Casual Gardener: 'Roseglass' masterclass

Appreciation of the rose grows when you understand its diversity...

The rose 'Dorothy Perkins' clambers over an at outhouse

I MUST confess to having never been a big fan of conventional roses. I've always preferred my roses like my women – the wilder the better.

Roses tend to evoke an image of post-war suburbia and a 'gentleman' tending his manicured garden dressed in a tank-top, shirt and tie, with a pipe sticking out of their mouth at a 45 degree angle.

For me, their widespread popularity has sat alongside that of the film Shawshank Redemption and the band Oasis, in that I never could fully comprehend it.

But I've had a mild epiphany, having spent a few hours in the company of Co Down man Bernard Mageniss, and the 120 varieties of rose he grows in his seaside garden at Rossglass – or should that be Rose-glass? – near Killough.

As he provides a potted history and introduction to the various characteristics that define floribunda, rambler, climber, patio rose, hybrid tea, which are then subdivided into 'old' or heritage varieties and new roses, with the latter tending to be healthier and in flower for longer periods, it becomes apparent that there's a rose somewhere to suit everybody.

From urban to rural, traditional to cutting edge, you can find a rose to suit your context and taste.

Bernard's association with the roses in his garden dates back to before he was born, when the pink-red rambler 'Dorothy Perkins' was planted at the rear of the family home he still lives in.

He reckons the original bush is 100 years old, with others through the garden grown from countless 'slips' (cuttings) he's taken during his seven-plus decades.

Of an equal vintage is another white rambler that grows in the garden, the surprise at its age equalled by the fact that unusually the variety's name has never been known to my host – a narrow gap in Bernard's extensive knowledge.

Bernard Mageniss

His collection is augmented every year and has long outgrown the enclosed and sheltered rose garden at the rear, a piece of ground cultivated for well over a century, having historically served as the homestead's vegetable garden.

His latest additions this year are heritage roses sourced from Byrne's Nursery in nearby Downpatrick, including 'Fantin Latour', 'Louise Odier' and 'Ferdinand Pichard'.

Nomenclature is important in botany and horticulture but with roses it seemingly takes on even greater significance with breeders increasingly inclined to name the ever-growing number of varieties after celebrities or historical figures.

This is underlined as Bernard, also a painter of his surrounding landscape and the occasional flower, talks about his planned additions from the 'Painters Collection' bred by the French Delbard stable, arriving via Dublin-based Mr Middleton, with names that include 'Paul Gaugin', 'Paul Cezanne' and 'Claude Monet', the impressionist who said of his beloved Giverny: "My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece."

Bernard says it's been a good year for roses latterly, in his part of the world at least, where the prolonged dry spell has reduced the threat from black spot but heightened the need for watering these especially thirsty plants.

Regardless of weather conditions he recommends a regular mulching with farmyard manure throughout the growing season, alongside a dose of black spot treatment fungicide alternated with a spray of diluted sulphur, which he says acts as a "tonic" for the rose bushes.

When Bernard mentions the "headache" of constant dead-heading in order to encourage more flowers, I begin to recall that it was mostly the high maintenance involved that put me off roses. But then I realise that perhaps something so beautiful and rewarding deserves some extra attention.

The Rose Garden and Barn Gallery at Rossglass are open daily.

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