It's All Coming Up Roses
Roses are still the number one flower for Valentine's Day, but you can extend their glory in your own garden throughout summer. Hannah Stephenson offers some tips.
I'm not wanting to put a dampener on romance, but I really begrudge my husband paying a fortune for roses on Valentine's Day when the same money could have gone on a living rose that I can plant in my garden and enjoy for years to come.
Indeed, roses may not be in bloom naturally in February, but they will provide you with plenty of colour and scent in the summer months if you give them a little TLC and plant them where they're happy. It's also now a perfect time to order bare-root roses to plant during the dormant season so they can get a head-start for summer.
There are so many types of roses but if you want to plant them among other specimens in beds and borders, then English Roses by David Austin are probably your best bet, they are repeat-flowering, reliable and often disease resistant (although always check on the label or ask someone if you're not sure). Many are good for cutting although personally I can't bear to cut my own roses. I would much rather they flourish in the garden, outside for all to see.
Good red roses are difficult to breed. The challenge is to get a good combination of both fragrance and health and dark red roses in particular are subject to burning in the sun. But if you have your heart set on one, look out for 'Darcey Bussell', a compact, bushy variety which flowers all summer, producing clusters of rosette-shaped flowers of deep crimson and a fruity scent. It's ideal for a smaller garden, a narrow border or even a large pot.
I always find red quite a hard colour to match, preferring the pinks and pastel shades of other English roses including the fragrant 'Gertrude Jekyll', which I grow up an obelisk in my mixed border with Clematis 'Nelly Moser', a beautiful pink and white-striped hybrid. Together, they provide a stunning display in June and beyond.
Roses are hungry feeders, so make sure you add plenty of organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost to the soil before planting, digging a hole much bigger than the roots so that they can easily spread out and make sure the surrounding soil is cultivated, not compacted, or the roots won't spread. When planted, the base of the stems should be about 3in (7.5cm) below ground level. Newly-planted roses will also need to be kept well watered when they are trying to establish. Add rose fertiliser in March or April, at the start of the growing season, and again in June to repeat-flowering varieties and mulch them with compost in spring.
All roses need four or five hours of sunshine a day during the growing season to thrive, although some can take more shade than others. Avoid areas where there are overhanging branches and dry places where there would be too much competition from the roots of other trees and shrubs. Climbing roses such as 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles Climbing' should do well on an open north-facing wall.
Shorter companion plants can be used around them, allowing the roses to display their beauty to the full. Avoid using invasive perennials or shrubs which might overpower the roses. Instead, go for light, airy perennials such as lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), whose soft rounded leaves and lime-green flowers make a colourful base to your rose bushes and don't take away the glory of the rose flowers. Pale pink varieties like 'Eglantine' can be easily partnered with deep purple perennial salvias or perennial geraniums such as 'Johnson's Blue'. Copper-coloured specimens such as 'Pat Austin' make a good match for soft blue nepeta underneath.
The taller English Roses will add height and structure to the mixed border without the need for staking, while the more compact varieties are perfect for the front of the border. It is particularly important to plant roses in small groups.
If you need to fill in space, good annuals which will combine well with roses include love-in-a-mist such as Nigella 'Miss Jekyll' or the feathery Cosmos bipinnatus, with its large single flowers in white, pink and purple.
And then, of course, we come to pruning - but that's a story for another day.
Best of the Bunch
Winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
This easy-to-grow, reliable shrub gives a burst of good cheer in mid-winter, thanks to its bright yellow tubular flowers which appear on bare stems. Growing to 3m (10ft) in height and spread, it can be trained against a wall or fence, or just left to make an informal clump. Keep it in check by cutting out most of the stems that have borne flowers when flowering finishes in April. Winter jasmine prefers a sunny site in humus-rich, well-drained soil.
Good Enough to Eat
Growing potatoes in pots
Potato enthusiasts should be 'chitting' their seed potatoes now, putting them in egg boxes or on trays on a windowsill to encourage the potatoes to produce shoots, which will need to be about 2.5cm long before planting. If you don't have much space, you can grow potatoes in large pots or even used compost bags, spacing three to five tubers on a 10cm layer of compost and covering with another 10cm of compost and watering in well. When the stems are 20cm tall, cover them to half their height with compost and gradually add more compost as the stems get taller, stopping when you are nearly at the top of the container. Keep plants well watered during dry spells. They should be ready to harvest about two weeks after the flowers appear.