A Modern Romantic Rose Garden


Can a garden be both
Modern and Romantic?

Thanks to modern rose cultivars, I think it can…

“I grow a dozen different varieties of rose in my garden.
Nothing beats them for sheer flower power.

Roses, I am told, are rather out of fashion, especially among younger gardeners, who associate them with ‘granny’. This is a pity, as in my garden, no other group of plants flowers quite as freely, nor for so long, nor so splendidly and photogenically, as my roses. Not only that, but many of them are exquisitely scented, all are repeat flowering and all attract pollinators. I have English shrub roses, patio roses, ramblers and climbing roses. Some are single, some semi-double, others fully-double. At their best in mid summer, they all go on to produce additional flushes of flowers right up until the frosts. Even their names are romantic!

Roses have a reputation for being fussy, high-maintenance plants that suffer from lots of diseases such as black spot and other fungal problems. That may have been true for many of the mid-twentieth century cultivars, but modern roses have been bred for disease resistance and are very easy to live with. As far as maintenance goes, the modern shrub roses couldn’t be simpler, requiring just a hard-prune to 2′ in the winter. Climbers are a little more work, needing pruning and tying back against wires or a fence during the winter, but it’s creative work, and very satisfying once you get the hang of it — full details at the end of the article. Deadheading in summer is not essential, although I do it, as it does encourage repeat blooming.

In this article I’m going to look at the 12 roses I currently grow in my garden, the majority of which are found in one area: my pond garden. This is a modern formal garden consisting of eight raised beds surrounding a rectangular pond laid out in a traditional two-axis parterre. It is planted predominately with summer-flowering perennials and shrub roses. Espalier fruit trees, clematis and climbing roses are trained on the long fence and on the west side of ‘the cabin‘ — our garden summer house.

△ ROSE GARDEN KEY (side scroll to view →)

The photo above shows the garden at its peak in mid-summer, demonstrating just how much the roses contribute to the overall look.

The first rose I planted — over a decade ago — was Étoile de Hollande (3, above), a large climbing rose, deep wine red, with a stunning elderflower fragrance. A little later I added the salmon patio rose Sweet Wonder (4, above), which has continually impressed me with its exceptionally long flowering season and gorgeous coloured blooms. Neither is a modern cultivar, and both suffer from black-spot, but not disastrously so. All of the other roses I grow are much more disease resistant.

This garden is only a few years old. Previously it had been my vegetable garden, but in 2019 I changed tac and converted it into an ornamental garden. I used shrub roses to give height to the beds which mainly contained low-growing perennials. These shrub roses created four large clumps, each at one corner of the beds surrounding the pond, creating an informal symmetry (see 2, 5, 9 & 11, above).

Two areas immediately adjacent to the pond garden were also planted with white roses — (7) ‘Iceberg’ and (6) ‘Susan Williams Ellis’. These areas are visible from the house and so form part of the White Lawn Garden which runs from the house to the central dividing hedge. They provide a sense of continuity and help link the two garden areas.

my top 12 roses


Strawberry Hill

English Climbing Rose

This short climber has the most beautiful, full-bodied, blooms in a romantic soft-pink. It produces trusses of large, fragrant, pendulous double blooms from May until the frosts.

I grow Rosa ‘Strawberry Hill’ in the back corner of my garden, on a south-east facing fence, where it provides some hight and colour behind the main garden plants. It produces flexible shoots up to 6 ft long which need to be bent down and tied in as the season progresses. If this is done, it is suitable for growing on a 2m (6′ 6″) fence, which is how I am training it. However, it will climb higher if you have the space.

Features: scented
Height: 10′ (3m) Spread: 10′ (3m) Flower Size: 4-5″ (10-12cm)


Jacqueline du Pré

Medium Dense Shrub Rose

Jacqueline du Pré is an exceptionally floriferous, dense and healthy shrub rose. Reliably repeat flowering, she produces a succession of small single white flowers from peachy buds.

