Spalding Guardian Gardening 2 August 2012
Most roses are pruned in either the autumn or the early spring, depending on how you feel (I have pruned in November for decades with good results; this year I pruned my bush and climbing roses in March and they’ve been rubbish, but this may be more down to the weather than the pruning). There is one type of rose, however, that should always be pruned immediately after flowering, because, if not, it will sooner or later get into an awful mess. This is the true rambler that flowers once in the summer on new shoots produced from near the base during the previous summer, such as ‘Dorothy Perkins’, ‘American Pillar’, ‘Emily Gray’, ‘Rambling Rector’ and ‘Francis E. Lester’. Most of these are very strong growing, and without serious pruning, although they will also produce flowering shoots from further up the bush, they can rapidly get into an horrendous tangle.
The pergola we walk through from the back of the cottage was getting into just such a parlous state, not helped by the fact that there is one rambler (‘American Pillar’), two climbers (the pillar rose ‘Handel’ and the rampant Old Rose ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’) on this structure, each one requiring different pruning techniques. This bad planning is mainly due to the fact that I have had demonstration plants left over from television programmes and lectures over the years and, not wishing to dispose of them afterwards, they have been shoved in where there was any half-suitable space –an unplanned planting that has made life very difficult at times, although the effect is reasonably good.
‘Handel’ is pruned like a large floribunda while dormant; ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ needs hard pruning, after the first flush of flowers and again sometime from November till March; and ‘American Pillar’, being a true rambler, should be cut hard back to a strong new shoot from the base or just above as the flowers fade – a kind of drastic deadheading. To make life easier, for the last three years I have treated them all similarly, dead-heading and tying in throughout the summer and taking out some of the really old shoots in the autumn.
This treatment is fine for a short period, but eventually ends up as a complete jungle which needs to be sorted in order to keep the roses healthy and the pergola good to look at the following season. So last week I took the bull by the horns and set about ‘American Pillar’ with secateurs and pruning saw until all that was left was new growth produced this year from the base or no more than a metre above. There was still ample to tie in to the supports, cross pieces and the chains linking the pergola to the house and next summer there should be just as good a display as there was this July.
Some of the long, whippy branches of the ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ I gave a good shortening back, to remove the tangle of thin shoots it had produced near the top, and the ‘Handel’ was dead-headed rather more severely than I normally do at this time, to make the whole planting uniformly tidy. The honeysuckle which is in flower at the moment that intertwines the roses has ensured there is still enough to see (and smell), and although looking out from the back door is still a bit of a shock, I can now sit in the conservatory, which looks out onto this feature at one side, and drink my morning coffee with a clear conscience.
No doubt the plethora of thorns in my fingers and thumbs will stop festering and work their way out in due course…….
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian