The rose garden originated as a kitchen garden. It was formed from the existing Elizabethan courtyard wall to the north and the construction of new walls and hedges on the remaining three sides in the early 1930s. Although it was called the kitchen garden, the planting was never intended to be a purely productive garden. Indeed, Vita’s early garden notebook entries are about ornamental plants: 1932 – ‘Put some good irises down path in kitchen garden Plant more climbing roses on the kitchen garden wall.’
Vita’s diaries and notebooks have abundant references to roses and there are records of purchases from Bunyard of Maidstone, Hilda Murrell, Graham Stuart Thomas at Hillings and Constance Spry among others. It is not possible to work out exactly what was grown where, however a list compiled by Jack Vass of all roses that were grown at Sissinghurst in his time identifies a large number of roses that were present in 1959, many of which are still present today.
Vita’s 1959 article on the pruning and staking of shrub roses describes the rose garden towards the end of her life
‘In the first place, we are not cramped for room, having given up a fairly large area to rose cultivation. This area we call the Rose Garden is walled on two sides by high brick walls covered by fig-trees, vines, and some of the tenderer climbing roses such as the yellow Banksia and R. anemonoides.
The other two sides afford the protection of hedges, yew, holly, and hornbeam. Paths, edged either by box or June-flowering irises, intersect the beds, which are spacious and somewhat jungly. This jungly effect certainly makes for luxuriance in mid-June, but it has its drawbacks and have often wished we had not crammed the roses so close and had left more space between them.
The roses in the central massif are all grown on one principle. Three, four, or five strong wooden stakes according to need are driven into the ground around each bush, and the long shoots are then trained down and round the stakes, forming a kind of cage or lattice.
It would be tedious to give a complete list of the roses we grow in this rather laborious way, but here are some of them: ‘Tour de Malakov’, ‘ Konegin von Danemarck’, ‘Cardinal Richelieu’, `Kazanlik’, ‘Chapeau de Napoleon’, ‘Mme. Hardy’, ‘Commandant Beaurepaire’, gallica complicata, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘Coupe d’Hebe’, `William Lobb’, `ZigeunerKnabe’, `Gloire de Guilan’, `Roseraie de l’Hay’, `Variegata di Bologna’, alba maxima, and even gallica’Tuscany’ which is not supposed to attain more than 4 feet but which in our garden has shot up to 6-7. I think that, like the gallica versicolor, Rosa mundi, it would be the better for shortening.
I believe very much in dead-heading the spent flowers.
For the hybrid perpetuals we have reverted to an old idea, and tie them down along curved “benders”… of course this involves keeping them in separate beds : you could not combine them with the taller, upright bushes. ‘Frau Karl Druschki’, ‘Mrs. John Laing’, ` Ulrich Brunner’, `Reine des Violettes’, ‘Souvenir du Dr.Jamain’, and the Dicksons Hugh and George, all lend themselves very amiably to this treatment. The drawback is that the bed is ticklish to weed.
I might here note that we have kept the purple roses more or less in a bed to themselves. Let us admit that the purple rose may be an acquired taste, and by purple rose I do not mean a red rose which “dies” badly, anathema to all rosarians… I mean the truly intentional purple, whether it be the slaty-lilac of `Cardinal Richelieu’, or the Parma-violet ‘Tour de Malakov’, or ‘Charles de Mills’, or ‘Belle de Crecy’, or `Reine des Violettes’, or `Hippolyte’ which by the way does much better in semi-shade, and the moss ‘William Lobb’. These, and others, we have assembled in a corner, with an underplanting of dark-mauve pansies, Cheiranthus mutabilis, and Allium cyaneum, and the old R. Veilchenblau’ climbing the wall behind them. If people don’t like them, they can turn their backs and look at some-thing else, but I think the loss is theirs.
Troy Scott Smith
Sissinghurst June 2015