Thursday, 10 April 2014

Rose Conference June 2014

Good afternoon to you all, the sun is shining and the gardens are looking stunning at the moment.

I would like to draw your attention to an up coming rose conference this June. This is being run by the Heritage Rose Foundation and will be taking place on the 23rd - 25th June. This is going to be quite a big deal for us here at Mottisfont as our Head Gardener, David Stone, will be retiring after the event. David has been the Head Gardener here for 36 years and has made the garden what it is today.

I would love to see some of you there even if it is only for one of the days, we have quite an exciting programme planned and I know you will have a great time. For more information please see!upcoming-events/cnop


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Back with a bump

I would like to start this post by once again saying a massive thank you to everyone that I met, stayed with and worked with whilst I was away. I wont name you all individually for fear of missing someone out, but you know who you are and I am forever grateful for all time that you gave me.

After circumnavigating the globe and flying well over 22,000 miles the time has come for me to get back into the groove here at Mottisfont. This is made harder by the fact that the UK seems to be getting all the rainfall for the entire northern hemisphere and there isn't much of a let up on the horizon. It really is causing us serious problems, however I will stop moaning about it because there are people who are in a much worse situation than us and I hope they will be able to rebuild their lives after the floods have receded.

The main job going on at the moment is rose pruning which will continue for many more weeks to come. We are currently working on the wall roses in the Central Garden, once these are complete we will move into the beds and make a start on the shrub roses.  I'm presuming that this is going to be quite a popular subject so I will do a separate post dedicated entirely to the pruning of roses.

I was quite looking forward to getting back to Mottisfont and having a good look round the whole estate as there had been a great deal of work going on whilst I was away. The countryside department had been dealing with the fallen trees and all the problems that are created when they come down. This has been a mammoth task and is still on going. Victoria who is our diploma student has been over seeing the renovation of the herbaceous borders and I returned to the garden to find that the team had done an incredible amount of work - all the plants lifted from the top two borders and the ground has been completely dug over in preparation for planting this spring. Well done team!! A happy coincidence is that I missed out on all the back breaking digging this year. What a shame!

Keep your eyes peeled for a pruning specific post soon.

Friday, 17 January 2014

New York, New York

So good they named it twice, according to Gerard Kenny. This was the final leg of my trip and I had a good feeling about what I was going to find there.... However, getting there in the first place was to be an adventure all on its own due to the adverse weather conditions. As a result of the snow fall my first two flight into JFK had been cancelled but I did manage to get there, even if it was 20 hours late!

I arrived at my hotel at about 1am after getting into what I would describe as a highly suspicious mini cab and nearly crashing into an ambulance. I have never been so pleased to collapse onto a bed in my entire life. I was exhausted.

Whilst in NYC I was lucky enough to spend some time working with Stephen Scaniello who is the president of the Heritage Rose Foundation (among many other things). One of the projects that Stephen has been instumental in is the Heritage Rose District of New York, it encompasses the area between West 122nd and West 163rd. In roughly the centre of this area is the Trinity Church Cemetary which is the final resting place of Mr Harison (of Harison's yellow rose) and Mr Boll who bred 'Madame Boll'.  As far as I'm aware this is the only rose district of its kind in the whole of the USA. If  you ever visit NYC then you can download a walking tour map and take yourself around the Heritage Rose District. 

Grave of Mr Harison

My time in New York was also taken up with the Cranford Rose Garden which is in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and is managed by the wonderful Sarah Owens. There is a great range of roses from ancient right up to modern in this garden and is a feast for the eyes at blooming time. Despite it being mid winter it was a feast for my eyes at this time of year as I could see the pruning and training methods and all the work that goes on over the winter. This was especially interesting to me as I like to compare what we do at Mottisfont with what others do, this way I can pick up tips or try slightly differing methods. I am constantly learning and never assume that the way I do things is the correct or best way.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Californian Adventure part 2.....

Continuing with my visit to California, the next stop was Sacramento Historic Cemetery. Here I was taken under the wing of Anita Clevenger who is the manager / curator of the rose garden which is within the cemetery. The rose garden section of the cemetery covers about 3 acres and has been in place for well over a decade. It started when Fred Boutin with the help and planning of Barbara Oliva planted a collection of heritage roses on empty or unmarked plots, now the number has significantly increased to nearly 500.

