Some of the most enjoyable benefits of belonging to the HRG are select private day visits to gardens and nurseries with historic roses.
In early June 2016 a small group visited Seale Nurseries in Surrey for a study morning, where we were welcomed by owners Catherine and David May. Theirs is a small family business, but the considerable reputation it has enjoyed over the past decades was shown by the array of medal certificates won at Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows displayed in the reception area.
David demonstrated grafting techniques, talked about the care of their impressively huge roses thriving in containers, and also about the difficulties of running a small family nursery. After tea and a tour of the nursery beds and glasshouse members were also able to buy interesting – and some unique -roses, notably a lovely Wichurana-type single rose brought in as a chance seedling by a local garden-owner, and named ‘Natural Beauty’ by David.
In the afternoon we visited RHS Wisley, and were welcomed by Mr Jim Gardener, director. He took us to see the new rose area combining beds of mostly modern roses with adjacent beds perennials. Acknowledging the group’s interest in historic roses, he explained that the look was intentionally very different from the more usual companion planting idea beloved of old rose enthusiasts.
The results were certainly imposing, and the health of the roses was impressive – with no irrigation, just feeding and mulching.
Clinton Lodge Gardens
Another delightful day in June encompassed a visit to Clinton Lodge Gardens at lunch-time and an evening tour of Sissinghurst.
On a gloriously clear sunny day the magical and peaceful atmosphere of Clinton Lodge impressed everyone. The immaculately maintained gardens are a marvellous and daring mixture of ancient and modern, all set against views of rolling countryside.
Its many peaceful garden ‘rooms’, romantic walkways and wildflower areas show a remarkable combination of historic roses and contemporary design, including imaginative use of water, with several arresting fountains by William Pye which looked particularly enticing as they sparkled in the sunshine.
Later that day, arriving for a private visit to the usually crowded Sissinghurst after everyone else had departed was a special pleasure. Sissinghurst was all ours. A little drinks reception in the shade of Vita Sackville West’s great tower was followed by an informative and thought-provoking guided tour by the head gardener, Troy Scott Smith.
Troy explained some of the dilemmas facing a justly famous and popular historic garden. A major headache nowadays is maintaining the delicate balance between the urge to increase visitor numbers and the problems of coping with wear and tear, as thousands of feet literally wear down the paths and visitors brushing against plants on corners cause die-back.
The eternal question of whether to stick with the status quo or restore sections right back to the original plans is particularly pertinent here. Members who attended the 2015 AGM in Harrogate will recall the presentation on the major plan to remove some of the more modern roses and replace them with Vita Sackville-West’s original choices, which was given by Helen Champion, assistant gardener at Sissinghurst, who was also here to meet us.
Our Sissinghurst evening was a wonderfully atmospheric close to a very special day of garden visiting.