MIDSUMMER is when roses really begin to get going, and for the true old roses it is their only period of bloom. What these may lack in repeat flowering, they more than make up for in the quantity and quality of their annual display.

The ‘Red Rose of Lancaster,’ Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’ is one of my favourites in this group and is certainly a rose of great antiquity. Introduced from the East by the Romans to Gaul (France), throughout the middle ages it was grown there in vast quantities around the town of Provins. Unusually, the dried petals retained much of the fragrance, and this led to their early international trade and use in herbal remedies. Its other common name, still widely used today, is The Apothecary’s Rose.

Although it takes its place in our pre-tudor history as the Red Rose of Lancaster the flower seems far from red to our modern eyes. The semi-double blooms are a shade of bright pink we might in fact more simply describe as ‘rose’ coloured. Individual flower’s slightly ruffled petals open wide to reveal the cluster of bright golden yellow stamens within. Gorgeously and heavily perfumed, they are as attractive to bees as they are to ourselves.

The tough and very hardy bushes grow about a metre high and are more prickly than sharply thorny. They thrive in full sun, but otherwise don’t require rich living, doing well in relatively impoverished soils. The foliage is a strong deep green, and each stem carries one, three or more flowers. Throughout late June and into July the plants are literally smothered in bloom, the branches hanging low with their weight, particularly after rain. Sadly though, something so good does not last forever, and in time those fabulous flowers fade and pass away.

It is at just this point in time that pruning can be most effective. Although secateur work generally can be taken to the level of an intricate art form, operating on these red roses can be much simpler...

We take a big petrol hedge-trimmer to them and slice everything off to half height. A nervous few days follows when we search for signs of life among the remaining brown sticks. But, luckily they always quickly green up, going on to give a superb display again the following year.

Chris Crowder is head gardener at Levens Hall


Jobs to do this week:

Keep camellias well watered now, especially those in containers. They are beginning to form next year’s flower buds.

Keep ponds and birdbaths well topped up in dry weather to ensure wildlife can find a place to drink.

Cut back delphiniums and geraniums after their first flush of flowers. They will produce fresh leaves and may go on to flower again.