Charles Quest-Ritson is the man who literally wrote a book about roses – there are actually several – but he openly admits that his best efforts in Hampshire are nothing compared to the best Australia has to offer.
Twenty years ago I wrote two pretty heavy books on roses. Both received good reviews and both received international prizes. One of them was translated into seven languages and – what is much more important for the author – still brings the coveted fees.
International editions were pre-sold at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which meant I had to include roses in all markets where the book would be published. Rose lovers are known for their nationalism—it’s hard to convince the French that some of the best roses are from the English—and so with a generous advance, I set out to study and write about roses from all over the world.
My travels took me to my first visit to Australia, where I was surprised to find that roses grow much better than anywhere else. The heat means the bushes grow taller and stronger than houses, and the dry climate protects them from mold and black spot. By the time I finished writing the book, I realized that in the English climate, many roses are at the limit of their ability to grow.
Yes, we have gardens where roses grow very well. Three of which I greatly admire are the Queen Mary Rose Garden in Regent’s Park, London, the David Austin Exhibition Garden near Wolverhampton, and the National Trust Rose Collection by Graham Stuart Thomas at Mottisfont Abbey, London. Hampshire. But once you’ve seen the roses at Werribee near Melbourne, or the plants in every suburban garden in Adelaide, you have to admit that Australians grow roses better than we do.
“The bushes I have difficulty growing against a warm wall in Hampshire are pitiful waterlogged specimens when compared to the lush 20-foot trees in Adelaide.”
All growers love seeing well-grown plants, so when we learned that the World Federation of Rose Societies was holding a triennial conference in Adelaide last October and November, my wife and I signed up without hesitation. This is the perfect place and time of year to visit the garden and worship roses. The rainy season is long over and daytime temperatures are usually in the mid-20s.
But not in 2022. The week-long conference was overshadowed by dark clouds, almost incessant rain and southerly gusts of wind from the cold Antarctic. The format was to spend the morning at the International Conference Center listening to lectures and then take the bus to the garden in the afternoon. Nearly all of these gardens were wonderfully planted with fine collections of roses.
One of them, in the Clare Valley, could be approached under a wrought-iron arbor, over 100 yards long, climbing in the form of the great mid-19th-century rose “Souvenir de la Malmaison.” At a normal time of year, I’d say I’ve never seen such a beautiful and impressive planting of roses, but the cold, wet Australian spring of 2022 brought us little joy.
Conferences are more like schools – one of their goals is to accelerate the spread of infectious diseases. I tested positive for Covid-19 on our last day in Adelaide and had to delay our return to Blighty. Three days later, my wife also passed away from the virus, and we ended up spending two weeks in clinical isolation on the 21st floor of our five-star conference hotel. Luckily, we get along pretty well in close combat, but staying here was tiring and expensive. I was the first to wake up, which allowed me to slip out of the hotel and spend about an hour each day exploring the Adelaide Botanical Gardens.
It was wet. But Adelaide’s collection of native Australian plants was delighted with the refresh. I photographed endlessly hakea and bottlebrushes glistening with raindrops – bottlebrushes are species and varieties of this genus. Callistemonand most of them were in full bloom. The shrubs I struggle to grow against a warm wall in Hampshire are miserable waterlogged specimens when compared to the lush 20-foot trees in Adelaide – not only in the Botanic Gardens but also widely planted as street trees and in beautiful parks. areas surrounding the city. center.
And the more I looked, the more I found to learn and admire. I had not even heard of many plants in the Adelaide Botanic Garden – not only about species, but also about genera. And in the corner of the garden, next to the elegant 200-year-old greenhouse, is the International Rose Garden. It is vast, well maintained and full of roses that we don’t see in Europe. But the strange thing was that, despite the cold rain and wind, individual flowers were still of very high quality. It’s hard for me to explain this, but it confirmed my long held belief that South Australia has the best roses in the world.
And the wines are good too. Fortunately, we have not lost our sense of taste.
Charles Quest-Ritson wrote the RHS Encyclopedia of Roses.
In 1971, a Catalan breeder named Per Dot introduced a small pink Polyantha rose called San Valentin. Charles Quest-Ritson researches.
Charles Quest-Ritson, author of the RHS Encyclopedia of Roses, tells you everything you need to know about growing roses.
Breeding the blue rose has long been the Holy Grail for breeders around the world. Charles Quest-Ritson, author of RHS