14 May 2017

Promise of a Rose Garden

Kew horticulturist David Mann gives us a seasonal update and reveals the work underway to extend the Rose Garden.

By David Mann

A rose in the Rose Garden

Rose Garden at Easter 

During Easter, the Rose Garden will be settling down after the late winter maintenance and starting to put on its spring growth in readiness for flowering in May. The Rose Garden team have spent the last few months pruning, mulching and tweaking the rose beds in preparation for this, and we now look forward to seeing the garden in all its glory, set against the magnificent architecture of the Palm House. 

Rose Garden redesign in 2008 

We began planting the latest incarnation of the Rose Garden (Kew has had a Rose Garden here since the 1920s) in the winter of 2008-2009, taking four months to complete the work. This included replacing the soil in all the beds to a depth of about a metre and a half. This was a mammoth task involving teams from across the Gardens working together. Planting of the modern shrub roses was completed by the spring and the plants settled in nicely over the following summer. 

The key to luxuriant flowering 

The garden flowered well over the subsequent few years but really came into its own three years ago. Since then, the display has gone from strength to strength. Regular dead-heading of the spent blooms is the key to luxuriant flowering and the whole Rose Garden will be dead-headed once a week from June onwards, allowing flowering to continue into November. We will also mow the lawn and edge the beds once a week in order to show off the roses to their maximum effect. 

Watering is also crucial for good flowering and each bed has irrigation pipes installed at ground level. This allows us to apply water where the plants need it, at the roots, so avoiding excessive and wasteful water use. Many of the roses in our garden have been chosen not only for flowering but also for scent, so adding a much-loved dimension to the sensory experience.  

A little help from the birds 

Greenfly will be in evidence at Easter on the soft young stems of the roses, but they rarely build up to a damaging level. This is thanks to Kew’s populations of song birds that will be nesting and raising their young at this time of year. Greenfly are a favourite of blue and great tits, which can be seen harvesting the soft-bodied insects. They will be taking them back to their nests and feeding them to their chicks. 

Holly dumplings 

The Rose Garden is surrounded by a holly hedge and the free-standing hollies that ring the path we like to call the holly dumplings. We are currently in the process of renovating the holly hedge by hard pruning one side each year, so taking two years. Holly hedge and dumpling cutting takes place in August to allow new growth before the winter. 

New beds reveal history of rose cultivation 

We are currently expanding the rose displays, and have created 20 new beds this winter, which we have just finished planting. The new beds at the Victoria Gate end of the Rose Garden will tell the story of the history of rose cultivation. We have just cut a path here going through the holly hedge, so visitors can walk through to the wild rose collection. In addition, we will be creating new beds on the lawn outside the Waterlily House next winter.

'Lady of Shallot' rose in the Rose Garden

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