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Enfield’s on the scent of great roses

Writer, broadcaster and avid gardener Edward Enfield, father of comedian Harry, reveals the secrets of his success with roses, one of the many projects he has undertaken in some 50 years of gardening, as his latest book, Growing To A Ripe Old Age, is published. This week’s star plant is the Kaffir lily, an elegant, autumn-flowering perennial. Plus, tips on how to prevent carrot fly.

WRITER and broadcaster Edward Enfield may be best known for his entertaining observations on old age and travel and for being the father of comedian Harry Enfield, but he’s also an expert in the garden, particularly when it comes to roses.

With 50 years of gardening experience under his belt in the garden of the house he has lived in throughout that time, set in three-quarters of an acre in West Sussex, he now shares some of his horticultural experiences in his latest book, Growing To A Ripe Old Age.

For a while, he became obsessed with roses, he admits, joining the Royal National Rose Society (RNRS) and entering his roses in the Billingshurst Show.

“Roses can become an obsession, a mania, a disease, and I caught it. Some of the madder members (of the RNRS) refer to themselves by the fairly frightful sobriquet of ‘rosarians’, and while I never went as far as that, I went pretty far.

“I got all the society’s books and used to sit up late into the night with catalogues of roses, planning and re-planning beds of different shapes with roses of different combinations to go in different parts of the garden.”

He’s grown all manner of roses, from hybrid teas and floribundas, to China roses, David Austin roses, shrub roses, ramblers and more, and has even tried growing roses from seed.

“I am pleased to say that sanity has returned and we are now down to one excellent rose bed with a few other roses here and there,” he reflects.

During his rose show days, he used to spray his prize roses to stop black spot and mildew, took action against greenfly and other aphids and would strip all but one bud from the leading shoots in the hope of obtaining one perfect bloom on each.

These days, the former columnist for The Oldie is more relaxed about his roses.

“My bed isn’t colour co-ordinated. They’re just jumbled up. I’m very bad on colours. I tend to wear the wrong coloured pullover with the wrong trousers.

“Anyway, I don’t believe that roses ever clash. So any mixed bed will look OK as long as you have the heights right, so obviously don’t put the short-growing ones in the middle, or they’ll disappear.”

Today, he has one main rose bed comprising mainly hybrid teas, with the occasional David Austin thrown in, and another smaller one in the vegetable patch which he uses for cutting. He grows around a dozen varieties but among his favourites is ‘Sutter’s Gold’, a hybrid tea rose with deep yellow blooms with a pink flush.

“It’s quite an old rose, but for all its failings, in that it doesn’t last very long in water, it has a wonderful scent, grows on lovely long stems and produces blooms of a perfect shape.”

He thinks it’s best to grow roses in one bed and to feed them three times - once in spring, another in summer and the third in autumn - and spray them against fungi and mildew once a fortnight throughout summer.

“There are those who have a childlike faith in spraying greenfly with soap and water in the belief that this will drown them, which in my experience it doesn’t.

“You can choose a proprietary insecticide which boasts of its Green, organic and generally harmless properties, but I find these also to be harmless to the creatures they are meant to kill.

“So I can only suggest that you look along the shelf in the garden centre and choose some poison which somehow persuades you that it might do the job.”

He also takes care over pruning, although he recalls an experiment by one of the horticultural societies in which one lot of rose bushes were pruned lightly, another lot heavily and a third were hacked with a hedge cutter.

“To the great surprise of one and all, those hacked off with the hedge cutter did the best,” he recalls, although he’s never been brave enough to do that to his own roses.

“I go and do it all properly,” he sighs, “pruning them twice, cutting out the dead wood and spindly little growths in autumn, then shortening the main stems so they don’t rock about in the wind.

“Then in March, when growth is about to start, I prune them some more, where possible cutting to an outward eye, where a group of leaves join the stem.”

A final tip to boost your roses?

“Roses rather like Epsom salts, which is magnesium sulphate, and probably will do extra well if you put a teaspoon of Epsom salts into the spray, when you are spraying the leaves.”

Growing To A Ripe Old Age, by Edward Enfield, is published by Summersdale, price £9.99.

Best of the bunch - Kaffir lily (Schizostylis)

These elegant autumn-flowering perennials which grow to around 90cm (3ft) are ideal when grown in sunny, sheltered spots alongside asters and silver foliage plants.

The flower spikes, in shades of pink or red, look like mini gladioli rising above grassy foliage and add much-needed colour to the border at the end of the season.

Buy the rhizomes from February onwards and plant in spring with the rhizome 2.5-5cm (1-2in) deep. You’ll need to plant a few plants for impact, placing them only 30cm (12in) apart.

They are hardy in most areas although it is wise to cover them with a thick winter mulch in colder regions. They prefer soil that is well-drained in winter but doesn’t dry out in summer, so add organic matter to the soil on a regular basis.

In winter cut down the stems and protect the crowns with a mulch. Good varieties include the deep red S. coccinea ‘Major’ and the smaller ‘Fenland Daybreak, which produces pink flowers.

Good enough to eat... How to stop carrot root fly

It’s the grubs of the carrot root fly that do the damage, tunnelling into the roots and damaging the vegetables, but it is fairly easy to set up a barrier to stop the flies laying their eggs next to the young plants.

Fix a post at each corner of a block of carrots, making a square, then wrap transparent plastic sheeting around them to form a wall at least 75cm high, burying the bottom of the plastic and securing it to the posts.

Plant onions, alliums and leeks nearby, which should help to keep the carrot fly off the scent.

Alternatively, place the plants in containers or among flowers, where the carrots are harder to find, rather than in the vegetable patch, where carrot fly tends to be more prevalent.

Telltale signs are the reddening or yellowing of the foliage. In severe cases, plants may wilt and die, then later in the summer a second generation of grubs will burrow into the main tap root.

It’s a good time to start harvesting maincrop carrots now if carrot fly is starting to attack them, storing the untouched ones and using any damaged carrots immediately. Never leave infested roots in the garden. Either bin or burn them.

Three ways to... Maintain permanent container plants

1. Unless stated otherwise, use a mixture of equal parts John Innes No. 2 and a soilless compost for containers.

2. Start small plants off in a small container as their roots will suffer if they are surrounded by too much wet compost. Pot them on in spring, if necessary.

3. Apply slow-release fertiliser in spring to get new growth off to a healthy start.

What to do this week

Continue to sow sweet peas, overwintering plants in a cold frame to plant out next spring.

Continue to cut dahlia blooms for the home, tying in tall stems to prevent wind damage.

Lift beetroot before autumn rain causes the roots to swell and split.

Wrap trench varieties of celery with newspaper, then draw earth up around the stems to blanch them ready for cutting in late autumn.

If you have layered the side shoots of carnations, you should now be able to detach the new roots from the parent plants and pot them on.

Lift onion crops and leave to dry on the soil before storing.

Take hardwood cuttings of privet, holly, laurel and berberis and root them in gritty soil in a cold frame or under cloches.

Plant blocks of Dutch iris in a sunny position.

Cut down marginal plants round pools that are dying back.

Clean greenhouse glass thoroughly to ensure maximum light during winter.

Dig up bulbs and corms of non-hardy summer bulbs including gladioli and canna lilies for storing in a frost-free place over winter.

In the greenhouse, sow pots of hardy annuals such as zinnia and calendula for colourful displays in cold greenhouses and porches.