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Growing Roses

The Martha Stewart Show, April 2008

One of life's sweetest little pleasures is inhaling the scent of a beautifully fragranced rose. Our guest Michael Marriott, from David Austin Roses in England, the world's only breeder of the coveted English shrub rose, started breeding roses 60 years ago with the mission to breed new roses in the style of the beautiful old rose with a great fragrance on a healthy vigorous shrub. True old roses only bloomed for about five to six weeks; now they bloom from June through October or November. The oldest rose on record, the Quatre Saisons, is thought to be the same as those grown by the Romans, while the Rosa Gallica Officinalis, or apothecary's rose, dates at least back to the twelfth century and was grown outside Paris in the 16th and 18th centuries for oil.

To create a new variety of rose takes some time -- moving from the initial crossing to sale takes about nine years. First, Michael and others at David Austin Roses grow plants under glass and hand-pollinate them. They harvest the hips in the fall and refrigerate them for three months. They sow the plants into plug trays and put them into nursery beds in the greenhouse, where they produce flowers at three months. Then, Michael will identify the promising ones (about 10 percent) and graft those to rootstock in the field and compost the rest. These promising plants are observed for six years. Every year, they sow 200,000 seeds and graft out 10,000 selections. After six years, they will have narrowed this large number down to five or six. The next year, the new plants will be named and registered. Over the six years these plants spend in the field, David Austin Roses will have increased their stock to about 15,000, so that by the time the plants are named, there are 15,000 ready for sale.

Most English roses grow well in the United States. As we all know, the climate in the U.S. is very different than in the U.K., so when looking to grow English roses stateside, be sure to pick the roses that grow well in your region.

Types of English Roses
Martha and Michael showed five of David Austin Roses' 900 plus cultivars.

Jude the Obscure
Apricot yellow rounded blooms with citrus, guava and lychee scents. A round bush that can be trained as a climber.

Carding Mill
Apricot flower with scent of myrrh. A 3-foot-tall shrub, it's used well in a border.

The Dark Lady
Delicious old-rose fragrance on a four foot shrub. This is one that is best for the warmer states, like California.

Abraham Darby
One of the largest roses at 6 to 8 inches across with a fruity, lemony fragrance. A large shrub, it can be trained as a climber.

Scepter'd Isle
Very free flowering upright bush with cupped, light pink flowers strongly scented of myrrh and anise.

Planting a Rose Bush
When you receive your rose bush, first make sure that the roots are moist. If they are not, send them back. Roses need to be planted in the right site; make sure your variety suits your climate. Roses love a soil with lots of humus, lots of matter. Be sure to mulch well every spring with garden compost or rotted manure. Always give enough moisture and plenty of organic food (not chemical) throughout the season.

Pruning your rose bush is very important. The general rule is to prune all of the stems down half way. Also, try to keep the plant young by pruning out the older stems each year. When a cane starts to look a little weak and the top shoots are wispy, it is time to prune. Take out one or two stems per year after the plant is mature, or about 5 years old -- this is a good thing to do if you have old rose bushes in your garden that aren't doing well. In the winter, prune down to 6 or 12 inches. New shoots will shoot up in the spring which will likely flower that year. In the spring, give it a good organic food and mulch well with compost or composted manure. If properly cared for, a rose bush should live for about 30 years.

Special thanks to Michael Marriott from David Austin Roses for sharing this information, and giving a David Austin rose bush and catalogue to our studio audience.

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