The Heritage, South Australia
Pierre de Ronsard, a climbing pink rose. Photo - Robin Powell
A walk around The Heritage with celebrated South Australian rosarian.
Want roses like this? We picked up some fabulous tips from rosarian Walter Duncan on a recent visit to his lovely Heritage Garden in South Australia's Clare Valley.
If you love roses chances are you’ve grown a rose propagated by Walter Duncan. In his many years as a rose grower Walter propagated millions of roses. He gave up his nursery a few years ago, but he’s certainly not given up growing roses. At his property The Heritage Garden, in South Australia’s pretty Clare Valley, Walter and his wife Kay grow one of the country’s loveliest rose gardens. We visit the garden on our Great Southern Rail tour in spring, and we find it hard to leave. The roses are magnificent and the garden has a charm and serenity that make you feel right at home. What makes this garden one of the tour highlights for our travellers though is Walter himself. Like his garden he is charming and generous, and is also an entertaining storyteller and an inexhaustible well of knowledge. Here are a few of the things we learn about roses as we walk around Walter’s garden.
Photo - Robin Powell
Walter grows plenty of shrub roses and he also grows some roses as standards. But the real impact in the garden comes from all the climbing roses he grows. Climbers loop along the edge of the back veranda, framing the view into the garden from the lounge room. For this prime position, Walter chose the cool-pink ‘Mme Gregoire Straechlin’, to follow the wisteria that also trails along the roof of the veranda. The pink buds of ‘Mme’ are just breaking into colour as the wisteria starts to fade and fall, and the pair are a complementary team. At the front of the house the creamy white flowers of ‘Lamarque’ dazzle. On the multi-arched allee that forms the focal point of the front garden, Walter grows ‘Souvenir de Malmaison’. This old soft pink rose has a tendency to ball and look like a crumpled tissue when it rains, but in South Australia’s dry warm spring it is the very essence of romance. It’s subtle perfume scents the allee and soft petals fall like confetti onto the grass beneath.
The Heritage. 'Mme Gregoire Straechim', which grows up the pillars and along the posts of the veranda, was chosen to complement the final fading flowers of the wisteria. Photo - Robin Powell
The allee of Souvenir de Malmaison. Photo - Robin Powell
Grow roses horizontally
The key to maximising the flower production on climbers is to train the growth that reaches for the sky onto a horizontal plane. The shoots that emerge from the base of a climber are called the main canes. By training these somewhere between horizontal and 45 degrees they produce more lateral shoots. Lateral shoots are the flower producers so more laterals mean more flowers. As a bonus, these shoots produce even more flowers when the sap doesn’t have to travel so far against gravity. To take advantage of this effect Walter grows roses as swags along the front of borders and beds. (A swag is like a rope looped between posts, less than a metre off the ground.) Roses are also grown on the horizontal along the galvanised iron walls of sheds. A sepia-tinted climbing ‘Julia’s Rose’ and an almost impossibly floriferous ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ are both grown in this way.
'Lamarque' drapes the veranda at the front of the house, and there are more roses - standards, bush and swags - in front. The brilliant red is the David Austin rose 'William Shakespeare 2000'. Photo - Robin Powell
'Pierre de Ronsard' is trained horizontally to maximise flower production. It works! Photo - Robin Powell
Rose 'Crepescule'. Photo - Robin Powell
Make king-size beds
Municipal rose gardens tend to look like 18th century botanic gardens, with individual plants in ordered beds, their bare legs somehow indecent. In a garden, roses look best in company. Walter uses foxgloves, iris, valerian, poppies, forget-me-not and erigeron in beds that are a few metres wide. This gives enough space for everything to have room to spread and be comfortable, while still cuddling up to its partner and giving a sense of fullness to the bed
Photo - Robin Powell
Roses are survivors and will battle on against neglect, by my don’t they love luxurious hospitality! Walter is as generous with his roses as he is with his guests. Roses are given feasts of Sudden Impact for Roses twice a year. The first feed is in the third week of August, when each plant gets a double handful of fertiliser to feed the spring flush of flowers which are at their best by the end of October and into November. The roses are then simply deadheaded and watered once a week and allowed to coast through the hottest part of summer.
In the first week of February Walter gets out the secateurs again and trims them back by about 15cm to bring on an autumn flush of flowers by about the first or second week of April. To feed that flush, the roses are again fed with a double handful of Sudden Impact, with a deep watering the day before the feeding, and the day after.
Walter partners roses with iris, poppies and valerian in wide beds. Photo - Robin Powell