Rose Pruning at Sissinghurst

I photographed these fantastic looking creations at Sissinghurst Castle Garden in the UK several years ago. Their intricate and impressive rose pruning techniques were like nothing I'd seen before.

This is one of those lost horticultural arts for me and I was astounded to see these beautifully sculptural shapes that almost look animated, as though they might dance right out of the beds.

The arched canes curve and swirl, stretched and tied to hazel ‘benders’ or ‘hoops’ positioned around the skirts of the shrubs.

Or tied to four vertical poles placed around the varieties that have a stiffer growth habit, keeping their forms more upright and narrow.

To use this technique on your shrub roses, start by tying the long flexible canes from the outside of the plant, then as you move towards the middle, attach the inner canes to the stems already tied to the benders, creating an ever-mounding web.

Any lateral shoots are shortened to a couple of inches to encourage flowering close to the main framework. Instead of shortening the long canes and thereby creating woody, leggy shrubs surrounded by bare ground with all the flowers at the top, training this way means that the roses become mounding fountains of flowers.

Climbers and ramblers grown on the walls and arbours throughout Sissinghurst are treated similarly.

After removing the previous year’s flowering canes and some older woody stems (to encourage new shoots from the ground), the remaining stems are re-attached to the ancient brickwork, starting from the middle of the plant and working outwards, with the tip of each cane bent and tied onto invisible wires, or to the cane below, in swirling, curling patterns.

The technique is particularly striking in the White Garden, where Rosa mulliganii drapes and cascades over the metal arbour at the centre of the garden. In winter, the lace-like view through the newly-trained canes to the blue sky, tied in intricate curves and pincurls, is ever so beautiful.

This is horticultural finesse. And techniques that I occasionally try to mimic in the gardens of my more adventurous clients.

To this end, Gardener's Kit has commissioned 'benders' from our supplier of plant supports - since we don't have local supplies of suitable coppiced wood.

Check out our new benders on the website or pop in to our Victoria showroom. Only available for local pick-up in Victoria.


For more information on this technique - the Victoria Hardy Plant Group is holding a ‘Creative Rose Pruning’ zoom lecture with Jo Jones, senior gardener at Sissinghurst. Sunday, March 13, 2022, 1:00-2:30pm PST, $5 drop-in fee for non-members, email to sign up.

Sissinghurst Castle is an English garden in Kent created by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson in the 1930s, now a National Trust property.
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