Rose combinations

We look at how Ragley Hall created a rose garden for the 21st century

For many years, the rose garden at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire consisted purely of roses. Following a major redesign completed in 2009, it now has an informal, contemporary feel, combining ribbons of roses with grasses, perennials, shrubs, climbers and small trees.

This new approach has brought healthier roses, greater biodiversity, and plenty of ideas for visitors looking for creative ways to use roses in their own gardens.

'Roses need 'friends', or companion plants, around them,' says Ross Barbour, who redesigned the garden. 'This draws in insects and their predators, keeping pests and diseases under control, and also gives a longer season of interest.'

We asked Ross about some of the garden's most successful combinations:

Getting the season started

Thousands of dwarf tulips (right) are used to give the season a head start - and planting cultivars with different flowering times ensures colour carries through until the roses have their first flush.

Tulipa 'Little Beauty' starts flowering in April, followed by T. 'Little Princess', which then blooms into May. 'By the time we need to get into the beds to start deadheading, the tulips are over - and the foliage hardly needs any tidying up,' says Ross.

Rosa 'Fascination' PoulmaxInsect magnets

Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' and Nepeta are also assets in the rose garden. They attract a huge number of insects, especially bees and hoverflies, and flower just as the roses begin to bloom; providing an attractive early display.

'They go well with almost any colour, especially pinks and yellows. Grown en masse they give great texture and make a good foil for the roses,' says Ross. The salvias are cut back to the ground in summer, allowing nerines to take over for late-summer interest.

Eryngium Big Blue

Late-season colour

Asters are one of the plants used to keep interest going until the first frosts. Aster turbinellus is loved by insects, and low, creeping A. ericoides f. prostratus 'Snow Flurry' makes a pretty edging, resembling drifts of snow.

Long-lived Eryngium zabelii 'Big Blue' (right) is another star plant - it attracts bees and butterflies and makes an impressive statement with its deep blue, architectural flowers. 'It changes from green through to blue then a silvery sheen. It makes a really eye-catching contrast to the roses,' says Ross.       

Ross's top five maintenance tips

  • Give roses some space - this will allow airflow between the plants, ensuring healthier plants, and also give easier access when pruning and deadheading.
  • Try using mycorrhizal fungi when planting. We have had good results.
  • Deadheading - keep at it!
  • We apply a handful of poultry manure to each plant at the start of April, end of May, and again in September.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment to find combinations that you like. If unsuccessful, you can always move your plants.

More rose collections to enjoy  


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