Text by Sally Ferguson
Roses are jewels of the summer garden and, as with their mineral cousins, their beauty is enhanced when placed in the right setting. According to rose expert Michael Marriott, senior rosarian and technical manager of David Austin Roses Ltd in Albrighton, England, roses are beautifully suited to mixed garden borders. The trick to combining roses successfully with other garden plants lies in knowing which will play well together.
“There’s no one way to plant roses,” says Marriott. "Wherever you put them they steal the scene. But don’t mistake roses for loners or divas. Most roses, and especially the soft-colored David Austin English Roses, are highly cooperative, companionable garden plants."
Marriott has a knack for choosing bloom partners for English Roses. He's spent 35 years with David Austin Roses, and is the designer of beautiful rose gardens across Great Britain, Europe, North America, Australia and the Far East.
The best partners, he says, bloom exactly together or in close overlap. “The joy is in pairing flowers that play off one another, when seen side by side in full bloom. The goal is to heighten peak bloom experiences. Extending the bloom season is a different exercise.
Marriott has a special fondness for showcasing the romantic informality of English Roses by pairing them with cottage garden favorites and small-flowered plants with the look of wildflowers. Some partners bloom with English Roses earlier in the season, some later and some all season long. Shorter companions provide a nice understory for roses, while same-height companions are, as Goldilocks might put it, just right. Taller companions are typically more architectural, thus marvelous as vertical accents among English Roses. Other companions contribute beautiful foliage.
Marriott's border designs feature massed plantings of like-with-like that create an overall calming effect. He often favors sweeps of color – both complementary and contrasting – to create movement and lead the eye. An organic gardener, he incorporates plants that are attractive to beneficial insects likely to dine on aphids and other pests.
While it’s true that every gardener and growing situation is different, he says, many may find useful nuggets in what he’s learned over the years.
A Short List of Bloom Partners for English Roses
Following is Michael Marriott’s short list of favorite companion categories for English Roses, including perennials, annuals, biennials and flowering shrubs suited to various growing situations. Gardeners will want to vet candidates of interest, choosing plants that will thrive in their home setting and climate zone.
Favorite Blue Perennials
Eryngium (sea holly)
Scabiosa (pincushion flower)
Favorite Perennials in Other Colors
Lychnis (rose campion)
Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
Veronicastrum (Culver’s root)
Thalictrum (meadow rue)
Plus additional colors of asters, geraniums, verbena and veronica
some of the Eryngium (sea holly)
Ammi majus (bishop’s flower)
Anchusa (viper’s bugloss)
Nicotiana, especially N. mutabilis (flowering tobacco)
Nigella (love in a mist)
Phacelia (blue tansy)
Lathyrus odoratus (sweet pea)
Cercis (eastern redbud)
Lavandula (English lavender)
Philadelphus (mock orange)
Images credit: David Austin Roses