Meet: Anne Ruston, rose garden owner
Photo - Robin Powell
Anne Ruston is a South Australian senator, but for rose lovers the really important job she holds is as owner of Ruston Roses, a horticultural icon in South Australia, established by her uncle David. Robin Powell walked though the garden with her.
We’re surrounded by some 4000 different varieties of rose. How did all this come about?
My grandfather Cuthbert Sowersby Ruston was a soldier-settler who came here to the Riverland from England in 1919. He went into partnership with a friend so they had 30 acres of fruit trees, just enough to support two families.
When did the roses arrive?
My father and David are twins, but quite different. David always had a passion for flowers, especially roses. In those days the irrigation channels were open, and David planted roses along the banks. In fact he planted a rose wherever there was a spare patch of ground. Gradually people in the neighbourhood would ask for cuttings or ask him to do the roses for a daughter’s wedding. The roses pushed out the vines and fruit trees and David Ruston became synonymous with roses. By the mid-‘70s David had converted the whole orchard to roses.
'Claire', a David Austin rose, is Anne's favourite for its fragrance, vigour and long life in a vase.
When was the heyday of Ruston Roses?
I would say the ‘90s. We specialised in cut flowers and sold grafting wood to nurseries.
Then what happened?
In two words: globalisation and drought. West Africa, and then later South America, started to compete on cut flowers. They could grow them, gas them, pack them, ship them and land them cheaper than we could grow them. They might not smell and they might not last, but they were cheap.
At the same time we were hit by drought. David was thinking about retirement and there was no succession plan. I’d just had my son and didn’t want to go back to my corporate life so the timing was right, and we came back and took on the business. It’s been tough, and we had to make some changes to survive, but now our focus is on tourism – though we still do some cut flowers. We host weddings, have a restaurant, café and shop and invite people to come and enjoy at the gardens.
Perfectly perfumed 'Mister Lincoln'.
You’ve grown up surrounded by roses, do you have a favourite?
I do really love ‘Claire’. She’s a David Austin, of the prettiest pink, vigorous, flowers really well and holds up to a month in a vase. Her only drawback is that she marks easily on the leaves if there is rain or even dew. She smells lovely too, and to my mind a rose must smell. A rose without a scent is like a guard dog without a bite, or a wedding without a bride!
If roses should smell, which ones smells the best?
No question: ‘Mister Lincoln’ ! There is a great range of fragrances in roses, but I think that when people think of rose perfume the scent they imagine is what ‘Mister Lincoln’ smells like.