The Trimper rose garden

The Trimper rose garden

One of the most remarkable rose gardens I’ve ever visited was not in a stately home or park but in the grounds of a bungalow in Adelaide.

 

It belonged to Kelvin and Melanie Trimper, icons of the Australian rose scene and beyond. Kelvin Trimper was a world-renowned rose expert and a former president of the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS). Among his activities there was to support plant breeders’ rights in China.

When the WFRS held its triennial international conference in Adelaide in October 2022, he and Melanie hosted a visit for delegates.

Vibrant

Kelvin, who unexpectedly died this year at the age of 69, was a larger-than-life character. And this one-acre garden, started in 1993, was the perfect expression of his personality – vibrant, abundant and grown to perfection.

Paying tribute to her husband at his funeral, Melanie wrote: “In Kelvin’s life there were no small numbers. We had 2,000 roses, 40 fruit trees, 10,000 bulbs, and I still don’t know how we ended up with just having two children!”

Though we were visiting at the height of the Australian summer it was a stinker of a week. As you can see from the video, half-way through our visit we had a hailstorm. So the roses had taken a severe beating, and yet still looked spectacular.

https://youtube.com/shorts/s3X_qOzR4bY?si=LfJYWOs3RrffKjug 

Trimper rose roots

Kelvin’s association with roses began from childhood – his parents, Eric and Myrtle Trimper, both won the Australian Rose Award (as did he) and they were friends with the great Australian rosarian David Ruston. Kelvin helped Ruston bud the first 5,000 roses in his parent’s garden.

He liked to say: “If the world took only five minutes to smell a rose, it would be in a better place.”

Melanie is a serious rosarian too – this garden was a family effort. She is also a great photographer (she would have done a lot better job illustrating this blog than I have). In 2022 the Australian post office issued a set of rose stamps and used one of her photographs  – of ‘Lorraine Lee’ – on one of them.

Melanie is downsizing. As I write this great rose garden is likely to disappear – or at least shrink. I hope the family who buy it love roses. Whatever happens, the memories of visiting this garden and meeting its creators will live with me for many years to come.

Parc del Roserar de Dot i de Camprubí

Parc del Roserar de Dot i de Camprubí

This garden in San Feliu de Llobregat, within easy reach of Barcelona, was created in 1997 and dedicated to Catalonia’s most notable rose breeders. It holds over 2,000 roses and more than 400 varieties.

 

It was the brainchild of Jaume Garcia i Urpi, who has scoured the world to recover lost roses from two families of rose breeders in pariticular – the Dots and Camprubís. My particular fascination is with the prolific Pere Dot – known as Pedro Dot outside Spain – who was born in 1885. His rival, Cebrià Camprubí’, was born in 1889. Both lived and worked through tumultuous times in Spanish history.

Jaume Garcia i Urpi is writing a biography of the Dot family

Jaume says: “The Dot family alone bred over 270 varieties, of which 180 were by Pere, who started the business in the 1920s. In the rose garden we have 92 rose bushes from him and 81 from his children and grandchildren. About 30 remain to be restored. The rest we believe have been lost forever. It is an important part of the town’s heritage and I want to preserve these roses for the people.”

This is the largest Dot collection in the world. It has been built with the help of collectors sending cuttings which have been patiently grafted and grown on. Soon before I visited in May 2023, ‘Marí Dot’ arrived in the garden – export restrictions meant it took five years to get a cutting from California, where it was found. The rose was created in 1927 and dedicated to Pere Dot’s son, Marino.

Creating this garden has been a slow, laborious task, and faced a number of perils – from wild boars uprooting the grafted stock offsite, to a financial crisis when in 2006 the local council withdrew funding. It took five years before it was reinstated and the garden reopened. During that time many roses were lost and the collection had to be restored, with the help of the Dot family, who until this year have taken responsibility for reproducing roses for the garden using donated cuttings.

Parc del Roserar de Dot i de Camprubí in St Feliu de Llobregat, Spain – the world’s biggest collection of Dot roses

No pesticides are used at the park, and some of the roses respond better than others to the modern regime. The roses are monitored closely and, if there are any losses, attempts are made to reproduce them again.

