Sad passing of a true rose breeding legend

The week of Christian celebration just passed always has an element of reuniting with family and friends, catching-up and discussing aspirations for the coming year.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 15:11
David Austin, pictured at the Chelsea Flower Show. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Nostalgia tends to emerge, as it did for this fellow when an email arrived from The Garden Media Guild announcing the passing of David Austin Snr, breeder of The English Rose and founder of David Austin Roses Ltd.

He died at his home in Shropshire, aged 92.

David came from a farming background and in his early 20s experimented with the hybridisation of cereal crops. From this developed an interest in roses.

He loved the charm and fragrances of the old types, but felt they lacked the colour diversity and repeat flowering of modern hybrid teas. He determined to create a new rose that combined the beauty and fragrance of the old with all the benefits of modern day types.

Success came with Constance Spry in 1961, a pink climbing rose with the fragrance of myrrh. His most recent production was Olivia Rose Austin, a pink, highly scented beauty. A plant of this cultivar was presented to each guest, courtesy of Sir John Hall, at the launch of Wynyard Hall Garden, whose superb rose display bears the David Austin hallmark.

Over a 75-year period David Austin introduced more than 200 named cultivars of English roses, and one of his creations, Gertrude Jekyll, has twice been voted the nation’s favourite. No wonder his name is synonymous with the nation’s favourite plant. He brought fragrance and beauty to gardens all over the world.

David’s generosity in giving time and materials to people is well-known locally. When the Alnwick Garden was being planned, he contributed 2,000 roses and ensured their early development through regular visits from his colleague Michael Marriott. The link continues.

David Austin’s display is one of the highlights in the RHS national flower shows. At Chelsea there has always been the presence of Michael Marriott and David Austin junior, or the great rosarian himself.

I had the great pleasure of meeting this living legend of rose breeding at their Chelsea display stand and introduced myself as a volunteer at the Alnwick Garden.

His warm response could not have been better, enquiring how the roses were performing in our cooler climes, especially: “How is my Shropshire Lad doing up in Alnwick?”

These were magic moments for an admirer of his achievements.

So sad to hear of his passing, but what a legacy he has left us!