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Blog and News

Winter at Parham - news from the Garden

5th February 2020

Pruning roses and why the time to do it is now

February is such a wonderful time of year at Parham House & Gardens. The snowdrops, with their brilliant petals and vibrant leaves, have appeared in swathes underneath our veteran oak trees, bringing with them much needed cheer amid all the winter gloom.

These hardy little flowers are a sure sign that Spring is just around the corner, signalling the growth of new life. Indeed, this month it really feels like Parham is waking up after a deep, long sleep.

All this means that our garden team is as busy as ever. There’s plenty to do indoors this month to prepare for the season ahead – from cleaning out the glasshouse, greenhouses and polytunnel, to sowing seeds and growing all the plants and shrubs that will be on sale in the Garden Shop from Easter onwards. Outside there is all the weeding, mulching and – most importantly of all – the pruning to tackle.

Tim Miles, Parham’s Assistant Head Gardener, has been busy pruning Parham’s stunning climbing roses this week. We caught up with him to find out how it should be done.

Q: Why do we need to prune roses?

Tim: Essentially to encourage good flowering, to make something that looks beautiful and to encourage healthy and vigorous growth

Q: Why should this be done in winter?

Tim: It should be done while the plant is most dormant. However, it’s best to avoid frosty days, as the stems can become brittle and will snap more easily.

Q: What technique should you use?

Tim: To flower most prolifically, it is best that stems are as close to horizontal as possible. This encourages the buds along the length of the stems to break, providing you with many more flowering stems. In practice this looks best when stems are tied in soft arches, as this looks more like a rose’s natural growth. Roses are wild and romantic beasts, and should not be tamed into straight lines.

Q: Are there any stems you should focus on?

Tim: The growth that I find flowers most strongly are the new non-flowering stems produced in the summer just gone. While a framework of older stems is sometimes needed to reach the full extent of the structure the rose is grown against, the young canes should make up the majority of the rose.

Q: How hard should you prune?

Tim: Hard pruning encourages the growth of these young canes. I have yet to come across a climbing rose that doesn’t respond to a good hard prune with an abundance of new, vigorous shoots. Do not be timid with your secateurs and saw.

Q: How much should you cut back?

Tim: All of last summer’s flowering stems should be cut back to two buds and where possible older stems replaced with the new canes. When tying in new stems, the tips should be removed to again encourage buds to break along the full length of the cane. Up to a third of the length can be removed. Use sharp tools to help the plant heal, remove any dead and diseased wood, and clear up and burn the rose leaves from the ground to help reduce the spread of black spot.

Q: What tips do you have for creating good structure?

Tim: Remember that any structure you are training against probably starts at the ground, so train your roses to flower from the bottom to the top. Nothing looks worse than a mass of flowers 10ft up with bare stems below. Mulch with garden compost and at the start of spring – it is worth giving the rose high potassium feed.

Q: What are your plans for the rose garden at Parham?

Tim: We’re looking to add to the current rose collection, with more historic and species roses too. Make sure you visit us when we open again, so  hopefully you can see the results of all my hard work.

The weather might not be the most conducive for gardening, but if you can brave the bitter winds and odd drop of rain, it is really worth getting out into your gardens now as you will reap the benefits when Spring arrives in all its glory.

Tim graduated from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with distinction in July 2017 and that month began work at Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent. In 2018, Tim won the Chartered Institute of Horticulture’s Young Horticulturist of the Year competition. Tim and his wife, Head Gardener Erika Packard, joined Parham House & Gardens in September 2019. Their vision is to bring horticultural rigour and an artist’s eye to create a garden that honours its dramatic historic setting whilst providing an inspirational experience for its visitors.