Tuesday, 22 November 2016

David Austen Roses Unpacking and Review - Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton: Man, Gardener, Legend

I have always loved the late, great Geoff Hamilton. His passion for Organic gardening, sustainability, environmental impact and biodiversity began way before these terms became trendy. He believed in them, he used them in his garden 'Barnsdale' and he taught us about them on BBC2's Gardener's World every Friday evening. He was an inspiration.

I remember my late mother would curl up in the armchair with her Gin and Tonic and absorb everything he said. She wasn't interested in growing fruit or vegetables, just ornamentals, but she watched avidly nonetheless, and I sat with her. When Geoff passed away on 4th August 1996 we cried. 
I still cry when I see clips of him on TV now

Geoff Hamilton: Shrub Rose

I've never been a fan of gardening with roses, they've always stabbed me no matter how careful I've been around them. Gardening shouldn't be a violent pastime, it should be gentle. 
How fitting then, that almost exactly 20 years after Geoff Hamilton died, I discovered that the world renown rose breeders David Austin Roses had developed a thornless* shrub rose named after the kind and gentle Geoff.

I placed my order online, direct with David Austin Roses, for a bare root plant to be dispatched to me during November. The process was incredibly easy and the website tempting, but I stuck to one Geoff Hamilton and one pack of mycorrhizal fungi, which is highly recommended for roses.

David Austin Roses Review
The David Austin packaging is very prestigious looking.
photo by Pumpkin Becki

Unpacking my rose

The parcel arrived on Wednesday 9th November, delivered by Royal Mail packed in this tall brown paper bag.

The bag was indestructible!

The string thing at the top of these bags always defeats me; I can never undo the chicken feed ones.

"I'll tear it open" I thought (struggle, wrestle, struggle) "...perhaps not!"

I resorted to my trusty gardening knife.

Inside the brown paper outer was my bare root rose plant wrapped in two plastic bags.

There an envelope containing a customer survey, there was my mycorrhizal fungi pack, a comprehensive, glossy, full-colour cultivation guide, and a wonderfully muddy packing list, which looked like it had been taken into the field to ensure the right rose was dug up.

David Austin Roses Rose Cultivation Guide customer survey packing note mycorrhizal fungi
Rose Cultivation Guide, customer survey, packing note and mycorrhizal fungi, photo by Pumpkin Becki
David Austin Roses soaking root ball before planting
Soaking the root ball is vitally important,
photo by Pumpkin Becki

Planting my rose - preparation

I received a lovely healthy bare root three stemmed plant grafted onto a substantial root-stock.

Following the instructions in the cultivation guide, I soaked the roots of my rose in a bucket of water for several hours. I stood the bucket in the unheated greenhouse.

The next step was to choose the planting location.

Now, I had about three options available to me in the back garden, but one would be too windy and the other would give the plant too much competition from the roots of other plants.

I chose the raised bed in front of the greenhouse. dug up the spent sweet pea plants, and an elderly hollyhock which hadn't performed very well this summer.

I dug down probably about 30cm until I started to hit the drainage material in the bottom of the bed. The cultivation guide states 80cm, but knew I could increase the depth by topping up the soil level and mulching ...I'll never achieve 80cm though, unless I build the rose it's own soil mountain :)

David Austin Roses digging planting hole
Digging the hole, photo by Pumpkin Becki
I dug the hole as big and wide as I could, around 60cm diameter at the top, and kept trying the roots in the hole until they were able to fit with space to spare. Here you can see my hand trowel sticking up vertically from the bottom of the hole.

It is important to keep testing the root ball in the planting hole before back-filling; you want to give the plant the best possible chance of success, and a well spread out root system will help prevent wind rock.

The next step was to open the pack of mycorrhizal fungi. The  bag said that it was sufficient for three rose plants, so holding the root ball over the newly dug hole, I liberally sprinkled a third of the bag over the soaked roots and into the hole itself.

What is Mycorrhizal fungi?

Have you ever dug down into undisturbed soil and seen a web of white powery strands around the roots of plants and bulbs? That is mycorrhizal fungi. It forms a mutually beneficial relationship with the plant, bonding to the roots and effectively extending the host plants root system immeasurably.

The RHS say that mycorrhizal fungi are most beneficial to wild plants, as cultivation, fertilization, application of manure and herbicides will all damage the delicate natural balance between the fungi and the host. So don't apply mycorrhizal fungi to vegetable beds for instance, it would be a waste of money and effort.

David Austin Roses planting depth grafts
Checking the planting depth with a cane, photo by Pumpkin Becki

Planting my rose - planting depth

Depth of planting hole is just as important a diameter, possibly more-so.

The 'union' or graft point should be around 5cm below the finished soil level. The graft is usually an obvious knobbly joint between the root stock and the plant. Different root stocks govern the vigour of the whole plant, and is a very common practice. Grafted fruit trees are always more productive than non-grafted, and the same variety of apple grafted on to different types of root will each produce different size mature trees, some suitable for small gardens, some suitable for orchards.

Here you can see the rose root stock is brown, and there is a knobbly part with the bright green plant stems joined to it. This is the graft.

I laid a garden cane across the top of the planting hole, and you can see that the hole needs to be a little deeper for the graft to sit 5cm below soil level (the bottom edge of the cane).

Once I was happy with the depth, I supported the plant upright in the hole, and began carefully backfilling, making sure there were no air pockets present. The backfill was enriched with some extra garden compost, and firmed in.

David Austin Roses planting watering
Watering in, photo by Pumpkin Becki
When the hole was 95% filled in, I carefully poured a bucketful of water over the root area to make sure that the soil was well settled around the plant. Once the puddle (which you can see here) had drained down into the soil, I put on the last of the soil/compost mix and leveled the surface to it's finished height.

I am so excited to see how Geoff does in my garden. I really hope he and I make a great partnership for many years to come.

* In the 2015 David Austin Roses catalogue, Geoff Hamilton is described as 'thornless (or mostly)'. In 2016 that has been omitted and it is no longer included in the search results for 'thornless'. I wait with trepidation to see how mine turns out!

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