The recent death of one of the world's greatest rosarians, David Austin, has made many people think about which is their favourite David Austin rose. Because if you have roses in your garden, the likelihood is that at least one of them is an Austin rose. He changed rose breeding forever always looking for the very best qualities of 'old' and 'new' roses. And it's no surprise that two favourites were named for two female gardeners who were great rose lovers themselves – Gertrude Jekyll and Constance Spry.
Rosa 'Constance Spry' was the first rose that Austin launched commercially in 1961. It was a fitting name to choose. In the interwar years, Spry had rescued many 'old' roses from extinction as the modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas became so popular. Austin was always searching for the Holy Grail of rose breeding: an 'old' rose look with the long flowering season and disease resistance of modern roses – and, of course, a heavenly scent! With this rose, he was nearly there except it flowers just once – but oh, when it does, it's magnificent!
It wasn't long before Austin launched other roses that met his criteria, many of them named after Shakespearean women and quite a few gardeners as well. One of his most popular is Rosa 'Gertrude Jekyll' (below) It has deservedly been loaded with awards. He called this new family of roses 'English' roses to distinguish them from other Modern Shrub roses but they are still widely known as David Austin roses.
No wonder! It ticks all the boxes.
If you're confused about the differences between 'old', 'modern' and English roses, then you'll find it all explained in my latest book, ROSE (Reaktion, 2018). (Click here for more details.) It's full of many more stories about the history and origins of many of the world's most famous roses including how Cleopatra welcomed Mark Antony in a barge filled with rose petals and why Empress Josephine vowed to collect every known rose and then got her English rose supplier through the French blockades thanks to her sometimes understanding husband, Napoleon.