Growing roses – expert tips from Hever Castle rose garden
Hever Castle is famous for growing roses. It has more than 4,000 of them.
So I asked head gardener, Neil Miller for his best tips on growing roses in our own middle-sized gardens.
Hever Castle is best known as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s fated second wife. It’s believed he first saw her in her father’s garden at Hever. There is no trace left of those gardens, however.
The current gardens were created at vast expense by ‘America’s richest man’, William Waldorf Astor, who moved to Britain and bought Hever Castle in 1903. He spent a million pounds on the gardens, which would be worth around £110 million today. This included a man-made lake, which took 800 men two years to dig out.
He built a huge orangery, with classical pillars. Today this is a rose garden, open to the elements. A pretty pink rambling rose called ‘American Pillar’ twines itself round the classical columns that once held up the glass roof.
More roses, grapevines and wisteria line walkways and colonnades, flanked by Astor’s collection of statuary. Hever Castle is now available to hire as a venue, with the gardens and lake open to the public plus a small hotel and golf course.
If you prefer your gardening tips on video, you can see more of Hever Castle garden in my video here.
How to choose roses for our own gardens
Neil says that the first thing to consider is where the rose is going to go, because that will affect your decision more than anything.
Then ask yourself if that spot is shady or sunny.
And do you want a rose going up a wall or a pergola? If so, you have to decide between a climber and a rambling rose.
A climber has large single flowers on stems which you can train against a wall. Many climbers are repeat flowerers.
A rambling rose is often very vigorous, with clusters of small flowers. Check how big it’s likely to grow as some can cover huge distances. Ramblers usually only flower once, for a few weeks a year.
Do your research…
Neil suggests buying roses directly from growers by visiting or contacting a nursery near you. ‘Many people just go to a garden centre and pick up a rose they like the look of,’ he says. ‘But if you visit the nursery, you can talk to a the grower about what plant would be best for you.’
There are also listings of small nurseries, such as the Independent Plant Nurseries guide. Consult them to find a grower near you. There’s more in this post about buying plants online, with some useful listings.
Neil also suggests looking at gardens in your area and seeing what grows well.
Growing roses in pots – which are best?
Neil says that most roses grow well in pots. ‘You wouldn’t want to choose a climbing or a rambling rose, of course,’ he says. ‘But most other roses will do well. The more formal roses, such as the hybrid teas and the floribundas, are particularly suitable for pots.’
The pot is the most important choice when growing roses in pots, he says. ‘Plant in a terracotta pot, because terracotta breathes and absorbs moisture. In a hot summer, a plastic pot may heat up too much and scorch the roots.’
What is the difference between a hybrid tea and a floribunda?
You can recognise a hybrid tea rose, because it has a large single bloom on a stem, says Neil. They’re quite upright and are the roses most commonly associated with formal rose gardens.
‘A floribunda – I think it’s now referred to as a multi-cluster rose – is a rose which has a group of roses at the end of the stem and they’re usually much smaller.’
Once you start growing roses, you’ll discover many other rose types, such as ‘English roses’, China roses, Bourbon roses and miniature roses.
Can you move a rose?
Yes, says Neil. You can move a rose, but only in the dormant season in winter when its leaves are off. The less time the rose has been established, the easier it will be to move successfully.
If a rose is older or very well established, moving it may be less successful. Do it in the dormant season, when it has lost its leaves and make sure to take as much of its fibrous root system as possible.
How do I find out which rose I have?
So many of us move into a house with a garden which already has roses growing in the garden. So how do we find out which rose it is?
Neil advises observing it for the first year. Don’t rush in to take it out or move it. ‘Look at how it grows and what its flowers are like.’
There are many ways of identifying a flower. If you use social media, then post a photo of it on Twitter or join a gardening group on Facebook.
Why is my rose not flowering?
Growing roses is easy, but there are a few mistakes you can make.
If your rose isn’t flowering, you’ve probably pruned it too late, says Neil. ‘Roses flower on this year’s growth, so if you prune your rose too late, you may cut off the flowering stems.’
Prune roses when they are dormant, in the winter, when all the leaves are off. That’s December to February in the Northern hemisphere and June-August in the Southern hemisphere.
