The Great Rose Debate: are blooms better this year?

RHS Hampton Court is synonymous with roses and gardeners are reporting that 2023 is something special

Not since Tudor times has the rose so divided opinion, as gardeners debate whether the nation’s favourite flower is experiencing a vintage year.

War of the Roses

There’s no hard evidence to back up the anecdotal reports of exceptional blooms and unmatched fragrance, and for some, the jury is still out. Around the RHS, Wisley roses are reported to be largely normal and Hyde Hall roses were late to flower, but that doesn’t mean that reports of unusually wondrous roses are misplaced, as RHS Chief Horticulturist Guy Barter explains.

Discover the best roses at RHS Gardens

“I think there is an interaction between cultural regimes and the recent weather that has not favoured the more professional approach to roses, but has interacted favourably with the less rigorous regime to which domestic roses are subject. Also domestic roses are those that have survived and thrived in their respective gardens and are well suited to that particular site, with other roses dying out over the years and being removed.”

The right growing conditions

 Last year’s hot summer followed by a wet winter may be the reason that this season’s flowers have performed so well. Previous dry, stressful springs may have also contributed to making 2023 roses look better in comparison.

Other factors include: 

  • High light levels last summer probably favoured roses, or at least those on heaver soils, so strong plants went into winter.
  • Cold periods in December inhibited winter flowering so the plants kept their resources for spring rather than dissipating them in mild winter periods.
  • The cooler spring weather – particularly the lack of occasional hot days –has not triggered roses to flower early, so they are surging now in their peak season. It has also inhibited aphids, which multiply fastest in hot conditions.
  • Cold winters hold back unwelcome insects, added to possible higher numbers of hoverflies - the larvae of many hoverflies are voracious predators of aphids.
  • The dry, cool May has limited the potential for blackspot fungal disease, which thrives in wet, warm weather.

 What do the experts say? 

Daniel Myhill  – holder of the national collection of Rosa persica
 “We had some proper cold this winter – roses enjoy a good cold spell to help get into dormancy. Intensity of colour seems particularly good this year.”
Michael Marriott – rosarian and garden designer
“I would guess it’s a combination of the hot dry spell last year, plenty of rain over the winter and a cold winter too. The fragrance strength is enhanced when temperatures are high at the bud stage as it encourages the plant to make more of the precursors of the oils that create the fragrance when the flower is open. It was also made better by the warm, humid, windless conditions we experienced recently, especially first thing in the morning.”
Guy Barter – RHS Chief Horticulturist
 “Roses are all over the news due to perceived excellence of their blooms this early summer, and I rather think there is something in it. I hope people will be enthused to get out there and deadhead their repeat flowering roses so the display will go on. I cannot wait for the RHS Hampton Court Festival Rose Marquee.”

RHS Hampton Court Festival of Roses

It’s another reason to visit RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival this year to see the magnificent flowers in all their glory.  As well as in the Festival of Roses, the heady scent and gorgeous blooms can be enjoyed in the Floral Marquee and the Plant Village, where plants can be bought direct from the growers. There’ll be talks and demos from Flowers from the Farm, Plant Heritage celebrating their 45th year, and specialist exhibitors including David Austin Roses, Fryer’s Roses, Harkness Roses, Eastcroft Roses and Peter Beales Roses.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.