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Adding English Roses to the Cottage Garden

Adding English Roses to the Cottage Garden

It’s time for an update on my efforts to create an English cottage garden. (For my last update, read Another Take on the English Cottage Garden.) This time, I want to talk about adding English roses to the garden.

A Devastating Winter and a Wet Spring

The winter of 2018-2019 was one of the coldest, snowiest, iciest winters we’ve had in the Chicago area in many years. The worst weather came at the end of January. Thanks to a polar vortex, we hit -23˚F on January 30 (-52˚F with the wind chill). Even my dog, Chip, didn’t want to be outside that week, and he usually loves his walks no matter what the weather’s like! (See English Dogs: Walking 10,000 Steps a Day the English Way for more on Chip and his walks).

The weather improved a bit after the polar vortex left town, but winter still seemed to hang around forever. We even had a few inches of snow in the middle of April and a dusting of snow at the end of April!

I lost quite a few perennials in my small cottage garden bed due to the cold. Even the ones that survived are looking a bit iffy. I decided my best bet was to fill the bed with annuals for this year. Unfortunately, the frigid winter was followed by a cold, wet spring. In fact, it’s been the second wettest spring and the wettest May on record in Chicago. We had 8.25 inches of rain in May alone! I finally managed to get all the verbena, geraniums, marigolds, and other annuals in the ground at the end of the month.

Rotary Gardens English Cottage Garden WI
The English Cottage Garden at the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin

Dreaming of English Roses in my Cottage Garden

In the meantime, I’ve been formulating my long-term plans for the space. I think the time has definitely come to add some roses, so I’ve been searching for ideas and inspiration. I’ve looked at photos of English cottage gardens that I’ve taken on research trips (roses are often a highlight of these gardens). I took the photo of the yellow roses that accompanies this post during a visit to the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum last summer. I’ve also explored the English Cottage Gardens board on my Pinterest page for ideas. But most of all, I’ve been mooning over the latest David Austin catalog, the 2019 Handbook of Roses. I’ve had my heart set on adding some David Austin roses to my garden for some time. Since I’m planning a fresh start, I think that time is finally here!

David Austin’s English Roses

David Austin was a famous English rose breeder. He specialized in combining the characteristics and fragrance of old roses with modern hybrid tea roses and floribundas to create new cultivars that combine the shapes and fragrance of old roses with modern rose characteristics such as repeat-blooming and a wider range of colors. Austin developed more than 200 new varieties during his lifetime. He passed away in December 2018, but the company that bears his name will carry on his life’s work.

The David Austin catalog is crammed with beautiful photos of shrub roses, hybrid tea and floribunda roses, climbing roses, rambling roses, and tree roses. There’s a section with ideas for different ways to use roses in the garden, including in formal beds, arches, containers, and hedges. There’s also a care and advice section and a helpful index of rose varieties by color. The company printed the hardiness zone for the Chicago area on the mailing label, which makes it easy to select plants that should flourish here.

Austin named two of his creations after William Shakespeare and several after characters from Shakespeare’s plays. There’s the Desdemona (Othello), Falstaff (Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 and The Merry Wives of Windsor), Sweet Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Perdita (The Winter’s Tale), Wise Portia (The Merchant of Venice), Prospero (The Tempest), and Heavenly Rosalind (As You Like It). Austin even named a rose with dusky crimson flowers after the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I’m leaning toward these “Shakespeare” varieties, although only a handful are available in the US.

English Cottage Garden at the Green Bay Botanical Garden
The Vanderperren English Cottage Garden at the Green Bay Botanical Garden in Wisconsin

Sources of Cottage Garden Inspiration for Readers

If you’re interested in seeing a large selection of David Austin’s English roses, you can visit the company’s test garden at Washington Park in Portland, Oregon. Washington Park is also home to the International Rose Test Garden. Portland’s official nickname is “The City of Roses” because its climate is almost perfect for growing roses. This makes it a great place to test new varieties.

You can also check out my English Cottage Gardens board on my Pinterest page for ideas.

So, will I be adding some David Austin roses to my garden this year? Meteorologists are predicting a cool, damp summer for Chicagoland. I think English roses would feel right at home in cool, damp weather, so it seems like a great time to take the plunge.

Do you have David Austin roses in your garden? I’d love to hear about them!




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