Chelsea 2017: Sumptuous New Roses

May 26th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

New Chelsea roses 2017: 'Papworth's Pride' (left), 'Deben Sunrise' and 'James L. Austin'

Roses used to dominate the Chelsea Flower Show. Eight or ten specialists staged elaborate displays of cut roses and, if the weather was unusually hot, they’d all be replaced half way through the show to ensure the exhibits looked their best until the last moment. Then they were sold off at the end of the Show. It was impressive; it was the traditional way but became out-dated, old fashioned and nurseries started dropping out.

Now, only three rose exhibitors remain: David Austin Roses from the West Midlands, Peter Beales Roses from Norfolk, and Harkness Roses from Hertfordshire.

All three have established a tradition of launching their new introductions at the show, although Peter Beales have only been developing their own varieties for a relatively short time.

I don’t think David Austin have ever produced a bad rose since their first, ‘Constance Spry’, was introduced in 1961. One of my favourites of theirs, that I’ve been growing for twenty years, is a the dainty kittle ‘Pretty Jessica’ – but they no longer sell it as they don’t feel its up to current standards.

I found it difficult to choose between this year’s three Chelsea three newcomers. ‘Dame Judi Dench’ features red-tipped buds opening to lovely, rather blowsy, rain-resistant, tea scented, rich apricot flowers with pale rims and peach centres.

The arching growth of ‘Dame Judi Dench’ contrasts with the upright habit of ‘Vanessa Bell’ which is a paler, soft lemon yellow and, again, paler at the edges and with a scent of green tea and lemon. The large rosettes of ‘James L. Austin’ are deep pink, unusually weather resistant, with a rich fruity fragrance and, in the end, that was my pick of the three.

It’s only relatively recently that Peter Beales have been breeding roses, for many years their only focus was on popularising old varieties, now they often associate their newcomers with charities. This year they have two: ‘Margaret Greville’ and ‘Papworth’s Pride’.

‘Margaret Greville’, named for the benefactor who donated the Surrey property Polesden Lacy to the National Trust, is a semi-double coral pink with a bold boss of golden anthers and an engaging cascading habit. The plants of ‘Papworth’s Pride’ I saw were very impressive, with large semi-double flowers like huge peonies in rich raspberry red. It supports Papworth Trust, a charity that helps the disabled.

Finally, from Harkness, ‘Deben Sunrise’ combines good health and powerful fragrance with creamy white flowers that are blushed in bud. It’s happy pruned hard to make a dense bedding rose or less severely to create a taller more open plant more like a shrub rose. I also liked their beautifully scented new single flowered ‘Simple Yellow’, the latest in their Simple Series of natural looking varieties.

I’ve been back and forth between the three Chelsea exhibits, checking on each of these newcomers, and my favourite is ‘James L. Austin’ (with ‘Simple Yellow’ in second place) for its combination of opulent flowers, rich colouring, fruity fragrance and a useful, slightly upright habit. My plant is in bud in its first season, I’m looking forward to the flowers.

New Chelsea roses 2017: 'Simple Yellow' (left), 'Margaret Greville' and 'Vanessa Bell'

Images © GardenPhotos.com, David Austin Roses, Peter Beales Roses, Harkness Roses.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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