The story of David Austen Roses

Stonehouse Gardening Club was recently treated to an informative talk by  Mervyn Reed, an experienced horticulturalist, covering the “New style of roses” developed by David Austen.

Image credit: David Austin

Starting in the 1950s, David Austen started breeding roses to retain the scent and disease resistance of older varieties, with the improved colour of modern Hybrid Tea varieties. First launched was Constance Spry  (see image) which still had only a single flowering season. 

With the help of Carl Bennett, his chief breeder, they persevered and in 1980s introduced a range of scented and multi flowering roses. After the initial appearance at RHS Chelsea Flower show  success grew, (though the RHS still does not recognize the David Austin breed of roses).

In 1980’s rose popularity amongst gardeners declined in  general, with sales dropping from a 15,000 to 10,000. David Austen pioneered and patented the 6 litre “square” plant pot providing a better start for new plants.

Breeding takes place in glass houses by skilled ladies cutting off the stamens and collecting pollen with camel hair brushes to fertilize the desired plant. The resulting seeds are collected, planted and then seedlings grown outside. Using the rootstock “Laxa” which does not sucker, the “budders” then insert the bud in a T-Cut on the rootstock making between 300-600 new roses a day. Success rate is around 98%, though David Austen set very high standards for new roses and destroy stock which does not achieve the required quality. Stock is lifted and stored in 7 cold store sheds at 4°C with a capacity of around 200,000 plants which can then be released through the year in the special David Austin pot.

David Austen roses  have many petals ,often referred to as the “cabbage” appearance which may seem less friendly to pollinators. In fact as the rose flower matures, the petals open up revealing the stamens  and stigma.

With over 200 varieties, new roses are still being released, the most recent in 2021 being ‘Nye Bevan’ which honours the healthcare system. Starting a soft yellow, the petals pale beautifully to cream.

Image credit: David Austin

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