Mottisfont’s world-famous rose collection comes to life

May 21, 2018

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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.

On some evenings during June, Mottisfont’s gardens stay open a little later, giving you a chance to enjoy these spectacular flowers as evening draws in. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 7 – 23 June the gardens will be open until 8pm (last entry into property 7pm, house closes at normal time of 5pm).

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.

‘The incredible vigour of the old roses never cease to amaze as they once again bud up to promise yet another glorious display of scent and colour,’ says head gardener Jonny Norton. ‘It wasn’t long ago when I waded through a foot of snow with the pruned bare rose stems half buried. The rain in March and early April was welcome for the soil, but made challenging work preparing the roses and their companion plants. I suspect we may be made to wait a little longer for their glory compared to last season, however, the few early May roses remind me of the beauty and wonder that follows in June – making the last six months of dedicated work from the rose garden team worth every minute.’

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 Chinese tea roses in shades of cream, pink and red.

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The light crimson and deeply scented shrub Rosa gallica officinalis was brought to England from Persia by the Crusaders, and there are other hybrids so ancient that they are prehistoric. Some varieties are so rare that it’s possible Mottisfont has the only stock in existence.

Created by Graham Stuart Thomas – one of the most important figures in 20th-century British horticulture – in the 1970s, Mottisfont’s walled gardens were chosen to house many varieties of rose that may otherwise have become extinct.

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.

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. In June the roses are accompanied by striking spires of white foxgloves.

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.

Mottisfont are currently developing a brand new garden in the first walled garden area, known as the ‘frameyard’, which will be officially launched in autumn. Visitors will get a first glimpse at the shape of this new garden before they reach the central walled gardens, where the historic rose collection puts in its enchanting display.

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-12pm 2-3pm 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.


Normal admission applies for late evening opening; free to National Trust members.
For more information, visit For more information about Mottisfont visit or call 01794 340757.

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