When head gardener Troy Scott Smith discovered some of the roses Vita had planted were no longer grown he set out to put them back.
‘Vita’s own diaries and notebooks, along with catalogues she marked with potential orders, have helped us identify many of the roses she grew, while lists left by former head gardeners have provided greater detail.
In late 2013 we began the process of sourcing these missing roses. Many have now been found, but some cultivars are proving more elusive.
We may never find all of the lost roses, but tracking them down and discovering some new favourites has brought great pleasure. It is hard not to agree with Vita’s thoughts on roses, recorded in June 1954 in her garden notebook: “I know also that most of them suffer from the serious drawback of flowering only once during a season, but what incomparable lavishness they give, while they are about it. There is nothing scrimpy or stingy about them. They have a generosity which is as desirable in plants as in people”.
Here’s 15 of Vita’s roses at Sissinghurst Castle
Rosa ‘Adélaïde d’Orléans’
An ideal rambler for a pergola or trellis, with delicate flowers that hang like jewels along the length of its long, pliable stems. 4.5m. AGM*. RHS H6, USDA 5a-10†.
A well-known rambler you often see in gardens with a delicious fragrance of tinned pineapple. Can be grown on a wall or allowed to do as it likes among shrubs. 3.6m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-8b.
A modern floribunda climbing rose from the German breeder Kordes in 1956. Grown for its golden-yellow-orange blooms and striking copper-bronze foliage. 6m. RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b.
R. ‘Allen Chandler’
Grown over the entrance arch, this takes centre stage at Sissinghurst. Its brilliant scarlet-red flowers are followed by copious orange-red hips. 4.7m.
R. ‘Blanche Double de Coubert’
A rose cherished by Vita, not only for the length of its flowering period but also for the power of its fragrance. 1.5m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 3a-9b.
R. ‘Blanche Moreau’
An extraordinary rose with creamy-white double flowers that contrast with the purple-brown, heavily mossed stems and leaf stalks. Flowers only once. 1.8m.
R. ‘Bleu Magenta’
A splendid, late-flowering rambler that can usefully extend the season. Little scent, but few thorns. 6m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
R. ‘Buff Beauty’
Apricot-yellow flowers of delicious scent are beautifully presented in small clusters against the red-brown stems and bronze tinted leaves. Rarely out of flower.1.2m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 6a-10b.
R. ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’
A gallica rose, much loved by Vita for its sumptuous velvet-purple colouring. 1m. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.
Flowers of delicate pink emerge from beautiful buds all set among glaucous grey leaves. Associates well with roses of rich purple. 1.8m. AGM. RHS H7.
R. ‘Charles de Mills’
The crimson-purple to dark-lilac colouring is really splendid when planted with strong pink varieties. 1.2m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.
At Sissinghurst we grow this glorious gallica as both a free-standing shrub and climbing up the Elizabethan wall, and I’m also experimenting growing it in our meadow. Its large, single, pink flowers surround a circle of gold stamens. 3m. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.
R. ‘Constance Spry’
This climber/shrub rose is named after the florist who did so much to popularise old roses. Clear-pink, double flowers are cupped at first and smell of myrrh. 2.5m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 5a-10b.
R. ‘De Resht’
A damask/gallica rose introduced by Nancy Lindsay. Fuschia-red flowers with purple tints are abundant and are held above the foliage on short stems. 1.2m. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 4a-9b.
Formerly known as R. ‘Wolley-Dod’, this shrub rose grows in deep shade at Sissinghurst, its pink flowers contrasting beautifully with the healthy foliage. 3m.
* Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society
† Hardiness ratings given where available
More of Vita’s roses to be found at Sissinghurst:
16 Rosa ‘Dusky Maiden’, 17 R. ‘Fantin-Latour’ , 18 R. ‘Felicia’ , 19 R. ‘Félicité Perpétue’, 20 R. ‘Flora’ , 21 R. ‘Francis E Lester’ , 22 R. ‘Fritz Nobis’ , 23 R. ‘Geranium’ , 24 R. ‘Henri Martin’, 25 R. ‘Honorine de Brabant’ , 26 R. ‘Ispahan’ , 27 R. ‘Kathleen’ , 28 R. ‘Kordes’ Magenta’ , 29 R. ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, 30 R. ‘Madame Lauriol de Barny’ , 31 R. ‘May Queen’ , 32 R. ‘Mrs Honey Dyson’ , 33 R. ‘Noisette Carnée’ , 34 R. nutkana ‘Plena’ , 35 R. ‘Penelope’ 36 R. rubiginosa , 37 R. ‘Sissinghurst Castle’ , 38 R. ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’ , 39 R. ‘The Garland’ , 40 R. ‘Variegata di Bologna’ , 41 R. ‘Wickwar’, 42 R. ‘William Lobb’ , 43 R. x polliniana , 44 R. ‘Zigeunerknabe’
Two websites that proved extremely useful in our search for rare rose cultivars were helpmefind.com/rose/ and combinedroselist.com, which publishes an annual list of around 15,000 cultivars worldwide.
David Austin Roses
Roseto Botanico Carla Fineschi
Kent TN17 2AB
Words Troy Scott Smith