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English Roses Are in Danger Due to Climate Change

In 1969, David Austin, a prominent horticulturist and rose breeder, started to develop English roses to combine the best characteristics of modern hybrid roses with the best of the so-called Old Roses developed before 1867. As a result, English roses - also known as David Austin Roses - have been shaped and evolved until today.

At present, English roses, cherished for their elegance, fragrance, and enchanting beauty, are now facing a formidable threat: climate change. As global temperatures rise and weather patterns become increasingly erratic, these beloved flowers find it increasingly challenging to flourish in their traditional habitats. The impacts of climate change, including heat stress, altered rainfall patterns, and disrupted bloom cycles, place English roses in jeopardy. In this regard, it is imperative that we understand the urgency of the situation and take immediate action to protect English roses from the adverse effects of a changing climate.

The History of English Roses

As stated, the development of English roses began in the 1950s when David Austin became determined to create a new type of rose that combined the best qualities of old-fashioned roses, such as their fragrance and charm, with the repeat-flowering ability and disease resistance of modern hybrid tea roses.

Austin spent many years working on this project, crossing old-fashioned roses, such as rose gallica (French rose) and damasks, with modern roses, including hybrid teas and floribundas. He carefully selected only the best plants from each cross, using a rigorous process of testing and evaluation.

Over time, David Austin began to see success in his breeding program, with the first English rose, ‘’Constance Spry’’, being introduced in 1961. This rose, named after a famous British florist, was a huge success, and it quickly became clear that Austin was onto something special. Austin continued to refine his breeding program over the next few decades, introducing many new and exciting varieties of English roses. These roses were highly sought-after by gardeners and rose enthusiasts worldwide, and they quickly became one of the most popular types of rose.

One of the most essential characteristics of English roses is their strong, heady fragrance. This fragrance is often described as being reminiscent of old-fashioned roses, with a sweet, spicy, and slightly musky scent. The petals of English roses are also highly prized, with many varieties featuring a delicate, cupped shape and a soft, velvety texture. English roses are also known for their repeat-flowering ability, meaning that they will bloom continuously throughout the growing season. This is a highly desirable trait for gardeners, ensuring the rose will remain in bloom for as long as possible.

How Climate Change Affects English Roses

Climate change has a significant impact on English roses: As weather patterns become more erratic, English roses are encountering a range of challenges that can impact their growth and health.

One of the primary impacts of climate change on English roses is increased heat stress: While temperatures rise, rose bushes can become overheated and dehydrated, leading to reduced growth and bloom production. Additionally, heat stress can make roses more susceptible to pests and diseases, which can further damage the health of the plant.

Another impact of climate change on English roses is altered rainfall patterns. As climate patterns become increasingly unpredictable, certain regions may encounter a higher frequency of droughts, while others may face a greater occurrence of intense rainfall events. Both of these scenarios can have a negative impact on the health of English roses. Drought conditions can lead to water stress, while heavy rainfall can cause root rot and other fungal diseases.

Climate change can also impact the timing of English rose bloom production. Some rose varieties may bloom earlier or later than usual as temperatures shift, affecting their overall growth and health. Additionally, changes in the timing of bloom production can impact pollination and seed production, which can have a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem.

‘’English roses hold an important place in gardening and landscape design. They are one of the most popular flowers used in gardens and parks and play a significant role in landscape design with their diverse colours and fragrances. They have been at risk in recent years due to various diseases and pests. However, the threat of extinction of these species could lead to a decrease in the use of these plants, which also carry historical and cultural value.’’

Gülistan Akar, a Botanical Illustrator and a Landscape Architect

What steps can be taken to address this issue?

To mitigate the impact of climate change on English roses, gardeners and rose enthusiasts can take several steps. One of the most important is selecting varieties well-suited to the local climate and growing conditions. This can include roses that are more drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant, or disease-resistant. For example, if you live in an area prone to drought, it is best to select more drought-tolerant roses.

During periods of extreme heat or intense sunlight, English roses can become stressed and dehydrated. Therefore, other steps that can help mitigate the impact of climate change on English roses include providing shade and shelter (utilising structures like shade cloth, arbours, or pergolas), using mulch to retain moisture (preventing English roses from becoming dehydrated during dry periods), and watering deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Rather than providing frequent shallow watering, this can help English roses become more drought-resistant. Moreover, it should be noted that using mulch can also help regulate soil temperature, keeping the roots of the roses cool and healthy.

Additionally, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a must. This can include actions like driving less, reducing meat consumption and supporting renewable energy. Finally, it is crucial to advocate for policy change at the local, national, and international levels to address the root causes of climate change by supporting policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect natural habitats, and promote sustainable agriculture.

By taking these steps, gardeners and rose enthusiasts can help prevent the negative impacts of climate change on English roses, ensuring that these beloved flowers continue to thrive for generations to come.

‘’As well as breeding for climate change, there is also the choosing of plants suitable for the site, so very hot, dry sites which are not well suited now for roses will become less so in future, and we can expect more tolerant plant species to be chosen. However, this will apply first in the south and east, with other regions less affected. Similarly, clay-rich moisture-retentive soils favoured by roses will be less affected too. Choosing the right plant for the site will get ever more important.’’

Guy Barter, the Chief Horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society

Closing thoughts

Conclusively, climate change poses significant challenges to the growth and health of English roses, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent or mitigate its negative impacts. By selecting appropriate varieties, providing shade and shelter, using mulch, watering wisely, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and advocating for policy change, gardeners and rose enthusiasts can play a crucial role in protecting these beloved flowers from the effects of a changing climate. With their timeless beauty, delicate fragrance, and abundant petals, English roses have captured the hearts of many, and it is our responsibility to safeguard their future. Therefore, it is paramount to undertake necessary actions in order to preserve the enchanting allure and grandeur of English roses for future generations. By prioritising the protection of these magnificent flowers, we can ensure their enduring presence in our gardens, evoking joy and admiration. Each individual is responsible for making a difference in the face of climate change and nurturing these exceptional blooms amidst a changing world.

Illustration Credit: Gülistan Akar

Read Deniz’s interview with Gülistan Akar on Landscape Architecture and more, available here.


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