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“You Never Promised Me a Rose Garden”

This is the story of a country rose garden in the Lachlan Valley of NSW, an area known for beautiful roses. I have written this post as a record of how the garden began and you may find it inspiring to see that a garden can grow despite a hot dry climate and hard soil. Roses thrive in our region’s fertile clay soil, with plenty of sun, heat, and low humidity. There was never any doubt as to what I wanted to grow in the new garden- roses, and so the garden began.

“Life begins the day you start a garden”

Before photo of the garden site 2017

It was the Autumn of 2017 at Easter when my youngest son was visiting and in helping me prepare for a new garden he made the first attempt at removing old Yucca plants from a small garden bed. After the weekend we continued the work to remove the hundreds of massive roots the size of substantial sweet potatoes from the earth. It took many weeks for me to finally remove enough to start preparing the soil-as the photos will show.

After some work growing roses by 2018/19

“I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow. ”

Abraham Lincoln

What remained after the digging was a bed of dry clay soil to which was added gypsum, compost, dolomite, aged sheep manure from under the floor of the shearing shed and lots of sweat and toil. Soil testing is underway, and time to let the worms do their work.

“No single sort of garden suits everyone. Shut your eyes and dream of the garden you’d most love then open your eyes and start planting. Loved gardens flourish, boring ones are hard work.”

Jackie French

All gardens have limitations, constraints and challenges, varied climatic conditions, soil quality, available space and budget. All we need is a vision, some hard work and perseverance: patience and the ability to learn from our mistakes. Things will grow.

Stick it in the ground the right way up and most plants will grow perfectly well

Monty Don

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.

Rudyard Kipling

These images show the first steps taken to create the garden and note that the soil is starting to change colour as nutrients are added. I planted a range of annuals to give a tentative idea of a possible garden until ready for the first order of bare root roses and perennials went in the winter of 2017.

There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare, or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight.  

Gertrude Jekyll

“Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity.” 

Lindley Karstens

Fire Opal is a new release rose from Treloar’s 2018 mass planted along the verandah edge. It is a short rose with beautiful lush green foliage, and lovely, novelty style blooms that dance in the breeze continuously. It has been a great choice, and now several seasons on in 2022, it remains bright green, free of disease, healthy and always in flower. My first attempt at mass planting is pictured below in these before and after shots of the same garden bed showing the ‘Fire Opal’ roses. Once the garden begins to flourish and take off; what a vast difference there is.

It is hard to imagine that a garden grows in this area at all as the soil seemed impossible to cultivate and yet miraculously it has become a lush and prolific garden full of underplantings and roses that bloom all season.

My garden was initially lawn, and the method I’ve used is the no-dig style garden. Every time you break the soil up, you release more weed seeds and disturb the soil’s complex nature. It is best to leave it alone, and the microorganisms and worms will do the digging for you. The basic steps are to smother the grass with a thick, wet layer of newspaper, cardboard or old carpet and cover it with compost, straw, mulch or whatever organic materials you have. Water it well and leave. I had made the holes for roses before mulching and placed an old plate on each to know where they were ready for planting. When my bare root roses arrived, I planted them directly into the prepared holes, watered and waited for them to grow.

Clay soil can have problems with drainage by adding lots of compost material will help improve the soil structure over time. Roses do not like being waterlogged because it deprives the plants of oxygen. Clay soil is better if not walked on as compaction makes clay very hard, but again adding more organic matter and possibly gypsum will help improve heavy clay soil.

“Clay earth, because of its density, retains moisture and tends to be more nutrient-rich than other soil types because the particles that make up clay soil are negatively charged. This means they attract and hold positively charged particles, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium”.


My favourite part of the garden I call The Palm Garden as it has a large date palm in the centre ( not ideal but it’s already there so, far be it from me to remove a hundred-year-old tree.) It is planted with low roses at the edge as a border with larger roses – Enchanting, Opportunity Rose, Paul Bocuse, Cubana and Just Joey towards the back amongst several other roses. This area is slightly protected from the afternoon sun by an archway on the path and a La Vie En Rose that has grown quite large creating a micro-climate. The Palm Garden is rarely without blooms in a beautiful range of colours from creams and yellows to peach, apricot, orange and magenta roses.

All these photos show the difference that a bit of work, patience, sunlight and lots of water can do. From time to time various fixtures have been added to create interest. An arch was added at the end of the path, a weeping cherry was planted as a feature but it did not survive and was replaced with Wollerton Old Hall weeping rose. This has started to grow but has yet not reached its full potential. It flowers beautifully but continues to grow upwards and has no desire to weep down as planned at all. Time will tell. There are now in 2022, three archways and a gazebo that have; Pierre de Ronsard, Quicksilver, Cecile Brunner, Peace and Papi Delbard roses growing. It is almost a race to see which ones will make it up and over the arch first. My bet is Quicksilver even though it was planted only last summer.

No one uses the front door in the country even though there is a straight path across the lawn to the door. The lavender thrives in the hot afternoon sun, and the bees love it. Two steel obelisks stand proudly at the entrance, growing Shropshire Lad and Pierre Gagnaire roses. It has taken some time to get the roses going on what we call ‘the rockets’, and I’ve made several changes in variety because for one reason or another they did not grow well in those spots. Now though in 2022, Pierre Gagnaire rose has completely covered the rocket and has gorgeous glossy foliage and many blooms.

My garden is surprising, and I would not have thought it possible to have such an abundance of roses so quickly. The challenges are the unattractive high fence to keep sheep and kangaroos out of the garden, the ravage of rural weeds, insects and pests and the intense sun exposure. Within these constraints, the garden is a success and provides hours of joy and a magnificent supply of rose blooms.

Occasionally, I look back at these photos after setbacks; drought, insects, floods and scorching heat have caused significant problems. It helps remind me where it began and that a garden doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, and you have to work within the scope of your garden space, climate, soil, and weather the best you can. There are always compromises to deal with; the main thing is to enjoy the process and fun of gardening, the digging, the sun, the soil and most definitely the rewards. And don’t forget to make time to

Stop and smell the roses

Content Di Baker

Updated and reposted from a page in 2022

All images are taken from the garden 2017 to 2022

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