Her kingdom for a rose

2011-10-19 00:00

ROSES symbolise classic elegance, femininity and beauty. For one Pietermaritzburg gardener­ these flowers have become a passion.

Gill Wilson’s cottage-style garden in Scottsville is a profusion of roses and their fragrance is heady and inviting. She has more than 350 rose bushes in her small garden and their colours and blooms are magnificent.

Gill’s garden was featured in The Witness Open Gardens earlier this month, the fourth time she has opened her garden to visitors.

She acquired her love of gardening from her parents who were avid gardeners. Her father was a rose lover, but her mother was an all-rounder who loved to cut, prune and plant beds full of colour. When she moved to her Scottsville home nine years ago, she decided she wanted to make a country-style garden with masses of roses, her favourite plants.

“We started with a basic outline and then the whole idea evolved into what it is today.”

The roses occupy every bed and in between are the companion plants which perfectly compliment them with their colour and texture.

Gill chooses roses for their performance and their fragrance and she knows them like a mother knows her children. While strolling around the garden in the soft morning light, she gives the names of the roses we are walking past.

“Smell this one,” she says tipping a bloom in my direction. The perfume is overpowering.

Her passion for these flowers has grown over the years and she loves to find a rare colour or a particularly unusual bloom to add to her collection. Her husband Mike helps make the garden a place of beauty with his creative ornaments which he makes out of old gardening implements and other interesting bits and bobs.

“I’m the gardener,’ says Gill. “I have the green fingers and I am the one who digs and climbs up and down the ladders cutting and pruning.”

Mike makes all the trellises and interesting focal points. Together the couple’s hard work pays dividends. The garden is a peaceful place and the buzz of bees and the flitting of butterflies complete the idyllic setting.

Once a week Gill has the help of gardener Gladness Njilo who comes to prune and tidy the bushes. Gill says that Njilo has a rare touch. She has worked as a gardener for many years and she knows how to trim roses the correct way. Correct pruning and maintenance of roses can ensure an abundance of blooms throughout the spring and summer months.

Many modern gardeners have turned against roses, believing that these old-fashioned flowering plants are fussy and difficult to grow, but Gill is determined to convince gardeners that they are worth the effort.

“There are new breeds of roses called eco-chic roses that have been developed specifically for the South African climate. These hybrid breeds are hardy and less prone to attacks by insects and parasites.”

Gill says any new gardener should try one of these rose varieties first.

“Roses are pleasing to look at. They smell beautiful and they really only need a minimum of care. Once established they give endless joy. The main thing is planting them in a good position and pruning them properly at the right time,” she said.

Gill’s garden is well planned and the colours­ seem to flow into each other like a picture, but she says that while she tries to plant similar shades together, sometimes nature has its own ideas.

“I did try to plant the oranges, then the yellows and then the creams, but sometimes you get a rogue rose or two that pops up. It really doesn’t matter because it looks gorgeous as a contrast.”

Gill does her major pruning in July and she restocks her beds in early spring. Occasionally she orders roses from the Ludwig Roses catalogue or the David Austin range which specialises in English roses. But she also likes to buy roses which commemorate special occasions.

Next year South Africa will be hosting the World Federation Rose Conference and it has launched a special bloom called the Rosa Africa. Gill has one of these already. While paging through the famous Ludwigs Rose catalogue there are many roses with uniquely South African names.

The Naas Botha Rose and the Vuvuzela Rose would be great gifts for sport lovers who have a hidden soft spot. Gill says that maintaining this kind of floral glory is not necessarily a chore, but basic watering and pruning will make these blossoms feel they are not being neglected.

If you want to pamper them you can add compost, manure and spray them occasionally with pesticides.

She also makes rose jam from the first spring petals. The rose-coloured jam is delicious­ on hot scones and is simply perfect with a cup of tea while admiring her garden.


• Cuttings of some of Gill Wilson’s oldest and most fragrant roses have been propagated using grafting techniques. Phone her for more information at 082 895 2767.

• trish.beaver@witness.co.za

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