The other main reason for not flowering is that roses need more feeding and fertiliser than most plants. ‘Roses are very hungry plants,’ says Neil.
How to dead head roses
If you want your roses to flower over and over again, then you need to dead head them regularly.
Neil dead heads single blooms slightly differently from multi-cluster floribunda roses.
‘Use clean, sharp secateurs and cut a single bloom down to just above the next leaf axis,’ he says. Some gardeners cut just above the first leaf axis that has a five leaves as opposed to three, but Neil doesn’t think that is important.
For multi-cluster roses, Neil advises you to cut further down the stem. He typically cuts above a leaf axis quite far down the stem, sometimes almost halving the length of the stem. This keeps the bush looking neat, too.
Personally, I use shears…
I have multi-cluster roses in rows and I clip them back with shears. Last year I carried out an experiment. I cut one side back with secateurs, paying attention to each individual stem. The other side was clipped with shears.
The side I cut with secateurs flowered again earlier. But both sides flowered well, so it’s a question of what you prefer.
How to feed your roses
At Hever, Neil gives all the roses two high energy special purpose feeds a year. ‘We add one in early spring after pruning, and the other in July or August after we’ve dead headed the roses. We also add a slow release fertiliser to the soil.
And he also adds well rotted garden manure around each plant once a year, usually in autumn. ‘Don’t let it touch the plant or it can scorch. And don’t dig it in – the worms and micro-organisms will do that.’
This has really shown me how important feeding roses is. I don’t need the kind of high performance that a publicly acclaimed rose garden has, but I can see that I haven’t really been feeding and fertilising my roses enough. And that’s probably why they look straggly sometimes.
Why have my rose leaves gone yellow or have black spots?
Neil says that yellowing leaves are probably a sign your rose needs more fertiliser or feeding.
Black spots are a fungal disease. ‘It doesn’t harm the rose but it looks unsightly,’ he says. Don’t compost the black spot leaves. You can use an anti-fungal rose spray or just live with it.
At Hever Castle, anti-fungal rose sprays are the only chemical treatments they use.
Which plants go best with roses?
Neil says that roses work well with most plants in herbaceous borders. ‘Think about the height of the plant – I think the rose is the star of the show, so you don’t want it to be hidden by taller plants.’
‘Some people grow companion plants. These are plants that pests, such as aphids prefer to roses. The theory is that they will settle on the companion plant, not the rose. ‘Marigolds and lavender work well, ‘ says Neil.
Note: When I interviewed Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses in 2020 garden trends, he said that it’s best to plant other plants around 45-50 cms away from the rose. Roses don’t want too much competition around their roots. And he, too, said that growing roses in a mixed border works well, because it can help prevent any pests and diseases from spreading too fast.
Growing roses – how do I get rid of aphids?
‘There’s about two weeks in late spring when our roses are covered with aphids,’ says Neil. ‘We don’t treat them with sprays. There are lots of sprays on the market, but we want to encourage beneficial insects such as ladybirds.’
‘After a few weeks, the blackbirds and the thrushes are walking around with big bellies and the aphids have almost gone.’
If you can’t bear the sight of the aphids, Neil says you can pinch them off with your fingers. ‘Or wash them off with a mild solution of soapy water.’
More dramatic flower colour
In spring, tulips offer the kind of dramatic impact you get from roses. And Hever Castle have a tulip festival. So here is Neil’s advice on choosing and growing tulips.
Later in the season, dahlias and cannas have top colour impact. See here for a top head gardener’s advice on growing dahlias. And find out how to add some tropical oomph to your garden with cannas here.
More about Hever Castle
Hever Castle Gardens are open all year round (pre-booking essential due to Covid 19). You can hire boats on the lake and there’s a Maze and a Water Maze as well as a children’s playground.
It’s available for hire as a venue and you can also stay in one of the wings built by William Waldorf Astor as a ‘Tudor village’ attached to the castle. There’s also a golf course, and special events during the year, such as Cars at the Castle and Jousting.
And see more of the roses in Hever Castle Gardens, plus some detail on William Waldorf Astors’ fabulous garden design here in this video.
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