Wattle Grove Garden
Living & Learning Among the Roses
Wattle Grove Private Garden
Nearly 40 Years of Dedication to Growing Old Roses
We have lived on the deep grey sands of Wattle Grove since 1985, when my husband Gary and I found the perfect place to put down roots. A little over 3 acres opposite a native bush reserve, it had a tree-lined creek, areas of open pasture and avenues of huge coral trees - an Erythrina hybrid that blazes into bloom on bare limbs in early winter and gives blessed shade through the long summers. The house was small and damp and the neighbours were smelly (a garden supply business and a poultry farm) but these were small prices to pay.
Our first plantings were native trees and shrubs, fruit trees and a vegetable and herb garden. Frosts are rare so we cannot grow fruit that needs a chilly winter but citrus fruits thrive here. And so do many roses.
How often do you read ‘My first rose was the Hybrid Tea Peace’? Yes - ours too. It was the standout rose in the garden of my childhood. While all the other roses my parents grew were uncertain, Peace always seemed robust, happy and healthy. That was the sort of plant I wanted to grow.
A single rose plant is a lonely thing though and it was quickly joined by more – Hybrid Teas and Floribundas mostly. The first bed was soon full and another started and then another, and every so often I would widen or extend them to make room for more roses. Visits to nurseries and rose shows, the recommendations of friends and photos in rose books all resulted in new plantings. Some of these roses have endured and are now the elders of the garden - among them that first Peace. Countless others are long gone. They were not strong enough or grew old quickly or, like some of the fruit trees, did not like the climate. They were shattered by the intensity of our summer heat or really did need a frosty winter.
I loved the individual varieties and individual blooms but the beds and borders of mixed Hybrid Teas and Floribundas lacked grace and looked awkward as bedding roses so often do.
At that time, Perth was fortunate to have some excellent rose nurseries that offered a range of older roses as well as the popular modern ones. Some had established stock plants in orderly beds and wild spaces where you could easily lose yourself amongst climbers and ramblers and pillar roses and scramblers and gracious shrubs, large and small. Wandering among these beautiful, graceful plants, I found roses in a range of form and habit I did not know existed - Heritage roses. It opened a portal to a world of glorious possibilities, of deepening interest and enduring friendships.
Our own collection of Heritage roses began with the Hybrid Musk, Felicia and with the Hybrid Spinosissima, Frülingsmorgen – three of each as suggested in the English rose books. Felicia has flourished and owned its corner of the garden for more than thirty years; healthy and so generous with its fragrant flowers. The sublimely beautiful Frülingsmorgen planted nearby tried bravely but only lasted a few summers. And so it went with the other older roses that followed them. Teas, Chinas and Noisettes grew slowly and steadily, gathering strength as they aged and other classes like the Hybrid Musks and Bourbons mostly grew easily and well. But Gallicas and Mosses were not happy here and the Hybrid Perpetuals struggled along, growing weaker each summer. Most Ramblers came into bloom just in time to be blighted by summer’s first fierce heat waves. Roses like New Dawn grew so rank they swallowed up enormous sections of the garden, flowering infrequently and smothering their neighbours.
In the heady early days, I was a completely indiscriminate buyer of roses. I wanted to grow everything. Impatient to know them better – to try to understand what made each rose unique and try to make sense of the classes and stories and connections. The losses and failures were keenly felt. These were the years of trying to figure out what I wasn’t doing right. There was much consultation of experts and much spraying.
There is little joy in watching a rose struggle despite your best efforts. The realisation slowly dawned that not all roses are happy in Perth’s climate; that one of the keys to growing healthy roses is to choose varieties that love your conditions. Seems obvious, but it took a while to know this. The spraying stopped.
In the 1990s, a local nursery began expanding its heritage rose collection, increasing the number of Tea rose varieties on offer. Tea roses positively exult in our climate, so more and more of them found their way to our place and land was appropriated from the sheep pasture for a bed where they would have room to grow as large as they liked. The Teas kept coming - among them a number of local and interstate foundlings, so an overflow bed was made near the creek. We also planted Teas and Noisettes along the roadside and these grew into marvellous shrubs and mounds, making a glorious, ever-blooming hedge that has given us, and many passers-by, so much pleasure over the years.
