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Rose Growing for the Londoner (1910)

In 1910, ‘The Rose Annual‘ produced by ‘The National Rose Society‘ contained an article called ‘Rose Growing for the Londoner’ written by Mrs Sydney J. Montagu.

We believe it is not only beautifully written but it still holds some relevance and truth today.

So for you city gardeners out there here is a little treat;

(Transcript follows the images)


Rose Growing for the Londoner

By Mrs. Sydney J. Montagu.

The lucky grower whose garden lies away in the country, where the fresh air and light purify his soil and give strong shoots to his plants, will say that there is no such thing as Rose growing for the Londoner, in the true meaning of the word “growing,” that all he does is to force some begrimed bushes to bear a few inferior blooms, and that he might employ his time more profitably to himself, and save the plants from a lingering death by not attempting their cultivation. There is a certain amount of truth to this, for the London Rose, like the human cockney, is seldom on the “top of his form.” It is rather paler and decidedly smaller than the country rose, but once well established will be worth the trouble it costs if its owner is not an ambitious man. For the exhibitor, even in the N.R.S. eight miles radius class, stands a poor chance should he live, as I do, in the N.W district between Regent’s Park and Hampstead. Once only, in my eleven years’ experience, has the season been so favourable that I hoped to find half a dozen blooms that would be fairly fit for a show box. They were in bud, and promised well, when the peculiar thick fog or blight that often comes to us about July, and the glue-like rain which followed, turned my pretty young flowers into something that I can only compare to cold poultice.

But there are many garden lovers to whom showing is no attraction, and who are quite contented if they can grow sufficiently good blooms for a vase or a button-hole; and that they can do, as I know from experience, who live within ten minutes of the “Zoo,” if they have sufficient space and a little time to give their hobby.

How valuable open space alone is can be proved by two Rose beds in Regent’s Park at the North Gate. I think it is four years since they were planted, or it may be rather more, and all the attention they receive is some straw litter when the cold is intense and a mulch of manure in spring. They flourish remarkably well. As far as my observation goes not one plant has dies; all bloom freely and make new growth. They are pruned in the spring rather closely. Some belts of shrubs keep off the worst of the winds from them, and beyond are the playing fields of the park, some acres in extent, to which wind-swept space I attribute their robustness. The natural soil there is London clay.

I am, therefore, unable to understand why more owners of gardens close to Regent’s Park do not grow Roses, or grow them more successfully than they do.

In my own case I have a piece of ground about 120 feet long that gets the sun from its rise in the morning until well into the afternoon, and if it were not for two enormous poplar trees I should consider the garden almost ideal of its kind. These trees unfortunately give our garden a certain air of dignity, and so we suffer their depredations on the smaller plants, and try to manage the Roses accordingly. A few standards are in single beds on the lawn. The other Roses, some standard and some bush, are grown wherever a bed or border receives sufficient sun. They are arranged either in groups or singly, and, given a favourable summer, the results are sufficiently good to be very pleasant. They are planted in a mixture of yellow loam and old manure, with some grit for the roots, on a clay subsoil, and mulched in the autumn with short manure. About every four years I find a top-dressing of lime to purify the soil most beneficial, and during the growing season I treat them to occasional doses of Clay’s or other similar fertiliser. They are pruned hard back, and before growth starts I give them a thorough spring cleaning with soap and water applied with a painter’s brush, and then washed it off with plain water, so that the bark may be clean and fresh for the influence of the summer sun and rain. Disbudding is most essential as no amount of care will produce sufficiently thick shoots to hold themselves erect under any burden of blooms. Few shoots, but as good as possible, should be the aim of the cultivator, as this will give the foliage a chance as well as the flowers. It is very difficult to produce a really large healthy green leaf here, as orange rust and mildew are most troublesome in bad years. The latter has already appeared (June 14th 1909), but this is the worst season I can remember, both for chilling winds and insects. I am, however, not always so unfortunate in early summer. Mildew I treat with sulphur and sometimes soot, but as I am generally away from home during the whole of August and half of September, my Roses are left to the mercy of a gardener, who waters them daily if dry, but only attends to them otherwise twice a week, I do not consider my case a fair one. If I were more at home no doubt the evil would be less troublesome.

This is the worst side of the matter, and I have treated it first so as to dispose of the arguments against Rose growing here. Now for its bright aspect. It is possible, as I have proved for some years, to have blooms of the following Roses quite good enough to ornament the garden and the room in a normal season. For instance, Moss Roses (especially the old-fashioned pink and white), “Maiden’s Blush” (for those who care for the flowers of our ancestresses), “Gloire De Dijon” of course, “Reve d’Or,” “Clio,” “Captain Hayward,” (one of my most reliable), “Madame Bernard,” “Shandon,” “Killarney,” “Frau Karl Druschki” and “Margaret Dickson.” I do not this anyone who understands and loves flowers will say that these are to be despised, even when grown under my conditions here. The Ramblers, too, do very well, especially “Dorothy Perkins.” and the Penzance Sweet Briars are only too rampant. All are inexpensive to buy and to grow, I do not advise the Londoner to try experiments with new and costly varieties. It is wiser for him to wait until their qualities are proved, and they can be bought at a price that will not cause regret is they are unsuited to our smoke. Some of my plants have been in the ground here for many years and look likely to last on yet, and the proportion of those that die off even after a very bad winter , and those that refuse to thrive from the beginning are not very great.

I cannot help thinking that there is a large class of garden lovers like myself, who would grow roses if they only thought they could in this neighbourhood, and who would be keen supporters of the N.R.S if it could contrive to reach them and make them believe in the possibilities of their gardens. I know that I am much indebted to its “Annual” and other publications, even if I do return somewhat down-hearted from its shows to the contents of my own poor little plot.

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