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Sue Adams has lived in SW France for 15 years and loves to see roses in a French garden.  Turning her garden into a veritable haven of produce, colour and scents, she knows how to create and maintain beautiful, productive gardens, regardless of the season.

Rose shown above:  Gertrude Jekyll

spring gardening ideas

Sue Adams


A French Favourite

The rose has a longer history than most other garden plants, with primitive forms of the varieties we know today existing millions of years ago.  Many centuries ago they became an essential part of important Chinese gardens, spreading westwards until they arrived in Europe in the middle ages.  Here in France the person who is perhaps most credited with bringing the rose to general popularity was Napoléon’s wife.

In 1799 Empress Joséphine bought Château Malmaison, which still exists and is about 15 km to the west of central Paris.  She started to collect plants from around the world and, fairly soon, her passion became focused on roses, with Napoléon’s generals bringing her examples from wherever they had been waging their campaigns.  Sadly, her collection was never fully catalogued but, by the time she died, she had amassed around 250 different varieties.  At the time this was the biggest collection in the world, but today there are thousands of varieties and cultivars.

After her death, France became the center for rose breeding with many of today’s “old’ roses originating there.  These include such wonderful types as Bourbons, Moss roses and Centifolias and historic named varieties such as Souvenir de Malmaison, Louise Odier, Gloire de Dijon, Cuisse de Nymphe (Maiden’s Blush), and even one called Chapeau de Napoléon.  Apart from Joséphine’s enthusiasm, the rose has succeeded here because the conditions, especially those found in SW France, suit it well with lots of sunshine, some rain and warmth.

(Pictured left to right)

Ideal roses in a French garden: Malmaison,  Louise Odier, The Mayflower


roses in a french garden
roses in a french garden
roses in a french garden


From April to Autumn

The selective breeding of the French experts and later work by people such as David Austin means that we can now have roses in flower from April through to the autumn months, with additional autumn interest via the colourful hips and thorns of some varieties.  However, to ensure a continuous, marvellous display in July and August you need to follow some rules.


A stunning display for most of the year


  • Most important is to choose your roses well in the first place.  Not all varieties thrive here. Some are more resistant to disease than others and, if you want a succession of blooms throughout the summer, choose repeat flowering “remontant” varieties.  In France I have had particular success with Gertrude Jekyll, Olivia Rose, The Generous Gardener, Strawberry Hill, Munstead Wood and Hyde Hall.  In addition, The Mayflower will flower into December and it becomes a challenge knowing when to prune it before it bursts into growth again the following year.
  • Next, plant your roses in the right place.  They need airy, sunny places so that the leaves dry quickly.  Some will tolerate shade but they all need a good few hours of daily sunshine to thrive.  They are greedy plants and like deep, rich soil which will retain moisture and nutrients.
  • Water roses well and feed them regularly.  If stressed through lack of food and water they will not only wilt but will become more susceptible to disease.  Water well throughout dry periods, ensuring that the water goes to the ground around the plant and soaks into the roots rather than over the leaves, and feed with either a proprietary or tomato food.  A good long water once every few days is better than a quick visit with the watering can every morning as it enables the water to soak down into the ground.
  • Dead head roses regularly, unless you want to keep the seed heads on the plant to develop into hips for autumn colour.  As a general rule, once a plant has set seed it will stop flowering.
  • Finally, watch out for disease and blight.  Some roses are very vulnerable to fungal problems, especially if stressed.  In France you will commonly see a rose bush planted at the end of each row of vines.  Traditionally, this serves as an early warning system as the rose will be affected by blight before a vine.   If the rose developed powdery mildew, for example, the vigneron knew to treat the vines to protect them.

Old-fashioned roses in a French garden


So, as July rolls into August, lie back on the sunbed and inhale the magnificent fragrance of your roses and then pick up the plant catalogue.  Now is the perfect time to choose and order the bare rooted roses you are going to plant this coming winter.

Sue Adams founded the website French Properties Direct.  You can see more of her gardening advice at and in our articles section.

First published in the July and August 2020 issue of The Local Buzz

Images: Shutterstock