David CH Austin
In 1945, David Charles Henshaw Austin set out to forge a career as a farmer in Shropshire, England. By 1947, however, his passion for roses eclipsed his agricultural interests and he turned his attentions and considerable talents to amateur rose breeding.
He loved the heavily perfumed, full-bodied flowers of Old Roses, but found their very brief bloom seasons, limited color range and sometimes finicky garden performance frustrating. He considered modern roses less engaging, but he did admire some of their habits and traits. From these observations one of the great quests in the world of rose breeding began: Why not, thought the young man, marry the exquisite perfume and flowers of the Old Roses with the desirable habits and traits of the new?
Hybridizing calls only those endowed with patience. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Mr. Austin began to achieve the results that would yield a new kind of rose. From the Old Roses, he’d sought heady fragrances, dense romantic flower forms and bushy natural habit. From modern hybrids, he captured repeat blooming for long bloom seasons, expanded color range and disease-resistance. In 1961, he introduced his first world-class achievement: the highly perfumed ‘Constance Spry’, a new rose that boasted a lush Old Rose look but still bloomed only briefly, once per season.
By 1969 he was regularly producing the type of new, repeat-blooming varieties that matched his vision. Based on the strength of these roses and the reception they received from rose lovers he launched the nursery and gardens of David Austin Roses Ltd. that today are world famous. He named his new hybrids English Roses. Gardeners across Great Britain and the far corners of the globe welcomed Austin’s entirely new kind of rose with enthusiasm.
David Austin’s roses are known for their charm and unique character. English Roses are available in a wide range of pure, glowing colors, from the softest blush pinks to the deepest, richest crimson, plus soft creams and ecru, yellows, apricots and copper.
His had been a contrarian’s quest. Believing that “fragrance is the other half of the beauty of a rose”, at a time when other breeders were allowing scent to disappear in pursuit of greater flower size and conformity, Austin made fragrance a hallmark of his program. The English Roses are renowned for the strength and complexity of their fragrances – including the Old Rose scent, the scent of myrrh, tea, musk and a whole range of fruity fragrances and others – in fact they have a far greater range than is to be found in any other kind of flower.
For David Austin, it is the breeder’s ultimate responsibility to capture the beauty of a rose at all stages: “Nature, left to her own devices, finds it hard to produce anything that is ugly. The work of the plant breeder should always be to enhance nature, not to detract from it. We should strive to develop the rose’s beauty in flower, growth and leaf.”
Today, David Austin Roses Ltd., is helmed by David JC Austin, the eldest son of David CH Austin. The firm is one of Britain’s leading rose nurseries. The senior Mr. Austin still works nearly full time at the nursery in Albrighton where he leads a team of dedicated horticulturists managing one of the world’s largest breeding programs for garden roses.
The company maintains a consistently high commitment to breeding and trialing new varieties. Each year the Austin team makes 50,000 crosses between April and July to germinate more than 250,000 seedlings the following year. Successful rose breeding depends on meticulous planning and requires close attention to the smallest details. To achieve the distinctive traits of English Roses, Mr. Austin’s hybridizing team continues the ongoing quest to achieve new varieties with the rare qualities and grace that set English Roses apart from others. Following the initial selections, the most outstanding seedlings undergo up to eight years of field trials. Eventually just three to six new varieties will be released each year at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. To date, David Austin Roses has released more than 200 English Roses.
An International Offering
In North America, the David Austin Roses catalogue, the Handbook of Roses, features around 200 varieties including 132 English Roses plus a hand picked selection of desirable Old Roses, modern roses, climbers, ramblers and species roses. These are available, winter through spring, by mail order from DavidAustinRoses.com as bare root roses. A selection of English Roses is available year-round as container roses.
Licensed English Roses are grown in approximately 30 countries around the world, with representatives in almost every rose-growing nation. The wholesale division of David Austin Roses has become an extremely successful part of the business, supplying nearly all garden centers in the UK, together with many prominent outlets in Europe, USA, Russia, Canada and Japan, as well as supplying garden designers and other nurseries.
Alongside the nursery and plant center in Albrighton`, England, David Austin has created his famous rose garden, which many consider to be one of the most beautiful rose gardens in the world. The two acre garden displays the National Collection of English Roses together with nearly every other type of rose available to gardeners: more than 700 varieties in all. The garden is divided into smaller areas, each with its own theme, designed to provide inspiration for rose lovers.
The UK gardens inspired the design of David Austin’s new English Rose Gardens in Osaka, Japan, which were officially opened in May 2012. It is the first David Austin garden of its kind outside of the UK and three thousand roses have been flourishing in the hot, humid conditions there. The tranquil garden featuring English Roses, perennials, shrubs and other plants is set in a beautiful rolling landscape with a koi pond and running stream.
David Austin is proud and delighted that so many people who create private and public gardens today include English Roses in their designs. They grace some of the most prestigious gardens in the world, including The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, England; Schloss Marihn in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany and New York Botanical Garden in New York City.
Austin Luxury Cut Rose Bouquets
In 2004 Mr. Austin unveiled the results of another hybridizing quest: this time a 15-year program to develop a line of English Roses with all the attributes of the beloved Austin garden roses but bred specifically for the luxury cut flower trade. Austin’s current cut rose collection includes eleven exclusive varieties, which combine the glorious Old Rose forms, fragrance and romantic colors with the year-round availability, strong stems and good vase life of modern cut roses.
These new roses have quickly become some of the most highly prized flowers of brides and party planners worldwide, and seem set to revolutionize the world of cut roses in the same way that English Roses changed the character of garden roses. Ideal for gift bouquets, arrangements for the home and for all kinds of special occasions, their glorious, garden-inspired style sets them completely apart from other cut roses.
A Career in Roses
In 2007, David Austin was appointed Officer of the Order of British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s birthday honors list for services to horticulture. On receiving the award, he said “Every day, I marvel at my good fortune to have been able to make a life out of breeding roses. It is always a great satisfaction to see the pleasure gardeners and rose lovers worldwide take in my roses”. In that same year Mr. Austin introduced his 200th English Rose at the Chelsea Flower Show, the beautiful deep crimson – and fragrant – ‘Munstead Wood’.
David Austin Roses have won numerous gold medals for their rose displays at the Chelsea Flower Show, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and Courson in Paris. The English Roses have won awards around the world for their garden performance as shrubs or as climbers, as well as for fragrance. In 2009, David Austin’s rose ‘Graham Thomas’ received the highest accolade in the rose world when it was voted the World’s Favorite Rose by the World Federation of Rose Societies (WFRS) and was inducted into the society’s ‘Rose Hall of Fame’.
David Austin has been presented with many awards, including the Victoria Medal of Honour from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2003 for his services to horticulture, and he was honored as the 2010 ‘Great Rosarian of the World’ by The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California and New York’s Manhattan Rose Society.
David CH Austin was born on the 16th February 1926. He and his late wife, Pat, an accomplished sculptress, had three children, Claire, David and James, and eight grandchildren. The beautiful sculptures that grace Mr. Austin’s Albrighton rose garden were created by Mrs. Austin. Mr. Austin named the exquisite copper-colored English Rose ‘Pat Austin’ in her honor.