There is a special group of roses that I am surprised aren’t more popular today, as they were breed specifically for Australian conditions. The group of roses I am referring to are called Alister Clark Roses. He was a plant breeder in Victoria (1864-1949) and was interested in creating roses that would flower all year and would suit our temperate climate. He mainly developed hybrid tea roses in many forms such as low shrub, high bushes, ramblers and pillar roses. The rose he used most in his breeding program was Rosa gigantea.
What makes me excited about these roses is some of them flower all year, especially Lorraine Lee (1924), Nancy Haywood (1937) and Squatters Dream (1923). At present in my garden (mid June) is a Lorraine Lee. She is flowering profusely and is not showing any of the signs of dullness of ordinary winter roses. In fact she has lovely green glossy leaves and lots of flower buds forming. Many people bemoan their winter rose gardens, so I can’t understand why these roses aren’t more popular.
Another very exciting thing about Alister Clark roses is that he named them after people he knew, especially women. So it is great to have roses with names that are connected to early 20th century such as Amy Johnson (early female aviator) and not some far away earl or duchesse, none of us have every heard off. He also named them after race horses such as Squatter’s Dream, Tonner’s Fancy and Flying Colours. I feel he had a sense of humour because some of his roses are slang for very hot summer days for example Scorcher and Billy Boiler. One rose that is still well known today is the climber Black Boy (1919) with its very strong canes and beautiful crimson red flowers. The first spring flush is brilliant and then it continually flowers through to autumn.
When Alister Clark was breeding his roses, his criteria was that the roses must be hardy, strong and require little water, how perfect is that for our Australian conditions and in some states lack of water! There really is only one drawback to his roses and that is you need space. But don’t despair there are some smaller ones such Borderer and Suitor.
Now, there is a trick to pruning some of Clarks roses, you don’t give them a hard winter prune as it causes them sulk. The best time to prune Lorraine Lee and his other continuous flowering roses is in March. Then give them a light prune and afterwards a good feed of a complete organic fertiliser. If you do prune them in winter, you will miss all the beautiful flowers.
For many years, these roses were out of fashion and some have been lost, but growers are now realising what a jewel they are and are growing them again. If you would like to see these beautiful roses, then I suggest you take a trip out to the Alister Clark Memorial Rose Garden. It is on the corner of Green Street and Bulla Road, Bulla. There you will see many of the roses that have been found and propagated. Or, you can also visit the Alister Clark Rose Garden in the Botanic Gardens in Blessington Street, St. Kilda. If you would like to plant some, I recommend you make inquiries at your local nursery and they should be able to order them in for you. Or Google Alister Clark roses and you will find growers who still breed and sell them. The Alister Clark roses are tough, beautiful and require a lot less fuss than many of the overseas varieties. I suggest you give them ago and you will be bountifully rewarded.