Mottisfont’s world-famous rose collection comes to life

May 23, 2019

The National Collection of old-fashioned roses reaches its peak flowering season in June, with late openings on selected evenings. 

Mottisfont’s walled gardens are filled with heavenly fragrance and colour from thousands of roses in early summer. The National Trust property is home to the National Collection of pre-1900 shrub roses, which reach their peak in June. Visitors from all over the world flock to see this unique display.

Mottisfont offers extended opening hours during June, giving you more opportunities to enjoy these spectacular flowers. The gardens are open from 9am daily in June, and on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 6 – 22 June the gardens will be open until 8pm (last entry into property 7pm, house closes at normal time of 5pm), with live music from the FB Pocket Orchestra on Friday evenings.

Over 500 varieties of rose bloom in Mottisfont’s walled gardens. Unlike modern species, old-fashioned roses tend to flower just once a year, so their full summer blooming is an extraordinary annual sight.

‘As I now approach my third rose season I sense a familiar bubbling emotion of anxiety and warmth,’ says head gardener Jonny Norton. ‘Who knows what Mother Nature plans for us this June? Certainly the gardens have never been so well prepared with the three month marathon of carefully considered pruning, nurturing the displays of perennial companion planting and all the other care that’s lovingly given to this remarkable garden. Over 40 tonnes of our own homemade compost has been spread throughout the rose garden, feeding the soil below to ensure yet another wonderful floral extravaganza. Whatever the weather, we are ready…

This year we launch our rose garden restoration project to raise funds to ensure this very special garden can touch, move and inspire its visitors for generations to follow.’

Visitors to the walled gardens can discover varieties such as Souvenir de la Malmaison – a sumptuous pale pink bourbon rose inspired by the Empress Josephine’s famous garden – and delicate China and tea roses in shades of cream, pink and red.

Ancient varieties include Rosa Gallica Officinalis, a light crimson and deeply scented shrub brought to England from Persia by the Crusaders, and the highly scented Quatre Saisons, an autumn damask which was grown by the Romans.

The rose gardens were created by Graham Stuart Thomas – one of the most important figures in 20th-century British horticulture – in the 1970s: the rose gardens will be 50 years old in 2022. Mottisfont is fundraising to restore them as this milestone approaches, so they can be celebrated in full splendour – and ensure Graham Stuart Thomas’s gardens are healthy and sustainable for another 50 years.

Mottisfont’s walled gardens were chosen to house many varieties of rose that may otherwise have been lost. With an artist’s eye and consummate knowledge, Graham Stuart Thomas designed a garden that would combine roses with a mix of perennials to give a season-long display. In June the roses are accompanied by striking spires of white foxgloves.

A gateway set in a sunny rose-covered wall leads to the first rose garden, with deep box-lined borders full of rambling and climbing roses and clematis trained on the high brick wall behind. The main paths crossing the site converge on a central round pond and fountain, surrounded by eight clipped Irish yews.

Either side of this historic central pathway are two deep herbaceous flower beds boasting many of Graham Stuart Thomas’s favourite perennials, chosen for their structure, scent and wide colour palette. Agapanthus, geraniums and peonies mingle with pinks, lilies, phlox and nepeta. The centres of the borders are a mass of soft blues, pinks and whites, whilst stronger yellows, oranges and dark pinks draw your eye along the length of the border.

The northern section of the walled garden, with its wide paths, is deliberately planted with a ‘cool’ colour palette to provide a counterpoint to the central rose garden.

It’s the first summer for Mottisfont’s new Kitchen Garden, which adjoins the central walled gardens where the famous rose collection is held. The central point of each walkway here forms an arbour decorated with four varieties of climbing rose, based on Graham Stuart Thomas’s choice of companion roses. Rose hedging of rugosa rubra will be planted to lead you into these arbours, mirroring the entrance to the central garden.

The Kitchen Garden also has two beds planted with eleven different types of rose, from gallicas to albas – providing an introduction to the hundreds of varieties you’ll find in the adjoining gardens.

Mottisfont’s gardeners take great pride in looking after this world-class rose garden. This dedicated team lavish care and attention on the National Collection of old-fashioned roses.

You can join one of the garden team from 11am-11.30am and 2-2.30pm daily throughout June as they answer your gardening questions, and find out more about how they help to bring this sensational garden to life year after year.

The gardeners don’t tend to dead-head these unique roses, which is a surprise to some visitors. Most of the old-fashioned types only flower once a year, and afterwards produce ornamental fruit or ‘hips’, which, as well as brightening the garden in autumn, provide local birds with an important source of winter food. The team remove the spent blooms of the repeat flowering roses by cutting the stem back to a healthy new bud which will encourage them to keep flowering.