Actually, some don't smell as sweet

DAVID AUSTIN'S ENGLISH ROSES <br> <b> David Austin </b> <br> <i> Garden Art Press
DAVID AUSTIN'S ENGLISH ROSES <br> <b> David Austin </b> <br> <i> Garden Art Press
In any bookshop, the shelves of garden titles are dominated by books on roses, doubtless reflecting the plant's popularity. With more than 10,000 varieties on the market internationally and hundreds of new cultivars boosting that total annually, there is always something different to write about or photograph.

Thus David Austin's English Roses, although in some ways an updated version of his 1998 book The English Rose, has plenty of new material, reflecting the stream of Austin roses added to his catalogue over the past 14 years.

For more than 50 years, David Austin has been a major influence on rose breeding. Starting with Constance Spry in 1961, his Albrighton nursery in the north of England has released a stream of what are known as English Roses.

Originally, these were intended, as Austin put it in the earlier book, ''to combine the beauty and fragrance of the old roses with the practical qualities of the modern roses''; in other words, he wanted the perfume and disease-resistance of the former and the repeat-flowering attributes of the latter.

In David Austin's English Roses, Austin describes how the first roses were bred and how Constance Spry was back-crossed to produce the roses named for characters in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (The Miller, Wife of Bath and The Prioress, for example) and outlines the continuing development of the group using different types of roses.

He goes on to classify English Roses as old rose hybrids, the Leander group, English musk roses and Alba hybrids. Each of these four categories has its own section with descriptions and good photographs of some of the most successful: Constance Spry, Chianti, Mary Rose, L.

D. Braithwaite (old rose hybrids), Abraham Darby, Golden Celebration (Leander group), Graham Thomas, Molineux and The Pilgrim (English musk). The fourth group, the Alba hybrids, are yet to make an impact in this country and to my mind are uninspiring, being mainly semi-doubles with weak perfume.

I share this view with some internationally renowned rosarians, including Australians David Ruston and Dean Stringer, who have criticised David Austin for releasing in recent years too many roses that have failed to meet earlier standards. An exception is Munstead Wood, released in New Zealand this year. This is an outstanding dark red rose with exceptional fragrance.

Missing from the line-up in the book are some roses that do well here, such as Happy Child - one of Austin's best yellows - The Prince and Dove. Production of these apparently has been discontinued in England. To make the situation clearer, a complete list of all the Austin roses, with an indication of those no longer commercially available, would have added to the book's interest.

However, this attractive hardback has plenty to keep Austin fans happy and would make a very acceptable gift for a gardener.

Gillian Vine is a Dunedin garden writer.

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