A great deal of the roses in here are 'found' specimens as there's nothing that these guys like more than a good old bit of rose rustling! For those of you who aren't familiar with this practice I should explain that "rose rustling" involves you going to search out old roses and hopefully bring back some cuttings or suckers. I should also say gaining permission from the land/plant owner is always advisable.  Particularly in the USA this is quite a big past time for old rose enthusiasts, whole teams of them will drive for many hours to an old cemetery, old town, farm house or similar and look for these most coveted of plants.

One morning at the cemetery Anita held a pruning class which was open to the public, and seeing as I'm keen to learn this was the perfect opportunity to watch a Master Gardener give a demonstration. I found it interesting and reassuring to see that what Anita was teaching is very much the same as what we do at Mottisfont. I was also really pleased to see that they also use pegging down as a method of growing roses, although instead of tying the canes to a peg in the ground, they attach fishing weights to end of a cane. Very ingenious.

Above is Anita in full flow during the demonstration, please don't be fooled by the sunshine because it was absolutely freezing that morning! 

Monday, 16 December 2013

Californian Adventure part 1....

After saying farewell to New Zealand and undertaking another long haul flight I landed in California, USA for the second half of my Rose studying trip. The weather was glorious with perfect sunshine and temperatures that meant I could be in shorts and t-shirt in December! I'm not trying to rub it in to all you guys in England because after a couple of glorious days California was hit with unseasonably cold weather, which meant I went from looking like this:

Quite literally over night, to looking like this:

And I have been cold ever since! However I shouldn't complain and it certainly hasn't stopped me from getting on with all the stuff I have lined up. So, I have based myself with the infamous Gregg Lowery of Vintage Gardens and I'm so grateful for the time he has given me. If you're reading this Gregg I'd like to say a massive thank you.

Gregg very kindly showed the operation they run at their Rose Nursery and I found their propagation techniques very enlightening, he even offered some advice on propagating 'Roxbughii' which has proved a bit of a problem for us at Mottisfont. I can't wait to put this new found knowledge to the test, and I'm sure David Stone will be interested to see what the outcome is too. For those of you who know about Gregg and Vintage Gardens you will appreciate how much of a privilege it has been to spend so much time with him. I made a promise not to publish any photos of the garden or nursery on the blog at his request, so you wont get to see them at this stage I'm afraid.

 For anyone unfamiliar with this place then I will give you a quick run down. For a lot of us in the UK Vintage Gardens is idolised, not only for the great rose growing climate of northern California, but for the types of roses grown and the sheer volume that they have growing in this magical place. The cataloge, or rose list produced by Vintage Gardens is vast, I have read entire books with less pages in them! So I'm sure you can imagine that being there in the flesh is like going inside Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, everywhere I looked was a rose that I had only ever read about. In one particular case a rose that I had forgotten about which stirred up great memories for me, going back to when I started my horticultural career at Wolvercroft World Of Plants many, many years ago.  

The knowledge, skills and information I have received from the guys here, isn't something that can be purchased. It is the result of friendships and people with similar interests and passions sharing their own (very personal) experiences with these ancient plants. I consider myself very lucky to be able call Gregg and Steve friends of mine.

Friday, 6 December 2013


The final leg of my time in New Zealand has brought me to Dunedin, and what a brilliant time I had here! I must firstly thank Fran Rawling for all her kind hospitality and work that she has done in preparation for my visit.

My story starts in Wylde Willow Garden (this is Fran's garden) which is 5 acres of woodland walks, native plantings, heritage roses, parkland and pond. It is quite astonishing what has been created here. The site was bare paddock when Fran and Mike first moved in and now it has been formed into one of New Zealand's horticultural gems.

For those of you who don't know, Fran is the immediate past president of Heritage Roses of New Zealand and has created this garden entirely by herself. Her husband Mike will back that up and his only job is to do the chainsaw work and mowing of the long grass, everything else is and always has been done by the lady of the house.

The garden is open to be viewed but prior booking is essential as it's very much a private garden, I have to say that I would highly recommend speaking to Fran and seek a look around as it's well worth it.

The beautiful cottage garden feel to the planting around the house really appealed to me and as many of the plants and planting schemes are shared with us back in England it felt like a home from home for me.