Heritage Roses in Australia became an important part of life and with it, special friendships and a growing awareness of the importance of conserving and sharing roses that have stood the test of time in old gardens and cemeteries. Since this time, most of the new additions to our garden have been ‘found’ roses with study names. It will be no surprise that these remarkable survivors are among the healthiest, most beautiful and most interesting roses I know.
The zoning of our district changed from ‘rural’ to ‘urban’ around the turn of the century and the big neighbourhood trees and horse paddocks and backyard businesses have almost all gone now, replaced by open sky and thousands of houses on tiny bare blocks. Ours is one of the few original properties remaining and one of the few properties with established trees. The day the machines moved onto the land next door and tore all the big trees from the earth, I felt part of a collective shocked anguish. More recently, the creek and an acre of our land on the rear boundary was acquired for public open space – a very good thing for all the families who live on those tiny blocks but a wrench for us, especially when most of the trees near the creek were removed. Roses that were by then very large had to be moved out of the area along with our vegetable garden and Gary’s palm house. The roses took it in their stride. There were no casualties. A year later we received notice that the road was to be widened and land would be resumed from the front of our property. This meant the now-huge old roadside roses so dear to my heart – Général Schablikine, Safrano, Isabella Sprunt, Rêve d’Or and all their companions - had to be moved or they would be bulldozed. I was devastated but Gary was an absolute rock. He prepared a large bed and brought in truckloads of good soil. I cut the roses back hard and dug around them and he helped me to lift and transplant them. All but two survived and they are slowly building up again.
I love our home. We have lived here for almost forty years and grandchildren now play where our children played and our daughter wanders among the roses, selecting blooms for her beautiful bouquets and arrangements. There has been no shortage of adventure and challenge along the way, such as the night we were threatened by bushfire and fortuitous wind changes sent the fire front first to our northern boundary and then to our southern boundary, sparing our home and most of the garden and barely scorching the roadside roses. We truly felt protected that night.
For my part, there has rarely been any planning with garden form in mind. Unlike many in our group, I am not a gardener in that skilled sense - simply a rose lover, fortunate to have space and water; and our garden has grown and evolved in response to the need to find a spot for a new rose or three. Tea roses, China roses, Noisettes, Hybrid Musks, Poly-Teas and the gracious early Hybrid Teas that survive in older gardens have proven to be the types of roses that do best at our place. If they receive enough water and care through their first summers while they are establishing a good root system and a good canopy to shade those roots, they mature into remarkably self-sufficient plants. Most are evergreen in our climate. They bloom through winter and prefer trimming to pruning. In an ideal world, this would take the form of regular deadheading to keep them in shape, keep them to their allocated space and encourage the continuous production of new foliage and blooms. More realistically, three good trims a year when they begin to look shabby after a big flush works well.
I used to do this and this is what I still aspire to – that and regular weeding and mulching - but between the intent and the action falls the shadow etc. and parts of this garden have not seen the secateurs for many years. Each year, fewer and fewer of the tasks once deemed essential are completed. Despite this the roses are fine. They have strong roots and can fend for themselves. Above the ground it’s a jungle, a wilderness, a sanctuary. Mostly unkempt, sometimes mortifyingly so, it is occasionally so astonishingly beautiful that words fail. I love the roses and they lift my heart in large and small ways every day. They never stop surprising; never stop revealing new things about themselves, even after all this time. And there are always bunches of roses for friends and blooms for Heritage Rose displays at rose and garden shows where members of the local group of HRIA share the stunning diversity of rose form and habit.
A list of the roses we grow can be found on helpmefind.com, under the name billy teabag. Select ‘HMF Members’ on the left of your screen and search for billy teabag. Then select ‘Member Garden’ and ‘Plants Grown’. Or click on the button below.
Billy West, Wattle Grove, November 2022
Recipient Trevor Nottle Award: Billy West has been a member of Heritage Roses in Australia for 30 years and was awarded the inaugural Trevor Nottle Award in 2021.
Co-author and researcher: Along with Lynne Chapman, Noelene Drage, Di Durston, Jenny Jones and the late Hillary Merrifield, she researched and co-authored Tea Roses: Old Roses for Warm Gardens.