'Nanus'. Richer colour follows from the plum-crimson Penstemon 'Garnet' and Fuchsia magellanica 'Thompsonii', the daintiest of the shorter growing hardy fuchsias, in crimson with purple 'skirt'. Lighting all these plants in later summer is the pale yellow Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora which we all know, erroneously, as 'Citronella', and over a goodly clump of leaves are the stalwart erect stems of Phlomis russeliana, bearing whorls of soft butter-yellow hooded flowers. We hoped to grow both blue and white forms of Scabiosa caucasica but they have not been easy to establish. Stokesia laevis provides large blue flowers and the same colouring is forthcoming from Eryngium x tripartitum, very long-lasting and drought-resisting, and from Agapanthus Headbourne Hybrids. These are for late summer.

It will be appreciated that none of the above plants impedes the view over the wide borders to the little lawns. Rather taller plants at the ends of the borders are the cool yellow Achillea 'Flowers of Sulphur' which fades to a soft parchment tint, clouds of the common Gypsophila paniculata, the lavender-blue spikes and grey leaves of the best of all the Russian Sage hybrids, Perovskia 'Blue Spire', and the soft pink of the earliest flowering of the Japanese Anemones 'September Charm'. Sprawling on the ground is Knautia macedonica (Scabiosa rumelica), its rich crimson daisies vieing in beauty with the equally sprawling herbaceous Clematis heracleifolia 'Wyevale' in hyacinth-blue (the flowers are like those of hyacinths too), and palest yellow Centaurea ruthenica, a Knapweed of special elegance and beauty, stiffly upstanding.

I mentioned earlier that at the extreme ends of the borders really large plants are used: big banks of blue Echinops ritro, the early white clouds of the giant Seakale, Crambe cordifolia, soft pink mallow-flowers of Lavateracashmiriana, and waving cream plumes of Aruncus dioicus, at one time known as Spiraea aruncus. In a kind season Veratrum nigrum throws up its tall spikes of chocolate stars.

The entrance to the first rose garden showing the long central walk, interrupted by fountain and pool, guarded by four clipped Irish Yews. The Rose 'Raubritter' in glowing pink acts as an off-centre focal point, overhanging the pool. Masses of Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and the grey Stachys byzantina (S. olympica) or Lamb's Ears, soften the brick edging, with hardy pinks and other low plants tucked in here and there.


Excerpted from The Art of Gardening with Roses by Graham Stuart Thomas, Bob Gibbons. Copyright © 1991 Robert Ditchfield Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Foreword by Henry Mitchell,
The Art of Designing a Rose Garden,
The First Rose Garden,
The Second Rose Garden,
Some Important Points on Cultivation,
Rose Suppliers, a Select List,
Table of Companion Plants,
Index of Roses,

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