Photographs: Charles Francis
November 2015: Sally Holmes has looked stunning all summer — but now she’s in need of some beauty sleep. This ravishing rambling rose, with flowers the colour of clotted cream, must take a break from blooming if she is to be at her best again next June.
“I take the tops off my roses, even if they’re still in flower at the end of October,” says Marion Stanley, who grows 75 varieties of roses – including ‘Sally Holmes’ — at Carminowe Valley Garden, one mile away from RNAS Culdrose, near Helston. As she says: “This garden is really busting the myth that you can’t grow roses in Cornwall”.
Rosa ‘Evelyn May’
Marion has always been enthralled by roses. ”When I started a garden in the Peak District, 1,000 feet above sea level, I was able to indulge my passion. One day I went into a tent full of roses at Shrewsbury Show, and I can still remember the perfume and the colours and the beauty.”
She became particularly fond of David Austin English roses, and when she and her husband Peter came to live in Cornwall, she sought advice from the company about varieties which were likely to thrive at Landewednack, on the tip of the Lizard peninsula. “I was advised to grow ramblers, like ‘Malvern Hills’ and ‘Snow Goose’, so I had them going over lots of arches. And rugosa roses do well by the sea, because they can take the salt.”
In 2004, Marion and Peter moved a few miles inland, to Carminowe Valley, where they had the challenge of creating a garden in an empty paddock. “The soil here is clay, and roses love clay,” she says. “But I knew I didn’t want to grow roses en masse: the effect is a bit ‘ornamental parks and gardens’. Instead of rose beds of the old-fashioned type, I like them as part of a mixed border, so you have something to take their place when they’ve finished flowering. I have lots of complementary things like peonies, dahlias and violas.
Paeonia lactiflora ‘Solange’
“You can companion-plant them with clematis — Red Clematis ‘Rebecca’ grows well through the pink rose ‘Aloha’. Another lovely combination is a hedge of pale pink Rosa ‘Ballerina’ fronted by lavender.
Rosa ‘Lady of Shallot’ with purple clematis
“When you grow roses, you’ve got to establish certain rules. To start with, pick the right one — make sure it’s strong and disease-resistant. And only buy bare-rooted roses. That’s fundamental: roses don’t like their roots contained. It’s also important to choose a sunny site. Dig a really decent hole and put in the best quality soil you can find. Then sprinkle the soil and roots with mycorrhizal fungus, which encourages very firm root growth.
“The best time to plant is between October and March. If you can get a rose in in the autumn, while the soil is still warm, it gives it a chance to get going. Once it’s planted, water and water and water, even in November. Roses need three years to become properly established, so aftercare is important. If they’ve got plenty of air circulating, they’ll be less susceptible to disease.”
One problem with rose-growing in Cornwall is that blackspot prefers the county’s clean air and damp, humid climate to the polluted atmosphere of big cities. However, Marion says: “I have roses with blackspot, but I always have them because their scent is divine.
“I spray my roses every two weeks in January and February until the first bumble bees come out, and in the spring, I put down well-rotted fortified horse poo, and a top dressing of proprietary rose fertiliser. I feed them with granular feed after the first flush of flowering in June, which encourages them to flower again in September, and I spray foliar feed all the time.”
In her years as a grower, Marion has seen tastes in roses change considerably: “Gone are the gaudy hybrid teas: they’re terribly out of fashion now.” She advises novice growers to seek expert advice, just as she did. “As well as David Austin, you can benefit from a source of expertise much closer to home, at the Cornwall Rose Company in Mitchell. They know their stuff, because their roses go all over the world.”
At Carminowe Valley, Marion has chosen varieties which offer informality of shape and form. ‘Sally Holmes’ is one of her favourites. “It has a pale apricot bud, and is multi-headed with single flowers which become a froth of white. She’s a bit of a showstopper.
“A lot of people like ‘Duchess of Cornwall’, which is tight-headed and a most beautiful peach colour, coral almost, and very robust.
Rosa ‘Duchess of Cornwall’
“Also bomb-proof is ‘The Generous Gardener’. If you prune it, it’s a shrub; it you let it go, it climbs. It’s disease-resistant and repeat-flowers like mad.”
Marion also recommends ‘Phyllis Bide’ — “a lovely little two-toned rambler, pale pink and white, with a little bit of peachy colour” — and ‘Princess Anne’ — “an amazing cerise pink”.
Rosa ‘Phyllis Bide’
She adds: “The 50-foot rambler in front of our house, ‘Ethel’, blows everyone away when she’s in flower. I can’t spray her because I can’t reach her! I also have a glorious rugosa hedge of ‘Wild Edric’, which can climb and cover pergolas.”
Rosa ‘Wild Edric’
Marion’s autumn pruning programme is now under way — the first stage in the process which will culminate in a breathtaking display next summer. “I semi-prune at the end of October or beginning of November to take the weight off the roses, and then hard-prune in the spring,” she says. “If you do that, they’ll come back. If you don’t, you pay the price. Some I neglected to do last year will have a good haircut this time.”