Visions of Beauty:
The Romantic Quest of David Austin Roses

Michael Marriott, technical director and senior rosarian for David Austin Roses, notes that “Rose breeding is, at heart, a romantic quest to achieve a vision of beauty.” The quest is one requiring vision and patience, as breeders trial candidate seedlings over a period of eight to ten years, yet introduce just two to four new English Rose varieties per annum. Unveiled for 2017 are Desdemona and The Ancient Mariner, both bred in a 20-year program.

David Austin Roses

With the parents under glass, cross-pollination commences in April at David Austin Roses in England, and continues through the end of June to early July; hips are harvested in fall. The process results in about 150,000 seedlings every year—the result of carefully monitored crossings. As with children, roses’ attributes stem from the genetics of their parentage, but dominant traits are necessarily left to nature and surface unpredictably. Michael explains that a rose’s fragrance may be the result of a mixture of up to three hundred various oils, but that two or three of these combine to create the dominant scent.

David Austin Roses

“In David Austin’s English Roses,” he explains, “the mix will include, variously, Old Rose, Tea, Musk, Myrrh or Fruit. Other oils add important subtle nuances that give different roses distinctive, evocative notes of cucumber, lemon, blackberry, honey, cedar wood, and more.”

David Austin Roses

Beyond simply meeting the strict criteria for the program, new introductions must have that extra something special. While the focus is on producing roses with exceptional fragrance, romantic color, healthy foliage, disease resistance, excellent health, and repeat-blooming attributes, flowers must also be significantly beautiful and have an English rose charm, along with something Michael refers to as “the magic.”

David Austin Roses

That magic is more easily seen than described, and is more than the mere sum of a rose’s parts. Beyond traits like loveliness and healthy bloom yield per season, “it is the way all of the above work together,” Michael says. “We want all of these positive characteristics, but see magic only when everything adds up to something that’s absolutely breathtaking.” When asked about his own favorite David Austin roses, Michael mentions several, including Munstead Wood, Lady of Shalott, Gertrude Jekyll, Princess Alexandra of Kent, and The Generous Gardener, but is reluctant to choose from among the many varieties he has worked with over the past three decades.

David Austin Roses

“My list can vary by the day,” he says. “A fresh memory of scent and off I’ll go in another direction.” For fragrance, though, he favors the classic Old Rose scent of Gertrude Jekyll, and the Buttercup, he says, “for its elusive, truly delicious and rather exotic perfume.” David C. H. Austin himself, Michael relates, always says he hasn’t a favorite, but when pressed, might include Olivia Rose Austin and Princess Alexandra of Kent.

Text Cynthia Reeser Constantino

To learn more about David Austin Roses, read “David Austin Roses: A Romance with the Garden” on page 69 of the March/April 2017 issue of Victoria. Also, see David Austin Roses’s list of most fragrant varieties.

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  • This current issue is jam-packed with wonderful articles – especially this one which centers around David Austin’s roses!

    I have never had much success with roses and after seeing this article, I have decided to give it another try. As I love all flowers in the orange-peach colouration, I fell in love with his “Lady Of Shalott” variety shown in this issue’s article. Perhaps by coincidence, I was just watching a DVD of Miss Marple’s “The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side” where the Tennyson character of the Lady of Shalott is mentioned..

    Needless to say, I saw this as a sign and will buy a few of this variety and hope that they will flourish here at my home!

    Thank you Victoria for publishing this wonderful article as I am so motivated now to try my hand at growing roses again! I also just purchased 2 of David’s books on about his lovely flowers!

    God bless !

    Brandon Hartford
    Te Deum Cottage

  • I used to work for Heirloom Roses in St. Paul, Oregon. It was a marvelous treat when David Austin visited to see all his own root, virus free Roses grown and sold there. He reminded us that so many feel Roses are problem plants and are hard to grow. They are really easy!

    The best things you can do are 1) dig a deep enough hole (as they like to stretch out their roots). 2) Water them with a good, deep soak a few times a week, instead of a little every day. 3) Don’t get their leaves wet (this encourages disease), and be careful not to burn their roots with too strong a fertilizer.

    David Austin was so kind, gracious and funny. His Roses are very easy to grow. I’m no longer afraid of Roses and find them to be an easy going, happy flower that loves to grow, drama free. I find miniature Roses to be the difficult ones. But one can always rely on a great David Austin Rose for easy care and a Beautiful, fragrant plant.

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