These were the first shrub roses I added to my garden and I planted them in two beds. From the get-go, I was impressed with their reliable repeat flowering and the way they create a dense green dome of glossy foliage. An excellent rose, being healthy and easy to maintain. With its abundance of pollen-filled single flowers it’s a continual magnet for pollinators. Bright red hips are produced once you stop deadheading.

Features: hips, pollinators, compact
Height: 3′ (1m) Spread: 4′ (1.2) Flower Size: 2″ (5cm)


Étoile de Hollande

Large Climbing Hybrid Tea Rose

This is a very large climbing rose, capable of covering the front of a two story house. Its deep wine-red flowers have the most exceptional fragrance reminiscent of elderflower.

This was the first rose I planted in my garden and it is now over fifteen years old. I have tried to train it on a 2m fence, and over the top of my arbour seat, but it really wants to grow to twice as tall. It throws our long, thick canes that are not very pliable and tend to break off easily, making training difficult in a tight space. Consequently, most of the delicious smelling flowers end up well above our heads! Flowering shoots produce 1-5 buds, but these open in sequence, giving the appearance of solitary, well spaced flowers across the plant.

Features: fragrant old-rose scent
Height: 20′ (6m) Spread: 20′ (6m) Flower Size: 4″ (10-12cm)


Sweet Wonder

Patio Rose

A very beautiful patio rose of a gorgeous salmon-pink which is almost never out of bloom from March to December. Grown against a fence, mine has reached 5 feet (1.5m)

Purchased on a whim, this small patio rose turned out to be a real gem. I was so pleased with it that I purchased two more recently to add to the same border. It grows at the base of a south-east facing fence, where it scrambles up into the fan-trained pear. It’s colour looks amazing with blue Salvia ‘May Night’ and purple Clematis ‘Durandii’ that grow next to it. It suffers more than most from blackspot, but even when it loses some leaves it manages to push out new trusses of flowers.

Features: Very long flowering season.
Height: 24″ (60cm) Spread: 18″ (45cm) Flower Size: 2″ (5cm)


Garden centres and nurseries often stock only a limited range of roses, so if you have specific needs online retailers may be a better choice. Roses do not do well in their second year in nursery pots, so try to buy only fresh stock.

I have purchased many of my roses from the famous English Rose breeder David Austen Roses. They supply excellent quality plants, with good service and a 5yr guarantee, but expect top-tier pricing. Buying bare-root roses in winter/early spring can save money. All DA roses are delivered in beautiful packaging, so make great gifts.

I also have had Peter Beales roses from a local nursery which have also been good. Recently, I purchased two climbing Iceberg roses from Crocus which had a 25% discount. There are many, cheaper rose nurseries, but many of them only carry older varieties, many of which are more prone to disease than modern cultivars. You can certainly get some great bargains — but do your research first!

My first time ordering from David Austen Roses

Each rose was delivered in its own packaging.

The plants were well protected and in good condition.

‘Susan Williams-Ellis’ (left) and ‘Kew Gardens’ (right). Both healthy, good-sized specimens ready for planting.


Emily Brontë

Medium English Shrub Rose

An exceptional, modern English shrub rose, with large, flat, double ruffled flowers, opening cream-pink and turning slowly buff. Flowers are held in loose sprays of 5-8 flowers.

Brontë is a vigorous shrub with upright growth. In May, she produces dozens of flower trusses which open over several weeks. The flowers are tightly double, opening into flat bowls, densely petalled and neat, with complex yet subtle colouration. In my experience, although she is repeat flowering, later flushes are reduced, with panicles carrying only 1-3 flowers, often born on long arching new canes. The later flowers appear to have more apricot colouration.

Features: fragrant old-rose scent
Height: 5′ (1.5m) Spread: 5′ (1.5m) Flower Size: 4-5″ (10-12cm)


Susan Williams-Ellis

Medium English Shrub Rose

A very healthy and easy-going shrub rose with lots of small spines along the stems. The medium sized flowers are a good creamy white, generally well-spaced and repeat flowering.

