My Favourite Things

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.

One of the essential items of rose pruning; string!

One of the essential items of rose pruning; string!

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.

Pruning 'Mme Alfred Carriere'

Pruning ‘Mme Alfred Carriere’

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.


18 thoughts on “My Favourite Things

  1. I was hoping to come on your rose pruning course on 8th Dec as I need a bit of instruction before tackling my Narrow Waters. Unfortunately Monday is a teaching day for me so not possible. I guess if you do all your pruning before Christmas, you won’t have any other courses?


    • Hello Jane,
      Sorry to hear you are unable to attend our rose pruning course next week. Unfortunatly, we won’t be running another course this year, however, we do expect to repeat the course again next year. Information will be available via our events program, on our National trust website for all future garden based courses.


  2. I live and work in France in a number of private gardens, with many roses in them, and I have to agree, it is very satisfying looking back at the roses after the pruning. I have just pruned a huge Mme Alfred Carriére, lots of dead wood cut out, and tied in the new growth, so look forward to next year’s flush.It’s amazing how much string I use!! The worst culprit for me is Albertine with her very spiky thorns, but oh so lovely in June with all the small buds covering the front of the house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Emma,
      Thank you for reading our blog and sharing your experiences. We get through yards of string, as all the knots have to be replaced yearly.
      ‘Albertine’ has a lovely display, but you’re right, she does indeed have the most prickily thorns. I might post some pictures of the roses flowering next summer. Happy gardening,


      • Hello
        I have just pruned my Madame Alfred Carriere here in Australia and I found your site. Could you briefly explain to me the concept of “wall trained roses”? Do you attached the rose to the wall with something? Ot are yu saying the rose just leans up against the wall or a house wall for example.
        Best regards


  3. Hello Jo!
    I’ve been catching up on the Sissinghurst blog where I always find a lot of valuable info and insight. I enjoyed your rose post very much, particularly your keen observations of ‘New Dawn’ which is a popular variety here in the US. I loved the coat you had on. Great protection I bet! I’m wondering if you have a favorite glove for roses? Something protective yet flexible. I’m still looking.
    Cheers to All!


    • Hello Ann,
      I wear the Showa Floreo 370 gloves for all my gardening, and can wear them when tieing in roses they are so supple. (From Wells and Winter in the UK). For pruning and dealing with the rose stems I use the RHS Tough Touch Gloves, soft leather, with or without a gauntlet, and they are really thorn proof.
      Hope this helps


    • Hi Ann,
      Glad you are enjoying our blog so much and thanks for reading. I find leather gloves the best for pruning because they must provide good protection from thorns and the cold. For tying string, thinner cloth gloves which have a rubber coating are very useful.
      Hope you find something suitable.



  4. Hi Jo,

    Just read your article with interest. Whenever I visit Sissinghurst the established climbers always appear to have been pruned back to a completely flat framework; is this the case or do you leave a couple of buds when cutting back the growth that flowered in the previous season?




  5. Hi Jason,
    We do prune all our wall trained roses to a framework, comprising of new, one year old shoots, which have not flowered yet and older shoots which have many longer side shoots which form the main frame work on a wall. Only shoots which have produced flowering stems along these older shoots and are then pruned back to two or three buds, to form spurs are visable.
    Come and visit in spring to see the buds breaking into growth, as it will help answer your question better, if you can.


  6. Pingback: A Garden Review of 2014 | SISSINGHURST GARDEN

  7. hi Jo. I am wondering if I can train A Shropshire Lad onto a fence with the hoop method? I previously had them trained around an obelisk but the roses just come out on the top! this winter I took a chance and cut them down by two thirds. any help would be appreciated. the roses are growing well in a very sunny border facing south west in Devon


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