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Flowering Pride - A look at Yorkshire Roses

PUBLISHED: 16:05 29 June 2011 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013

Flowering Pride - A look at Yorkshire Roses

Flowering Pride - A look at Yorkshire Roses

There is hardly a bloom that has so much meaning for so many people than the rose as Martin Fish explains

Yorkshire has a long association with roses, especially white ones. The white rose of York is said to date back as far as the 14th century when one of King Edward IIIs sons was created the first Duke of York. He adopted the white rose as his emblem and founded the House of York.

It was during the civil wars of the 15th century that the white rose was used as the symbol of the Yorkist forces in battles again the House of Lancaster which used a red rose, hence the Wars of the Roses.

The conflict went on for many years with battles fought across the country, but it all ended when King Henry VII symbolically joined together the two roses to form the red and white Tudor Rose. This brought an end to the Plantagenet kings and the Tudor dynasty was formed.

However, despite the white rose being the emblem of the House of York, it wasnt generally used in association with the county of Yorkshire until much later, mainly because the Dukes of York held very little land in the county and lived for much of the time in the south of England.

On August 1st 1759 at the battle of Minden in Prussia (now Germany), Yorkshiremen of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry picked white roses from bushes close to the battlefield and wore them as a tribute to their fallen colleagues. This act by the soldiers is thought to have really brought together the white rose and Yorkshire.

In more recent times the August 1st is now celebrated as Yorkshire day, when once again the white rose is featured.

As to the origins of the white rose, the choice is rather limited. Although the Romans and Ancient Greeks grew roses thousands of years ago, in England, in the 14th century, roses where not widely grown. Early crusaders brought back some varieties such as Rosa alba which tended to be grown in monastery gardens, otherwise it would have been the native roses that we see today growing in hedgerows. The common dog rose (Rosa canina) tends to be pink, but occasionally you see white flowers, or it could have been the white field rose, Rosa arvensis.

Nowadays, rose growing is very popular and each year new roses are introduced. They are produced by hybridisation whereby two parent roses are crossed together. This process occurs naturally in the wild and of course it is also done by rose breeders in controlled conditions.

One of the countrys leading rose growers, Harkness Roses, has its roots in Yorkshire. The nursery was started in 1879 and remained here for 80 years before relocating to Hertfordshire. At the Chelsea Flower Show back in May Harkness launched a new rose called York Minster.

This is a lovely rose that grows to around 100cm tall and produces very attractive blooms blushed with amber. The flowers are scented and enjoy a long season on a disease resistant, easy to grow bush. It was named to help raise funds for restoration work at York Minster and Im sure this will be a popular rose.

David Austin Roses are also extremely well known and for over 50 years have been breeding English roses that combine the fragrance and beauty of old-fashioned roses with the reliability, health and repeat flowering of modern roses.

Three new roses from David Austin that have caught my eye are William & Catherine, Queen Anne and Wollerton Old Hall. William & Catherine, named to celebrate their marriage, is an English rose with fragrant, double flowers that are soft cream apricot colour when they first open, but later fade to cream and white. It really is an attractive plant growing to about 120cm and will continue to flower throughout the summer.

Queen Anne is an upright growing bush and produces medium size pure rose pink flowers with slightly paler outer petals. Again, the flowers have a delicious fragrance and the bush has good disease resistance.

Wollerton Old Hall is the most fragrant rose of the 2011 introductions. It has a distinct myrrh scent rarely found in modern roses. The buds open to form round, rich buttery yellow flowers that fade to a softer cream colour with a hint of pink. This really is a lovely rose that grows to approximately 150cm tall.

Its not only professional rose growers that breed new roses. Amateur rose enthusiasts hybridise roses and over the years many of the popular roses that we see in garden centres have come from an amateur grower. Breeding a new rose is a time consuming job and for every new rose that is introduced, thousands are rejected.

To produce a new rose the breeder will select two parent roses and these are then cross-pollinated. Seed is produced and grown on and assessed not only for its flower but also for the habit of the plant, leaf colour and disease resistance.

The Amateur Rose Breeders Association (ARBA) has a strong membership in Yorkshire and a trial ground at R. V. Rogers nursery at Pickering in North Yorkshire where new seedlings are put through their paces. At this years Harrogate Autumn Flower Show (September 16th-18th) members of ARBA will be displaying their new roses and the public will be given the chance to vote for their favourite.

Top tips to keep your roses blooming


Most roses flower on new stems, so prune in March to remove dead and weak shoots to encourage strong new growth.


Feed with a rose fertiliser when new shoots start to develop in spring. This feed contains the correct nutrient balance for healthy growth and flower bud formation.


Check for aphids on new shoots and rub them off by hand. If done regularly you shouldnt need to spray with an insecticide.


Modern roses tend to have a good resistance to diseases but old varieties may be attacked by fungal diseases. Regular spraying with a rose fungicide will help to keep roses free from mildew and black spot.


To keep roses flowering through the summer, remove faded flower heads on a regular basis. The easiest way to do this is to simply snap off the dead heads.


In autumn, prune bush roses down by one third to prevent the long growth being blown around by strong autumnal winds and also to allow the rose bush to have a well-earned rest before the onset of winter.

Martin Fish is Show Director for the North of England Horticultural Society organisers of the Harrogate Flower Shows. He is a qualified horticulturist and writes for several gardening publications and broadcasts for the BBC.

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