From Schoolboy to Rose Breeder
With his new passion for roses, David decided to take up rose growing as a hobby, ordering his first few plants when he was in his early twenties. Beguiled by their beauty, his interest only really lay with the Old Roses, but with the fashion at the time being for modern Hybrid Teas, he decided to order a few varieties to compare the two groups.
Although he wasn’t charmed by the Hybrid Teas he did recognise the attributes they possessed that the Old Roses lacked: a much wider colour range and the ability to repeat flower. This was his light bulb moment, the realisation that he had the opportunity to create something entirely new — a rose with the beauty and fragrance of his much-loved Old Roses but with the benefits of modern roses.
Coming Into Bloom
By 1969 David had refined the breeding process and launched his first range of repeat-flowering ‘English Roses’, the name he coined for his ground-breaking varieties that fused the old with the new. He reasoned that the French have the Gallica roses, the Scottish the Scots, so why shouldn’t the English also have a group of roses to call their own ̶ especially with the rose being so intertwined in England’s culture and history.
The early years were quite a struggle, particularly because he was trying to compete with so many other rose nurseries. However, with the support of his wife Pat, combined with the unique combination of attributes his roses had to offer, the English Roses grew in popularity and the Old Rose style began to enjoy a long overdue renaissance.
GROWTH and recognition
In 1983 David experienced his first real breakthrough when he introduced three English Roses at the Chelsea Flower Show, including the rose named after his good friend and mentor, the revered horticulturist, Graham Thomas. The response from the press, as well as the general public, to Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ (Ausmas) was overwhelming and David credited it with being the rose most responsible for the recognition and success of the English Roses. The following year saw the first of many gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and the David Austin rose garden gradually became one of the highlights for visitors, which continues to this day.
With the increased popularity, the nursery business started to grow, the extra income meaning that the rusty, draughty old barns could be replaced by modern packing sheds and the falling down breeding greenhouses replaced by bigger and more spacious ones, although still second-hand. The fledgling rose garden, now considered one of the most beautiful rose gardens in the world, also increased in size.
Leading the industry with award winning roses
David’s unwavering pursuit of an ever more beautiful rose continued to reap rewards, with both his breeding achievements and his roses receiving accolade after accolade.
His rose breeding endeavours have resulted in a number of awards; from receiving an OBE in 2007 for services to horticulture, one of his proudest achievements, of which he famously said: “Every day, I marvel at my good fortune to have been able to make a life out of breeding roses. My greatest satisfaction is to see the pleasure my roses give to gardeners and rose lovers around the world,” to being awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour from the RHS, an honorary degree from the University of East London and the Dean Hole medal from the Royal National Rose Society.
His roses too have won many awards around the world. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ was twice voted the UK’s favourite and 28 English Roses have also been honoured with the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. The garden at Albrighton, both home to David Austin and the National Collection of his English Roses, received the Award of Garden Excellence from the WFRS in 2015.
Over 30 years of exhibiting at RHS Chelsea and RHS Hampton Court Palace, have together, resulted in 43 gold medals to date.
" Everyday, I marvel at my good fortune to have been able to make a life out of breeding roses. My greatest satisfaction is to see the pleasure my roses give to gardeners and rose lovers worldwide."
David Austin Snr.