Dunedin Northern Cemetery

This South Island City is home to the Northern Cemetery which opened its doors (....or ground) in 1872 and was originally designed as a Victorian garden cemetery. It covers an impressive 20 acres and is the final resting place of approximately 17,700 people with the last plot being purchased in 1937.

Around the year 2000 Heritage Roses of Otago started a project to plant old fashioned roses here, this is because there were already hundreds of old roses on the site. Unfortunately they weren't being cared for as in many cases there was no family to come and tend to the plots anymore. So HRO struck up a deal with the council - they would take care of the existing roses as well as plant new ones so long as the council stopped spraying them with herbicide. The cemetery was once again transformed into a stunning garden environment.

In a lot of cases the original roses which by now would be well over 100 years old were still just about clinging on to life in the family plots where they planted in memory of a passed love one. A red rose at the head of the plot signified that a male buried there and a white or pale rose signified a female or infant.

'General Gallieni' in memory of Alexander Carson

Scots 'Double Cream' in memory of Mary Anne Harris

'Perle D'Or' in memory of the Rolfe family

The whole place was a riot of colour while I was there and it was breath taking, I think what the guys at HRO have done here is wonderful, not just the planting of new plants but the care and attention given to the existing roses as well. I should mention that they do this as volunteers! if you are ever near Dunedin then I insist you pay a visit to the Northern Cemetery.


Monday, 2 December 2013


Way down at the bottom of the South Island lies Invercargill, and the beautiful Jessie Calder Rose Garden. It lies within the Queens Park public gardens and was the result of a bequest from Jessie Watson Calder who left a substantial amount of money specifically for the creation of a heritage rose garden. It is one of the most comprehensive collections of heritage roses on public display in New Zealand and in 2005 was declared a garden of national significance.

I was greeted by Brett who is the Rosarian for the garden, and he very kindly showed me round. It was here that the fungal problem of 'silver leaf' was brought to my attention. This is a fungal disease that causes the tissue of the leaves to separate and thus produce a silvery sheen, ultimately the stem will die. I will admit that it's not a problem that I knew much about, however my knowledge on the subject has increased over the past few weeks as it seems to be quite a problem in the South Island.

As you might expect the roses were not flowing so heavily as up in Auckland or even in central Otago but the garden looked terrific none the less. I also have to say that mosses and bourbon varieties grow much better in this part of the country, which appeals to me as I'm most definitely a sucker for a good bourbon.

The Spinosissima and Pimpinellifolia roses were looking great too! 

Monday, 25 November 2013

South Island

My South Island adventures are well and truly underway. There was a slight hiccup as I was supposed to be in and around the Christchurch area for some time, however for one reason or another that section had to be cancelled. Don't worry because what I did to replace my Christchurch time has been fascinating and it's taught me a lot. So here goes....

Alexandra - Central Otago

I headed over to see a rose enthusiast, collector and all round lovely guy called Murray at his property a short drive from Alexandra. I have no problem saying that this man was a complete inspiration and one the most knowledgeable rose enthusiast I've ever had the pleasure to come across. The 10 acres of rocky hillside that Murray lives on is covered in Heritage Roses, and I don't meant "quite a few around the house" - very nearly the entire site is planted with old roses. It was a sight to behold! It hasn't been planted as a traditional garden because the terrain doesn't allow for that, it has an enormous collection of many thousands planted out in their family groups, not in beds but just planted between the rocks over a vast area. This fantastic collection contained many varieties I had never heard of and a lot that I had only ever read about and Murray knew where every single one was, the names (as often there was no label), and the history behind it.

He is involved very heavily with the New Zealand Heritage Rose Register, which aims to locate, identify, register and propagate all the old roses growing in this country. They are also looking through old nursery catalogs and original shipping documents from the early settlers to establish exactly which varieties have come over here. Murray's "aim", if you want to call it that, is to grow one of each variety that has ever been available in New Zealand. Not for a personal agenda, but for the good of the whole country so that these roses will never again become 'lost' and so that people can enjoy them for generations to come. Budwood is provided to rose nurseries and the new plants each year are given to public parks and garden so that they really can be enjoyed by all.

I think that everybody involved with the register should be extremely proud if themselves for selflessly dedicating so much to this great cause!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Auckland continued...

As I started to mention in my last post I spent some time working at Highwic gardens and the Nancy Steen Rose Garden. This is all down to the wonderful Sarah Yates, who just happens to be the granddaughter of Nancy Steen (heritage rose legend) and a direct relation of the owners of Highwic.

The Nancy Steen Rose Garden is in a public park in Auckland, with many beds of heritage roses, companion planting and brick pillars and archways it was very much my sort of thing. The garden is nearly entirely run and managed by volunteers, which I find impressive as these people are willing to give up their time in order to make a public space better for everyone. I would highly recommend taking the time to see it as it is quite beautiful. Sarah and her team of volunteers work so hard to keep it looking good and I'm sure they don't get the recognition they deserve.

Highwic is a stunning old property in the area of Newmarket in Auckland which is now run by Historic Places Trust and is well worth a visit. The house is furnished and set out in the same way that it would have been many generations ago and is utterly fascinating. The gardens are looking great at the moment too as they have a Sweet Pea festival this weekend. So if any Aucklanders are reading this then I highly recommend that you check it out. The Sweet Peas are varieties bred by Dr Keith Hammett, who is horticultural royalty, and were all looking and smelling brilliant.

Thursday, 14 November 2013


The first week of my Fellowship has been in Auckland and I have to say that it’s been fantastic and has far exceeded my expectations. I’ve met some wonderful people, seen some really interesting gardens and have already learnt a great deal. Here is what I’ve been up:

I was very kindly met by two incredibly knowledgeable gardeners from Auckland – Mr Martin Keay and Mr Chris Webb. These chaps took me to see a garden called Fernglen which is planted entirely with New Zealand native plants. For me this was very interesting to see as the native flora is so varied, some of the plants I recognised (even if it was only the Genus) and some of it was completely new to me. Something that I found fascinating are the varieties of native Gunnera, I’m used to seeing the ‘Manicata’ and similar with their huge growth habit. The NZ native couldn’t be more different, they are a tiny low growing ground cover (The set of keys give you a scale).

Here are a couple of other photos from the garden.


Today I met with the convenor for heritage roses in Auckland, Delphine. Together we went to Waiheke Island just off the coast of Auckland as they were having a ‘garden safari’; this is where people open up their private domestic gardens to visitors in aid of charity. We visited a total of 6 gardens, each one very different to the one before and all equally beautiful. It was in one of these gardens that I first noticed how big ‘Mutablis’ grows in comparison to ours at Mottisfont, it must have been ten feet tall, nearly the same in width and covered in blooms. I must have been so star stuck that I forgot to photograph it. Stupid boy! Below is a selection of photos from the day.

The start of a new week and I was heading out to the Auckland Botanic Garden with Paula Lollback the Rose Curator. Paula had very kindly agreed for me to spend the day with her and her roses, and what a day it was! I learnt so much from her and this is where the trail of giant China and Tea roses continued. Pictured below is one of the biggest specimens of a shrub Tea rose I’ve ever seen, complete with my boots to give you an idea of scale. Please remember that these boots are size 13.

This rose was labelled as ‘Archiduc Joseph’ syn. ‘Mons. Tillier’, these two roses are often confused with one another as they are very similar and more often than not ‘Archiduc Joseph’ is sold as ‘Mons. Tillier’. However they are different roses. In this case that is beside the point as this rose was massive and in beautiful condition.

Paula operates a no spray system for all her roses modern and heritage, which I found very interesting. Trials are run in-house to see which varieties will grow best in the Auckland climate and which ones prove to be the most pest and disease resistant. This means that the options are limited but the results were remarkable, the plants were very healthy on the whole and where disease or pests were present it wasn’t at an unacceptable level. I’ve seen roses that are regularly sprayed and look a lot worse.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of New Zealand’s greatest names in Horticulture today, firstly I went to Airlies Garden which is the home of Beverly McConnell. What a fascinating lady she is! She gave me a guided tour of her property which extends to many dozen hectares and was nothing but open hillside when she first arrived. The whole area has been landscape into a beautiful garden with lakes, flowing streams, woodland and fine planting schemes. This is rosa Graham Thomas growing quite happily as a climber.

It is easy to see why Mrs McConnell is held in such high regard, her knowledge is second to none and her energy is that of someone many years her junior!

Wednesday and Thursday

I spent Wednesday and Thursday morning with Sarah Yates at Highwic – a lovely heritage property and at the Nancy Steen heritage rose garden. More on these to follow but right now I have to board my plane down to the south Island…..