DAVID C. H. AUSTIN -A lifetime of dedication – Vol.2
From a hobby breeder as a young teenager David C.H. Austin has gone on to breed a collection of roses renowned across the world. He established David Austin Roses in 1969. This is a story of David C.H. Austin and his lifetime of dedication.
Coming into bloom
By 1969 David had refined the breeding process and launched his first range of repeat-flowering‘English Roses’, the name he coined for his ground-breaking varieties that fused the old with the new. He reasoned that the French have the Gallica roses, the Scottish the Scots, so why shouldn’t the English also have a group of roses to call their own ̶ especially with the rose being so intertwined in England’s culture and history.
The early years were quite a struggle, particularly because he was trying to compete with so many other rose nurseries. However, with the support of his wife Pat, combined with the unique combination of attributes his roses had to offer, the English Roses grew in popularity and the Old Rose style began to enjoy a long overdue renaissance.
In 1983 David experienced his first real breakthrough when he introduced three very good English Roses at the Chelsea Flower Show, including the rose named after his good friend and mentor, the revered horticulturist, Graham Thomas. The response from the press, as well as the general public, to Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ (Ausmas) was overwhelming and David credited it with being the rose most responsible for the recognition and success of the English Roses. The following year saw the first of many gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and the David Austin garden gradually became one of the highlights for visitors, which continues to this day.
With the increased popularity, the nursery business started to grow, the extra income meaning that the rusty, draughty old barns could be replaced by modern packing sheds and the falling down breeding greenhouses replaced by bigger and more spacious ones, although still second-hand. The fledgling rose garden, now considered one of the most beautiful rose gardens in the world, also increased in size.
The Art of Rose Breeding
The increased income also gave him the opportunity to gradually expand the size of his enduring passion, the rose breeding programme, which today is one of the largest in the world. Each year David introduced three or so new varieties. From pollination to sale, the whole process of creating a new rose takes nine years. For each new rose released, roughly 120,000 unique roses will have been grown for research a process which took all of David’s patience, dedication and expertise.
“There is nothing more exciting than having 350,000 seedlings growing that no one has ever seen before” David C. H. Austin
His rose breeding endeavours have resulted in a number of awards, with one of his proudest achievements receiving his OBE in 2007 for his services to horticulture. On receiving the award, he said “Every day, I marvel at my good fortune to have been able to make a life out of breeding roses. My greatest satisfaction is to see the pleasure my roses give to gardeners and rose lovers around the world”. He was also awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour from the RHS, an honorary degree from the University of East London and the Dean Hole medal from the Royal National Rose Society.
His roses too have won many awards around the world. ‘Graham Thomas’ (Ausmas) was voted the world’s favourite by the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) in 2009 and ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (Ausbord) twice voted the UK’s favourite. 28 of them have also been honoured with the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. The garden at Albrighton, both home to David Austin and the National Collection of his English Roses, received the Award of Garden Excellence from the WFRS in 2015.
Through the generations
In 1990 he welcomed his eldest son, David J. C. Austin, into the business. Together they have developed David Austin Roses into a worldwide business, extending the UK operation to Europe and in more recent years to the USA and Japan, where they now have offices.
Not one to rest on his laurels, in 1992, with the driving force and support of David Junior, he decided to start up a completely new side to the breeding programme. The aim being to develop varieties that were specifically for the cut flower market, available all year round, whilst retaining the beauty, fragrance and charm that had become so recognisable in his garden roses. The first group of cut roses was released in 2004 and like his garden roses, it took some time for them to be accepted, being a very different proposition from the status quo. Today David Austin cut roses are considered to be some of the most prestigious and sought-after wedding and event roses in the world and have been used to celebrate the most intimate of private occasions through to the most prestigious Royal Weddings showcased on a global stage.
David Austin Roses has grown significantly over the decades but it still remains very much a family business at heart. The third generation, Richard Austin, David Senior’s grandson, and son of David Junior, joined the company in 2010 continuing his father and grandfather’s passion and their lives’ work. They in turn are supported by a loyal team, with many having been with the business for more than 15 years including his Rose Breeding Manager, Carl Bennett, who has worked for him for almost 30 years. As the company has grown, so too has the wider David Austin family who affectionately refer to David Senior simply as ‘Mr A’.
An Author and Poet
Apart from his passion for roses he had a great love for literature and his sitting room is lined with bookcases filled with a great variety of books.The first book he wrote was The Heritage of the Rose, published in 1988. In 1993 he published the first edition of The English Roses, the definitive work on his own creation, which won great critical acclaim around the world. He especially loved poetry and published a collection of his own poems in 2014 entitled The Breathing Earth, which draws on his life experiences and his love of nature.
Olfactory wonderland -Message from Robert Sharples-
Each year, more and more, I look forward to smelling the new varieties produced by our breeding department. (Those lucky people have been sniffing them for over 7 years or so!)
The more I smell roses the more I realize the depth of each character and the subtle notes in their very unique fragrances.
A few recent releases which I very much enjoy are “Roald Dahl” and it’s lovely fruity peach aroma, suited perfectly to its color and shape.
“Tottering by Gently” and its wonderful musk fragrance, one of those roses you really need to get close to the nose to smell properly, inhaling a few insects is always a risk but well worth it!
And most recently “The Mill on the Floss”. My production “partner in crime”Nakagawa-san made me aware of the strong scent of candy, David later pointed out to me that he himself finds the floss in the name rather appropriate considering the sweet aroma akin to candy floss.
Fragrance is an absolutely huge part of our business. It’s incredibly personal and individual but ties us all together with special moments and memories. It also doesn’t come easy for roses here in the Japanese climate. Getting the right time and the perfect flower to be able to appreciate all the notes a variety has to offer is an absolute dream, but when you get it right you won’t forget it!
Robert Sharples, General Manager of David Austin Roses Japan
Images courtesy of David Austin Roses