David Austin Roses: A Love Story

For centuries, roses have been associated with romance. They’ve received countless mentions in literature, poetry, film, and songs, often representing love and beauty. Because of their connotation, their feminine shape, and their perfume-like fragrance, roses have become quintessential wedding flowers—whether they’re in the bridal bouquet, the ceremony designs, or the table arrangements. And among the most coveted roses for brides the world over are David Austin Roses.

In the 1940s, David Austin started breeding roses as a hobby, honing his gardening skills in his grandmother’s garden in England. He was inspired to breed a rose in the “old world style,” which was much more fragrant and open than the hybrid tea rose that was popular at the time. Austin was not only able to accomplish breeding this type of rose, but he also started a revolution in the floral industry with his lush, luxurious blooms. After the initial success of introducing his prized garden shrub roses to the public in the 1970s, David Austin dove into the world of breeding garden roses for the cut flower industry in the 1990s.

CF: What is so distinctive and special about David Austin roses?

DA: Beauty, charm, elegance, grace are all words that fit a David Austin English rose. Fragrance is very important. Here at David Austin Roses, we are driven by the ambition to create the finest wedding roses. David Austin roses open to reveal a unique beauty. Hybrid teas are really only about the bud; David Austin roses are about the open flower.

CF: What are some historic highlights of the David Austin Roses brand?

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DA: My father started breeding roses in the 1940s where he set himself the goal of breeding a new kind of garden rose, which combined the fragrant, many petalled romance of the old roses with the diverse colours and repeat flowering ability of modern roses.

Canadian Florist recently spoke with David J. C. Austin, the founder’s oldest son, about the history of David Austin Roses, what makes their flowers so unique, and why they’re dominating the wedding industry.

David Austin Roses was launched in 1969, and has since produced more 200 garden roses and won 22 Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medals. David Austin has established an unrivalled reputation as a breeder and producer with gardening experts and enthusiasts alike.

In 1995, David Austin Roses worked to create a new range of cut roses with great success, setting the company apart from any other.

CF: How many varieties of roses do you grow?

DA: David Austin Roses has 14 varieties of cut garden roses. Each variety has its own special beauty and presence.

CF: What goes into developing a new variety?

DA: You have to have a bank of knowledge of what all different plants do. It’s a very long process and you need to do many crosses to achieve your goal. You might be looking for a particular shape or a particular colour. We’re very interested in pure whites, for example. But without knowledge, it’s just random luck. You need to build up that knowledge.

CF: How long does it take to develop a new variety?

DA: If you want to do something new or different, allow 15 to 20 years. Once your line has been developed, then a new variety of the same type will take about seven years to get to market.

CF: What characteristics do you have in mind when you’re developing new varieties?

DA: It is important that each variety is different and adds its own signature style to the David Austin collection. As such, our individual varieties complement each other beautifully to make a truly unique collection.

CF: How do you know when a particular variety is “right”?

DA: We trial our roses extensively around the world. We get to know our roses very well before we are fully confident in introducing them. Not only are our roses assessed on their charm, their grace, and their fragrance, but we also extensively trial vase life, transit damage, and speed of opening.

CF: How do you decide which farms may grow your roses?

DA: A passion for roses and excellent quality blooms are essential to become an authorised David Austin Roses licensed grower. They need a very specific climate to grow all year round or have the very latest technology that can simulate the perfect climate. We currently have a small team of 10 licensed growers around the world. We work very closely with our growers to ensure excellent quantity and supply is maintained.

CF: How important is a passion for flowers in the Austin family?

DA: David Austin is 93 this year. One of his earliest gardening memories is having his own little garden in his grandmother’s garden, which is where he lives today.

His grandson, Richard, has grown up surrounded by roses and has developed the same love for them. As head of marketing, Richard is responsible for bringing David Austin Roses into the digital age.

CF: Roses are closely associated with romance, making them a popular choice for brides. Why do you think this association exists?

DA: It’s a cultural thing. If you go back hundreds of years, roses were featured all the time in paintings and poetry. They captured the imagination of creative types—writers, artists, poets. They helped to make the rose an iconic flower. And in cultural terms, it’s associated with love and the most important moments in people’s lives. We think they’re the most beautiful flower.

English garden roses are romantic. They look fabulous in a bridal bouquet, they are elegant in bridal headpieces, and look stunning when arranged in table decorations. David Austin roses live up to the bride’s special wedding dream, whatever shape or form it happens to take.

CF: If a bride is carrying David Austin roses in her bouquet, it’s always noted in coverage of the wedding. How does that make you feel to have your roses known by name?

DA: That’s what we tried to achieve. It’s very pleasing. The amount of work that goes into creating a new variety is immense. It’s years of work, years of experience. When people choose us for such an important occasion, it’s quite an honour. It’s very rewarding for us.

CF: One of the words to describe your roses is “fragrant.” Why should fragrance play a role when choosing flowers for a bridal bouquet?

DA: Scents are all about emotion. You’ll have a memory from your youth and often scent can come into it. It evokes memories. Scents are very important in human behaviour in our lives. When you see anybody pick up a flower, the first thing they’ll do is smell the flower.

CF: Lastly, what do you think is the most important aspect of a bridal bouquet?

DA: A David Austin rose is the stand out feature of any bridal bouquet. Dramatic, romantic, beautiful, and elegant—these are all words that describe a David Austin rose. Whether it is a monobotanical design or features other flowers and foliage, the David Austin roses will always steal the show. And their fragrance will make any bride’s day a little bit more special.

For more information, please visit davidaustin.com or email cutroses@davidaustin.com.

Jamie Birdwell-Branson
Jamie is a freelance writer and editor with over nine years of editorial experience working as a writer, editor, fact checker, social media specialist, proofreader, and layout artist.

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