Rose pruning is one of my favourite gardening pursuits. Sissinghurst is widely known for its distinctive rose pruning and training methods and holds approximately 300 different varieties in the garden. These include many older rose varieties ranging from delicate china roses like R. ‘Cramoisi Superieur’, to the climbing thorny delights of R. ‘Mermaid’. We try to finish the vast majority by Christmas time, although choose to postpone pruning the hybrid teas and some more tender varieties until the arrival of spring. It is a huge undertaking and one that requires almost all of the gardening team to help complete.
Although there is no formal list of roses to be pruned which is assigned to any one gardener in particular, in recent years I have pruned the same wall roses in succession. It may just be coincidence, but creates a useful opportunity to make some mental notes about how well these roses have responded to my past treatment of them and raises some questions about how I might prune them this time around. For example;
How well did last year’s shoots perform? Did they flower well and fill the space as I imagined?
Did any older branches I removed or cut to ground level encourage strong, new vigorous growth?
Are any new shoots, strong and healthy and suitable for training in and how will I best use them?
Which shoots can be ear marked for replacement in subsequent years and so on?
There are always questions to be asked when rose pruning, because although the core principles of removing dead, diseased or damaged wood apply to maintain plant health, promote vigour and produce optimum flowering, each variety has a different growth habit and purpose to play in the garden, all of which have an impact on how they are pruned and trained in.
For instance, the infamous rambling Rosa mulliganii, which adorns the metal arbour in the centre of the white garden is clearly visible from the approach to the White Garden and from the top of the tower. She must carry herself with confidence. She must perform no matter what. Because of her rambling habit she produces long, vigorous, flexible shoots, which are perfectly suited to train over a large structure or wall and can be coaxed into appealing shapes. Elsewhere, this characteristic might not be such a helpful attribute, or the best choice, when choosing a rose for a more secluded spot.
We start the rose pruning in October. Beginning with the wall trained roses and then move into the borders. I began with Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ trained on the South Cottage in the Cottage Garden.
Although this noisette rose is daunting to prune, due to its large size, I quite like it. Generally speaking it behaves predictably, produces many smooth flexible shoots and trains easily into shape. I managed to persuade it to cover more of the wall, using new growth put on this summer, but in hindsight, I would tweak it here and there in places.
Following on from this, I moved into the Lower Courtyard and started with R. ‘New Dawn’ at the north side of the tower steps. This climbing rose is quite stiff and tends not to produce as many usable shoots as some, so has the tendency to look more angular in appearance. This is something to consider if you are thinking of training a rose and have fallen head over heels with the flower, but overlooked its true character and natural form. You might be stuck with a rose which, with all the best efforts in the world, will not conform to what you want it to be.
The pale yellow flowered R.’Easlea’s Golden Rambler’ as the name would suggest, is quite a different beast. It is almost too big for the space it inhabits between a wall trained Ceanothus ‘Gloire de Versailles’ and a rampant Celastrus orbiculatus. This rose produces plenty of long, muscular, if not ferocious shoots which is an advantage and gives more options to remove and replace a larger proportion of older branches with new wood that I hope will improve flowering next year. I took out a third at least, including some very ugly branches right down to ground level.
As a rule, for wall trained roses, rambling roses are more vigorous, flexible and better for covering larger areas, where as climbing roses are less unruly, and produce fewer shoots and therefore may be suitable for smaller spaces, or garden structures.
Rosa ‘Cupid’ was a bit hit and miss. This is a climbing hybrid tea with notable hips. He is stuffed in the corner somewhat, where his arms can’t really stretch out properly. He needs more space. I also noticed that he has not put on much growth. However, I did make attempts to fan out what he did have to offer and perhaps next year he will be back on target.
To his right is the very purple stemmed rambler, R. ‘Emily Grey’. She surprised me by producing a good number of long pliable shoots, including several from the base, which creates the choice again of replacing older shoots with fresh flowering potential.
I had to remove a few new shoots, that were too awkwardly shaped to train in and also make way for R. ‘Irish Elegance’, positioned next door to her.
Unlike the name would suggest and possibly due to a variety of reasons, this rose has not responded well to my pruning efforts and did not produce any good flowering material. I found there were no new shoots to really play with and as a consequence the existing wood looks tired, stubborn and sparse.
Quite the opposite can be said for R.’Princess Marie’. This was the last wall rose on my ‘to do’ list. I was able to remove a horrible looking branch right to the base and this will encourage renewed vigour.
It won’t be until next spring and summer when I can see what the results of my pruning efforts are. Next stop is pruning the roses in the borders.