If you want good roses, sharpen your knife and harden your heart.

Chaos reigns in the garden this week, and it is time to take action even though the experts’ view is to leave pruning until all risk of frost is over. After a week or so of warm weather, too hot for August, the plants in the garden are confused as many have come out of dormancy. With a clear calendar for the week ahead, pruning time has begun. Note: With no rose blooms to share, this post will highlight some of Swedish artist Carl Larsson’s paintings- always a favourite of mine.  

Garden Scene from Marstrand on the West Coast of Sweden, Carl Larsson 1889

Mirabel Osler, who wrote her delightful book entitled ‘A Gentle Plea for Chaos’ would be proud of the wildness of the garden at this time of year: weeds left to mingle with spindly, bare roses, unkempt frost-ravaged lawns, frost-bitten perennials and naked arches and obelisks. I am sure she was not after such an unattractive garden, though. However, the plants with frost protection hang in and look like they will breeze through the remaining winter, indicating that all will be well soon.
That said, glorious sun-filled days emerge from the fog each morning and are welcome, but there is no basking in the sunshine; there is too much to be done and not a moment to lose.

The Cottage Carl Larsson 1895

The sense of satisfaction in sorting out the garden mess is palpable, and even though weary, at the end of the day it is hard to stop once one begins. Some roses were well over 180 cm tall and now are pared down to neat stalks, submissive and awaiting Spring. Even disposing of so many prickly long rose branches is a huge but worthwhile task with more to come tomorrow.

“Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle.”

Luther Burbank
The Apple Harvest, Carl Larsson 1903.

With somewhere between two to three hundred roses growing, I usually acquire a helper with more pruning experience, but I am going it alone this year. After reading and watching videos on rose pruning, confidence is the key and I’m going hard at it and following the experts instructions. I’ve learnt that it is all about knowing that those bold cuts one makes into the roses will not kill them but make them flourish.

Winter sunshine is a fairy wand touching everything with a strange magic. It is like the smile of a friend in time of sorrow.

Patience Strong
Carl Larsson, Girl in a Garden



  • A cut is meant to be made just above a bud.
  •  A cut is supposed to be on an angle so the water runs off and does not cause rot.
  •  Start by removing any spindly growth, old flowers and leafy branches.
  •  Remove any dead, diseased, or dying stems.
  •  Make clean, confident cuts and trim rough edges with a sharp knife as much as possible.
  •  Remove weeds from the base and clean out any debris so that any stems crossing over the centre of the plant can be cut out.
  •  Any branches crossing over one another are meant to be cut too. 
  •  Reduce the plant’s size by at least a third.

Lisbeth and Peonies, Carl Larsson


  • To encourage more flowering because roses are formed on young shoots, so if the rose plant is cut back when dormant, it will rejuvenate and encourage young branches to grow. The more young stems, the more flowers will be produced.
  • Pruning allows you to reshape a rose with a poor structure that will rejuvenate any weak growth and create a stronger framework.
  • To allow more light into the centre of the rose plant. Rose bushes like air circulation, so if you can open the roses out from the centre and reduce clutter around the stem, more air can circulate.
  • The garden clean-up of leaves and stems under the roses reduces fungal diseases.
  • Pruning will create a more compact and visible rose bush.
  • To create bushier growth, trimming the outer growth will make the side shoots grow and generate more shoots and rose blooms.
  • Removing old wood and diseased stems or other damaged parts of a rose will encourage new, more robust growth. 
  • Removing crossing-over branches and stems will prevent branches rubbing on and damaging other growth.
  • To tidy the garden and have a fresh start for Spring.

The purpose of pruning is to improve the quality of the roses, not hurt the bush.

Florence Littauer
Flowers On The Window, Carl Larsson 1894.

After yesterday’s blitz, the rose pruning is well underway, including disposing of many ute loads of branches to be burnt. There are several more rose beds to prune except the heritage, old-fashioned roses or climbers that will only require a light trim to shape and any messy weeds and debris removed, ready for mulching.

The Kitchen Carl Larsson 1898.

Only when your love of roses is greater than your fear of thorns can you grow a beautiful garden.

Matshona Dhliwayo
Breakfast Under The Birches, Carl Larsson 1895.

It is a comic scene during the pruning process when great lengths of prickle-laden stems attach themselves simultaneously to clothing, hair, and gloves and get stuck in nearby plants as they are flung away towards the wheelbarrow. The black and white inquisitive cat ( Kat ) looks on at the spectacle and is a constant trip hazard under my feet.

The Crayfish Season, Carl Larsson 1897.

Like most large-scale projects, when one starts, there are diversions, so whilst the garden is basked in sunshine, and the roses are still dormant the time is ripe for tackling my master plan of relocating numerous roses. Anyone observing my efforts in digging the roses out, weeding, pruning and making new planting holes would think the disorder and chaos created was the exact opposite of what was intended. I reassure myself and my watchful companions, my husband and Kat, that I know what I’m doing and all will be clear by the end of the week.

A gardener learns more in mistakes than in the successes

Barbara Dodge Borland
Interior with Cactus, Carl Larsson 1914.

There is no cause for concern, with mulch, fertiliser and water the roses will reign again in the garden very soon. Well, that’s what I tell myself; roses are tough, and that pruning and relocating to better positions for each variety will lay the foundations for a spectacular spring.

Garden at Grez, Carl Larsson 1883.

The garden hosts hybrid teas, floribundas, polyanthas, miniatures, standards, climbing and heritage roses growing in the garden and in a variety of containers, so there should always be some out in bloom. Pruning, cutting back and cleaning up a lack-lustre garden is also an opportunity to really see the layout because all the perennials are cut back and only lavender shrubs remain in this garden bed.

Karin and Brita with Cactus Carl Larsson 1909.

After pruning, the garden does appear bare at first, but new landscapes are being formed, and I’m always excited by reviving areas that were not as pleasing as they could be. This year I’m taking the opportunity to plant fresh roses in cluster groups of three roses of the same variety. The idea is from Rosarian Diana Sargeant, from Silkies Rose Farm, in her book “All About Roses” Her garden design incorporates many varieties, and she suggests planting three of each together in a cluster group to give the appearance of one larger shrub.

Roses De Noel, Carl Larsson

The next step will be spraying the rose bushes and surrounding ground with a solution of lime sulphur – 20 ml to 1 litre water to give the garden a fresh start to the upcoming season. The spray kills all fungal spores from black spot, rust and powdery mildew, plus it should control spider mites. These are always an issue in gardens with hot, dry air.

Content by Di Baker August 2023

Title quote by Patience Strong

Header Image is a Painting by Carl Larsson of his wife Karin Larsson, Sunborn Sweden.- Azalea 1906

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