I bought this English shrub rose to mark the end of a long border. It is planted just in front of an evergreen hedge, which shows it off well. I chose it for its white flowers which needed to show up from a distance (and fit in with the White Garden theme). Close up, the rather ragged flowers are not particularly shapely. However, the excellent disease resistance is welcome, as is the strong flowering in October

Features: scented, disease-free
Height: 3.5′ (1.1m) Spread: 3′ (0.9m) Flower Size: 3″ (7-8cm)



Medium Floribunda Shrub Rose

An outstanding, free-flowering shrub rose with lovely foliage. Bears large clusters of well-shaped creamy-white double roses which open to reveal stamens for pollinators.

I actually have four of these, three of which fill the front of one bed near the dining area. In the summer they are a mass of flowers. Like all the roses, it responds well to deadheading, throwing up new flowering shoots in response. Last year a chance white foxglove seedling created a totally romantic scene which went on for weeks (see below)

Features: free-flowering, pollinators
Height: 4′ (1.2m) Spread: 3′ (0.9m) Flower Size: 3″ (7-8cm)


The Lady of the Lake

Medium English Rambling Rose

A refined and delicate rambler, tolerant of part-shade. Cup-shaped flowers are a mix of white, pink, peach and yellow — very pretty, slightly scented and repeat flowering. Long, pliant almost thornless stems make for easy training.

I planted this rambler in a difficult spot on the north-west facing wall of my garden cabin. The first year it was nearly killed by an errant rabbit, but in the next two years it recovered and went on to cover most of the 7′ x 8′ (2.1 x 2.4m) wall. It is very rewarding to find a plant that fits in so perfectly and is as refined and beautiful as this.

Features: tolerates part shade, near-thornless
Height: 3.5′ (1.1m) Spread: 3′ (0.9m) Flower Size: 3″ (7-8cm)

Combining roses with perennials

Roses can be integrated into a modern garden very effectively. In the photo above, taken in June 2023, the roses contribute colour, volume and height, holding their flowers above the surrounding perennials.

On the fence, ‘Sweet wonder’ creates colour up to 4′ (1.2m) while ‘Étoile du Hollande’ takes it to 6′ (2m) and more. In the flower beds, shrub roses such as ‘Emily Brontë’ provide a 4′ high point at the back of the bed, while shorter perennials such as Allium christophii, Salvia and Euphorbia create a mid-tier, stepping down to the front where short sedums, snow-in-summer and thrift complete the picture.

Below are two examples of rose / perennial combinations: one with a warm pink theme and the other a cool blue.


Kew Gardens

Medium English Shrub Rose

A strong-growing, healthy and magnificent rose bush, producing large heads of single white flowers with bright yellow stamens, all summer.

‘Kew Gardens’ is a strong growing shrub rose, which throws up tall, virtually thornless canes, creating a fountain-shaped shrub, 4ft high and wide. The bright single flowers are formed in large clusters throughout the summer. As well as a good feature plant for the back of the border, I think it would make an excellent hedge.

Features: healthy, near-thornless
Height: 4.5′ (1.3m) Spread: 4′ (1.2m) Flower Size: 2″ (5cm)


Carefree Days

Small Patio Rose

A compact bush that carries clusters of small double flowers of a striking magentas-pink with white and yellow centres. Good for a large pot.

I initially grew this in a border near another patio rose ‘Sweet Wonder’ but it clashed terribly with the salmon-pink, so I dug it up and planted it in a large container where it has grown very well ever since.

Features: Compact plant, suitable for large pot
Height: 2.5′ (75cm) Spread: 2′ (60cm) Flower Size: 2″ (5cm)



Medium English Shrub Rose

A neat, upright, spreading fountain, topped with dozens of initially globular pale-pink blooms, fading to white as they open further. Produces a huge flush of flowers twice per year (June and August)

‘Desdemona’ is one of the family favourites. It forms a beautiful fountain shaped bush, covered in a mass of flowers in May and again in August with plenty of sporadic blooms in between. Despite online photos showing the blooms more open, in my experience, the chief effect is of globular pale-pink flowers — very beautiful in the garden or in a vase. When the shrub is in full swing its flowers rises above the hedge in a pink cloud, visible from the house.

