It’s time for roses. I know it seems counterintuitive to talk about roses in the middle of winter, but now is the best time to plant them, when they are dormant. If you order bare root roses, not only do you get a better selection, they are far cheaper than containerised plants. A bundle of sad, thorny twigs may look alarming, but getting them in the ground now (avoid days when the temperature is below freezing) will give them time to establish a strong root system and good, healthy plants.
Roses take a couple of years to really get going, so don’t despair next summer if they look a bit feeble. Once they get their feet planted firmly in the ground, particularly if they are planted now, they will reward you with a generous display of gorgeous, fragrant blooms and lush foliage.
There are so many varieties available, all wondrous, it is impossible to say what might suit but, to my mind, there is nothing more delightful than hours spent poring over websites, blogs and catalogues, dreaming about the scent and colour of summer. I have a particular aversion to red roses (but then I have a particular aversion to Valentine’s Day, too, and offerings of stiff, scentless red roses). But I can be seduced with alarming ease by bowers of blousy pale pink or creamy white blooms.
As my garden is so tiny, all my roses are climbers. If you can’t go out, go up. Roses love reaching towards the sky. Last winter, I planted Blush Noisette, which has small pale pink flowers that fade to cream and is extremely free flowering; Spirit of Freedom, blush pink and multi-petalled with a gorgeous myrrh scent; and the classic white Iceberg, almost thornless and utterly reliable. This year, I am planting more but I haven’t, as yet, decided what. There is almost as much pleasure in choosing a rose as in planting it.
Do follow the grower’s instructions as to what situation each variety prefers (most like sun and warmth but a few tolerate shade and north walls) and what height they reach. A rambler such as Paul’s Himalayan Musk reaches 30 feet so is perfect for training up trees or sprawling across buildings, but would muscle its way through everything in my tiny garden.
There is excellent advice on how to plant bare root roses from Toby Buckland (plantsman, journalist and ex-Gardener’s World presenter), on his new website and online nursery.