Nurseryman David Austin, one of the best known and most successful rose breeders of the last 50 years, died on 18 December 2018, aged 92
David Charles Henry Austin was born 16 February 1926 in Albrighton in Shropshire, the son of a farmer. The family moved to Shrewsbury on the eve of the Second World War, but later returned to Albrighton when David went to work on the family farm. He was already showing an amateur interest in breeding roses, and developed a friendship with plantsman and rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas.
David’s first successful hybrid, a cross between Rosa ‘Belle Isis’ and R. ‘Dainty Maid’, flowered in 1961; he took it to Thomas, who named it after florist Constance Spry, and David’s career was set. By 1969 he was doing a sufficient trade that he established David Austin Roses at the Albrighton farm.
A life in roses
In 1983 he began exhibiting his roses at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and his success spread internationally. He became particularly identified with what he called ‘English Roses’, of which Constance Spry (‘Ausfirst’) was the progenitor: crosses between old roses and modern repeat-flowering roses, selected for fragrance and rosette form.
The nursery with its plant centre and extensive world-renowned rose gardens grew, as did and the number of his rose introductions – to date more than 200 roses have been made available. By the start of the 21st century David Austin Roses Limited was probably the most successful rose ‘brand’ in the world.
The annual catalogues of David Austin Roses are sought after for their descriptive text. In the 1980s David began to publish on a larger scale, with his historical study The Heritage of the Rose (1988), followed by Old Roses and English Roses (1992), David Austin’s English Roses (1993; voted Gardening Book of the Year by the Garden Writers’ Guild), and Shrub Roses and Climbing Roses (1999).
In 2001 David was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH) by the RHS, and the following year the Dean Hole Medal by the Royal National Rose Society. In 2004 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Garden Centre Association. He was awarded the OBE in 2007. In 2010 he was named ‘Great Rosarian of the World’ by American rose-growing societies.
In 1956 he married Patricia Braithwaite (who died in 2007), who developed a career as a sculptor, and they had three children, of whom their son David succeeded to the management of the company, and their daughter Claire developed her own hardy plant nursery.
Read an article featuring David Austin from The Garden