Unless you are a serious rose afficionado it is probably not worth making a serious effort to get to, but if you time your visit to coincide with the annual “National Rose Festival”, held here each May, then you are unlikely to be disappointed. You’ll see amazing flower arrangements, a display of competition roses and the whole town buzzing.

At Spain’s National Rose Festival, roses from members of the Dot family feature strongly. Left to right front row: ‘Armor’ by Marí Dot; ‘Rosa Sant Feliu’ by Victor Dot, and ‘Profesor Pañella’ by Simó Dot

If you are in Barcelona at that time of year, make a visit to the rose garden at the Parc de Cervantes, too. The rose beds are great and you may get chance to see the international rose trial beds – here breeders from around the world compete against each other with their newest creations, hoping to win a prestigious award.

Learn more about rose trials in this video.

Mottisfont – the National Trust collection of old roses

Mottisfont – the National Trust collection of old roses

Ask any old rose lover in the UK to name their favourite rose gardens and the chances are that among the top three will be Mottisfont in Hampshire.

 

This is the home of the National Trust’s collection of old (pre-1900) roses, collected by the legendary Graham Thomas, the Trust’s first gardens adviser. There are over 500 roses in the walled garden. At peak season it can be busy so try to get there early or at the end of the day for some peaceful enjoyment (the Trust extends the garden’s opening hours in the peak season).

Most of these old roses only bloom once. Though this may be disappointing to some and mean you have a small window of opportunity to see the garden at its best, the upside is that when they bloom in June many of these roses give it their all and look fabulous.

Mottisfont was a priory at the time of the dissolution. It is likely that roses were grown there for medicinal purposes.

After 1536 the priory was handed to Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Sandys. He demolished the priory and built a Tudor ‘palace’ – Edward VI visited in 1552, and Queen Elizabeth I dropped in on two occasions. Over the centuries it was modernised, the house expanded and the walled garden built. The house and 2,080-acre estate were handed to the National Trust in 1957.

In the post-war period there was a strong fashion for hybrid tea roses, which had been developed for their ability to perform in rose competitions. The hybrid tea (with its almost tulip-shaped bloom – the sort people give on Valentine’s day) became the rose most people thought of and chose to plant.

It meant the old once-flowering shrub-like roses began to be lost. Graham Thomas began building a collection. For 40 years he travelled the country collecting cuttings of old roses from other fans, including Vita Sackville-West.

Studying the bloom, prickles, leaves and hips he was often able to identify roses thought lost. One of these was the ‘Quatre Saisons’ rose, or ‘Autumn Damask’.  It was grown by the Romans and one story suggests it was brought to England some time before 1513 by a young Englishman working as a mercantile agent in Venice. His name was Thomas Cromwell.

Yes, that is the same Thomas Cromwell who went on to become Henry VIII’s bruiser and who organised the dissolution of the monasteries that brought an end to the life of the Priory that once stood at Mottisfont.

Interestingly, Cromwell’s rose nearly disappeared in the 20th century, but Thomas rediscovered it, rescued it and grew it at Mottisfont. I don’t know if that’s irony or symmetry.

For a long time the ‘Autumn Damask’ was the only rose in England know to flower more than once – in early Summer and Autumn. Robert Calkin, the fragrance expert who created the scent descriptions for David Austin’s roses, says: “If sunshine had a fragrance it would be like this rose.”

Many rosarians will tell you that Mottisfont is not the garden it was in Thomas’s time. In recent years management at Mottisfont seem to have wearied of this collection of roses. Many of them require too much attention to look their best. Modern roses are bred to require no insecticides and fungicides, and it is fair to say that some of the old roses are not holding up well to an organic regime. But plenty are. There is a reason they have survived – their owners loved and tended them.

In its pomp, therefore, the garden is still a sight to behold. It is well worth a visit, and so close to the New Forest that you can make a great weekend of it. If you can, try to visit Hinton Ampner – another fine garden – while you are in the area.