It is with great sadness that the Austin family announces the passing of David C. H. Austin Snr OBE VMH, rosarian and founder of David Austin Roses Ltd. David Snr died peacefully at his home in Shropshire on Tuesday 18th December 2018, surrounded by his family. He was 92. This is a story of David C.H. Austin and his lifetime of dedication.
David C.H. Austin
David C. H. Austin, whose English Roses have captured the imagination of gardeners and rose lovers worldwide, passed away on Tuesday, 18th December 2018, aged 92.
From school boy to rose breeder
Growing up in the Shropshire countryside, David Austin developed a passion for plants from a very young age. However, his interest in flowers was truly ignited when he first discovered a magazine called Gardens Illustrated, tucked away in the school library. After being encouraged by his teacher, he decided to pursue his new found passion.
James Baker, a friend of David’s father, ran a nursery down the road from their family farm. David would visit with his father and was dazzled by the new varieties of lupins that James was breeding.
It was at this time that the idea of developing new varieties of plants himself really started to take hold. Coming from a farming background, David had an innate knowledge of plants but taking this knowledge and applying it to the less practical world of flowers did not meet his father’s approval. It wasn’t until his sister gave him A.E. Bunyard’s book, Old Garden Roses, for his 21st birthday, that he fell in love with roses.
With his new passion for roses, David decided to take up rose growing as a hobby, ordering his first few plants when he was in his early twenties. Beguiled by their beauty, his interest only really lay with the Old Roses, but with the fashion at the time being for modern Hybrid Teas, he decided to order a few varieties to compare the two groups.
Although he wasn’t charmed by the Hybrid Teas he did recognise the attributes they possessed that the Old Roses lacked: a much wider colour range and the ability to repeat flower. This was his light bulb moment, the realisation that he had the opportunity to create something entirely new — a rose with the beauty and fragrance of his much-loved Old Roses but with the benefits of modern roses.
Resolute in purpose, David began the slow process of breeding this new type of rose. Unfortunately, his inexperience revealed itself when he lost his first set of seedlings to a fungal disease, and he had to start all over again the following year. However, with time and extraordinary dedication, David created his first rose, ‘Constance Spry’ (Ausfirst), in 1961. Industry professionals said nobody would buy these ‘old fashioned roses’ and nurseries refused to stock them. Not one to be easily discouraged, David decided to ignore his detractors and sell his roses to the public himself, using his own kitchen table in Shropshire as his distribution centre. He also sold a wide range of other roses including Old Roses, climbers and ramblers.
Roses of David Austin Roses-Message from Rob Sharples-
As a child I used to sit under my mother’s rose bush, pulling thorns off and setting them on my nose. “I’m a rhinoceros!” I would exclaim.
To this day I hold a special place in my heart for rose thorns. But now after years of growing experience I also appreciate all the other aspects that one can enjoy when growing the extravagant plants we call roses.
I have seen a very significant change the past decade in the roses that have been bred by David Austin and Desdemona is an excellent example.
She has wonderfully elegant growth, beautifully shaped flowers, a deep yet fresh aroma, excellent disease resistance and of course stylish and smart thorns.
She is not alone. A whole host of our new varieties scream presence and perform well in large container and garden alike.
The most important thing with these roses is to allow them to show off their beauty.
Keeping them in small pots is like driving a space ship to the supermarket.
They need the space to grow (especially in Japan’s harsh summer climate) and soar to the moon.
If I could wish our customers anything then it would be to “pot up” or “plant out”. A single rose in 35 liter pot will provide your garden/balcony space with more vibrancy and grace than a huge mass of small potted roses, stunted by their containers and performing far below the expectations of their breeder.
Robert Sharples, General Manager of David Austin Roses Japan
Images courtesy of David Austin Roses