Roses in the Potager Garden

I had never intended to have a rose garden. I have always poked my roses into mixed borders - next to a flax, or a hebe, or a collection of bergenias and tussocks.

Last year's new rugosa border might have started off rosy, but it soon filled up with everything else needing a home - daylilies from one friend, aquilegias from another, penstemons and stachys, lavenders for the bees, alchemilla mollis and euphorbias of the brightest yellow...

 This photo was taken in November.
new roses flowering in the potager

In the middle of last winter I had big plans for my vege garden. It would be enlarged and would transform itself into a potager. I felt very righteous - this was to be a disciplined design, and I would grow coloured lettuces and all sorts of beans and become a responsible mother of a vegetarian.

Rules of the Potager

I would stake, water, and nurture the heirloom tomatoes. Sweet peas on wigwams would appease my British garden ancestors. A pergola would be constructed at the potager's edge, allowing perhaps a couple of Crepuscule roses, and maybe a lavender edging, but that was all.

 Pink and purple penstemons surrounding an unknown pink rose.
roses surrounded by perennials

I dug and dug and felt more and more righteous. Two old locations of my compost heaps were levelled, weeded and dug. I dug a bit more of the lawn, right up to the side of the wood shed - a hot spot perfect for the growing of scarlet runner beans. I laid out the brick "paths" in straight lines, angled to each other. I ordered purple beans and lettuces with crazy names.

New Life For Old Roses

At this point fate intervened. I run a retirement home here for old roses. This means that whenever any friend complains about nuisance roses I arrive with shovel and trailer.

Every rejected rose is given a new chance. So when a local friend had a rose cleanout, I knew I would say yes to every rose offered - a good excuse to widen a border, extend a bit of garden...

 This rose came from the bare root rose sale without a label.
unknown yellow rose

Rose Sales

I had visited a particularly cheap bare root rose sale and bought - well - six or seven roses when my local friend rang. Would I like a few roses that she was tired of? Two trailer loads later I surveyed my new acquisitions - a Margaret Merril, a couple of Sexy Rexy roses, a Lavender Lassie, some Jayne Austins and a Penelope, and a Mary Rose which was simply in the wrong place.

It was the end of the weekend, there was one hour of daylight left, and I now had sixteen bare root roses to heel in. I had a slight problem.

The answer was obvious. The newly dug potager would provide the perfect place, until further decisions needed to be made.

 The colour of this rose reminds me of fruit salad.
Pat Austin with penstemon and lavatera

The Roses Take Over

But I didn't just heel them in. They would have looked far too untidy, and after all a potager has to have an orderly design, even if it is being used as an area of transition. So each rose was planted properly upright, almost in properly spaced rows, and mulched with compost and pea-straw.

And that was how my potager became a rose garden. The sweet peas never quite made it, nor did the purple beans. Spring came in a rush of sprouting new growth. Stray perennials and lavender bushes barged in to join the rose inhabitants, along with a mail order iris collection.

Let's face it - I'm a potager fraud! My roses have taken over!