Victoria and Barney Martin took on the lease of a one-acre walled garden at Stokesay Court near Ludlow in Shropshire ten years ago, and have since become known for their luxurious roses and cut flowers. Described by florist Shane Connolly as 'truly among the best in the UK', their flowers are grown with passion and flair and without chemicals. Of all the luxurious stems grown at Stokesay Flowers, it is roses that are desired the most by customers, including rambling roses, cut by the tumbling branch.
Experimentation is part of the Stokesay ethos, and roses are obtained from many sources, including discount supermarkets. But any that are found to be “unlovely or ungenerous in flower” are soon gone.
In a garden that relies on garlic and seaweed spray rather than a chemical alternative, the plants need to be naturally healthy, and any that don't make the cut are dug up and replaced. One exception is the pink and white-striped Rosa ‘Variegata di Bologna’, severely prone to black spot, but tolerated for its decadent beauty.
Old roses are the Martins’ favourites, each one an ode to romance. They love the anticipation, the intense but finite burst of flower. And yet there are many old roses in the garden such as Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ and R. ‘Buff Beauty’ that keep on going, on and off, into autumn.
Here, Victoria and Barney share the best roses for cutting and their tips on growing them – including a recipe for a garlic and seaweed spray that they swear by for controlling aphids on roses and generally giving the plants a boost.
Top roses for cutting
Rosa ‘François Juranville’ Rambler, 1866. A rose that is not too thorny and has pliable stems making it good, as Victoria puts, it “for twiddling about on the wall”. Some repeat flowering. 7-8m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa ‘Madame Hardy’ Large shrub, 1832. A strong grower with many-petalled flowers that have a green eye. Thorny and scented, its growing habit can be opened up by training shoots downwards. 1.5m. AGM. RHS H7.
Rosa ‘Tuscany Superb’ Small shrub, 1837. A healthy rose that Victoria describes as “bringing a touch of gypsy romance”. Flowers only once and has a short vase life but offers a deep fragrance. 1.2m. AGM. RHS H7.
Rosa ‘Prosperity’ Large shrub, 1919. A highly fragrant, generous rose with large clusters of small, double, creamy, flowers on arching stems with glossy leaves, from June to November. 1.8m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa ‘Königin von Dänemark’ Large shrub, 1816. So beautiful and feminine is this rose, Victoria had to do a double take when she first saw it. Fragrant and vigorous, it has quartered blooms, meaning the petals are tightly overlapping, flattened and arranged like a quatrefoil pattern. 1.5m. AGM. RHS H7.
Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’ Large shrub, 1939. A healthy and gently fragrant rose with rich, soft apricot blooms. Looks lovely on its own or mixed with other colours. Its strong branches are great for large displays. 1.5m. AGM. RHS H6.
Rosa 'Variegata di Bologna’ Large shrub, 1869. An extremely fragrant and irresistibly beautiful rose, but prone to black spot. Benefits from rich soil, mulch, good light and air, and a seaweed and garlic solution spray. 1.5m. RHS H5.
Rosa ‘Fritz Nobis’ Large shrub, 1940. Strong, arching, kinky stems, topped with exquisite, porcelain-like flowers that are a warm, soft, rich pink and have a musk scent. Flowers once. 1.8m. AGM. RHS H7.
Victoria and Barney's tips on growing roses for cutting
Choose healthy rose varieties
"Some varieties are more susceptible to blackspot than others," says Victoria. "Old roses don’t seem to get it, and in my experience the more modern ones often do. "Apart from my favourite Rosa 'Variegata di Bologna’, we just take it out and grow something more healthy. We’re growing Bologna against a wall now and it’s doing much better."
"We have good, rich soil here. We either add some garden compost or muck to the bottom of the hole when planting, and stir it like a cake. We then mulch with muck."
"We mulch throughout the year, especially from autumn to spring. We use grass clippings to suppress weeds and to keep moisture in the soil. We’re addicted to mulch, we love it."
Grow with airy plants
"We like to grow plants with roses that are small at the bottom and airy at the top. I just love the delicate spires of foxgloves with roses. Tellimas work well as they act as a mulch over the soil but are not invasive."
"Generally it seems that a good hard prune in late winter works well for most shrub and bush roses, to give us strong long cutting stems. We prune between knee and hip height unless a shrub is specifically being grown for its graceful arching branches, such as Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’. We also pick long arching boughs of rambling roses, so we tend to leave these unpruned in the winter, and just tidy them up to sell in the summer."
Apply an organic garlic and seaweed spray in spring
"We only spray once a year, in late April. Barney laboriously and with great smelliness boils up garlic on the stove, then strains off the juice and mixes it with seaweed liquid (ours comes from The Shropshire Seaweed Company), and the we spray this over the fresh young leaves of all the roses. The garlic repels the aphids that usually appear in May. The seaweed acts like an IV drip, pepping the roses up. Last year we didn’t spray and we had rust, so maybe it does work."
Barney's garlic and seaweed rose spray recipe
- Take one bulb of garlic and break it into cloves (unpeeled)
- Boil in one litre of water until infused
- Strain and decant into bottles or a container (Barney uses wine bottles)
- Add 300 ml of garlic spray (about a cup full) and 300ml seaweed feed to a 10-litre watering can or knapsack sprayer (this works out at 0.3 per cent which is the rate recommended by Shropshire seaweed company) and spray liberally on rose foliage in late April.
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Stokesay Court, Onibury, Craven Arms Shropshire SY7 9BD.
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