Features: scented, floriferous
Height: 4′ (1.2m) Spread: 4′ (1.2m) Flower Size: 2.5-3” (6-8cm)


The Pilgrim

English Climbing Rose

A beautiful, vigorous cream-yellow climbing rose with large fragrant blooms which open to flat, cupped, fully double flowers. Suitable for growing on a 10ft wall, pillar, arch or pergola. Matt-green leaves.

I planted ‘The Pilgrim’ on the front of our house under a six foot wide window, my aim being to train it under, then up the sides. The rose itself is beautiful, holding its flowers outwards, but it is proving difficult to train in this spot as it really wants to be more upright. In the summer it throws up tall new shoots in front of the window, which I tie in horizontally in the winter. So far, these have not been long enough to train up the sides . I think it is just a matter of time and patience. Eventually it will produce shoots in the right place for me I’m sure!

Features: fragrant, free-flowering, outward facing flowers.
Height: 12′ (3.6m) Spread: 12′ (3.6m) Flower Size: 4-5″ (10-12cm)

Pruning roses

Pruning time for all roses is late winter: January or early February are ideal

Pruning Shrub Roses

For shrub roses, pruning couldn’t be simpler. In late winter (January or early February) all branches are pruned back to approximately 2ft from the ground. It’s good practice to angle the cut so water can run off, and prune to just above a bud, but studies at Wisley have shown that even taking a hedge trimmer to them produces good results. Remove and straggly shoots, or any dead or diseased ones too.

The photo above-left, shows my 3 year old ‘Kew Gardens’ immediately after its prune in January. The photo on the right shows another of my shrub roses ‘Jacqueline du Pré’ in March, as the pruned branches begin to sprout new growth.

Training Ramblers and Climbing Roses

With rambling and climbing roses, the process is a bit more involved. The aim is to tie in canes (main shoots) to the plane of the fence or wall they are growing on, bending them down where possible. The logic is that as the sap rises in the spring it will get funnelled to the highest point. If you leave lots of vertical canes, only buds towards the tops will develop and sprout, leaving the plant bare lower down. By bending canes downwards, you ensure buds break along more of the cane, and closer to the ground. This should ensure you get flowers all the way down the plant, not just at the top.

TECHNIQUE — Start by cutting back any old, dead or inflexible shoots. Then identify the long flexible canes and start to bend them down from the tips, tying them in to create arcs or circles against the supports. Take care not to put too much force on the point where they join the main stem as this is the most likely place for them to break off. I often tie them in close to the main stem first, before starting to bend them to avoid this. Gradually work through the whole plants, trying to get canes to cover the biggest area possible, from as low down as you can manage.

Left: Rosa ‘The lady of the Lake’ (Rambler) Right:’Strawberry Hill’ (Climber) – Coming back into leaf in early March.

Above, left: Rambling roses, like ‘The Lady of the Lake’ have long pliable shoots, so tend to be easier to train.
Above, right: Climbing roses, like ‘Strawberry Hill’ can be more difficult, as they tend to grow stiffer, more upright main stems which get quite woody in their second year. Some of these inflexible stems can be cut down fairly low which will cause them to sprout long new shoots. With a bit of judicious foresight, you can plan for these shoots to fill in gaps lower down your rose. By winter, these new shoots will be easier to bend down into arcs and tie in. Sometimes, it is possible to train in new shoots during the summer — just beware they can be quite brittle.

2 thoughts on “A Modern Romantic Rose Garden”

  1. Please correct wrong rose name Rose du Hollande to

    Rose de Hollande.

    Your bliog is to absolutely gorgeous that a typing error like this would be a shame.


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