Q & A with leading rose expert Michael Marriott

Michael Marriott is one of the world’s leading rosarians.  He is also well-known for his rose garden design and his common sense approach to looking after roses. 

Can you give any general advice about pruning and feeding roses

As a general rule, with varieties such as shrub roses, prune them down to about half their size, depending on how big you’d like your rose to be in its position in the bed, so cut it harder if it’s too tall, more leniently if too short.  It’s also worth taking off thin stems and taking out tired old stems to encourage new growth.  Christmas is a good time to prune your roses, if you’ve got some time off and want some fresh air, but you need to have finished pruning your roses by the end of February.

What kind of soil conditions will help roses thrive?

When planting roses, it’s important to prepare the soil well, adding well-rotted organic matter nicely mixed in, and planting them to the right depth with the bud union around 5cm below the surface.  Roses like moisture and are relatively hungry, so use a rose feed or general fertiliser in April and at the end of June.  Foliar feeds such as Maxicrop can help with problems like rust - better still, go for disease resistant varieties. (Michael advised me to replace my ‘New Dawn’, which gets rust with ‘The Generous Gardener’!).

So, what are some good disease-resistant varieties?

R. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is a lovely robust rose with a fabulous scent.  Other favourites include R. ‘Desdemona’ which is white and has one of the best scents. R ‘Olivia’ is a nice pink one, R. ‘Vanessa Bell’ is a lovely yellow rose and peachy pink ‘Boscobel’ has a fantastic fragrance.  These all stay quite small whereas R. ‘Penelope’ is nice for bigger gardens as it gets to around 2m x 2m.  The ‘Generous Gardener’ is a great climbing rose.  For pergolas, ramblers tend to have less stiff growth so they’re easier to train.  R. ‘Adélaïde d’Orléans’ is perfect as it has a very lax growth and just sits very neatly on top or try the smaller pale pink R. ‘Lady of the Lake’.

Which roses cope with shade?

If it’s an open north-facing wall, a lot of roses such as R. ‘The Pilgrim’ cope well, especially as the soil is less likely to dry out.  Red roses such as R. ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ tend to burn in the sun.  The dark purple ‘Munstead Wood’ would also work well.

Do you have any advice on what to plant with your roses?

Roses don’t like too much competition, it’s better to interplant than underplant, ideally with the roses and perennials closing the gaps as they grow so that you don’t see any soil.  Blue-toned geraniums, salvias and nepetas harmonise well with the soft pastel shades of English roses.  Then, later in the summer, asters, eryngiums, gauras and penstemons work well, coinciding with their second flush.

What are the best roses for hips?

The species roses are the best for hips.  R. moyesii ‘Geranium’ is a beautiful red wild rose that’s good for hips as is R. ‘Glauca’.   Rosa ‘Francis E. Lester’ has hips that last through winter.