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David Austin at 91: A Romantic Quest Continues

Mr. David Austin and Bertie
David Austin turns 91 on February 16, 2017.
Bertie, left, is six.

Most folks in their 90s are not, by definition, future oriented. David Austin, the legendary English rose breeder, is an exception. At a time of life when most people are long retired, he is introducing some of the best roses he has ever created – still driven by the prospect of even better roses yet to come.

Rose breeding is, at heart, a romantic quest to achieve a vision of beauty. It is a process that demands patience. Each year David Austin Roses in Albrighton, England, introduces just two to four new English Roses. To get there, the team makes approximately 50,000 crossings every year to produce a pool of 150,000 candidate seedlings that are then selected, trialed and culled over eight to 10 years.

The son of a Shropshire farmer, Mr. Austin was born on February 16, 1926. He fell in love with gardening as a boy. “Both of my parents loved reading in all its forms. One day at my school library I happened upon a magazine called Gardens Illustrated. It was filled with articles about flowers. It was the first time I realized that, beyond their beauty, flowers had stories too."

Later his sister Barbara gave him a copy of the book “Old Garden Roses” by Edward Bunyard. He remembers that it was this book that prompted him to purchase his first rose. From a small garden plot given to him by his grandmother, to his journeyman years farming with his father, to finally becoming a successful farmer himself, he never lost his love of flowers, especially roses.

His rose breeding journey began as a hobby. He was intrigued by the challenge of creating something new through the interplay of man and nature with science and mathematics. From the beginning, Austin sought to combine the charm and fragrance of Old Roses with the repeat flowering and wide color range of modern roses. He asked simply, “Why can’t we have all the beauty and fragrance of the classic Old Roses combined with the best attributes of the modern hybrids, including color, disease-resistance and repeat bloom from late spring through frost?”

Austin's 1961 introduction of ‘Constance Spry’ first brought him to the attention of the rose world. Though still an amateur, he’d created a new kind of rose that impressed rosarians and met most of his initial goals, except repeat-bloom. By the late sixties, he was creating roses with the attributes he prized including that of flowering more than once per season. He felt ready to turn to breeding full time. In 1969 he opened the David Austin Roses nursery devoted to the breeding of what he now called “English Roses.” It was a milestone in a career that was to take him to the very pinnacle of the rose hybridizing world.

To date, Mr. Austin and his team have introduced 234 English Roses. All repeat-blooming, except 'Constance Spry.! Over 60 years, David Austin has literally revolutionized the world of garden roses, setting increasingly higher standards for rose breeding. Today, he continues to guide a breeding operation that rides the cutting edge of what’s new and desirable in garden roses worldwide.

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