Woburn Abbey Gardens re-creates Humphry Repton's 19th century Rosarium Britannicum

Woburn Abbey Gardens has re-created its Rosarium Britannicum, an historic rose garden dating from 1830 which boasted every single variety of rose known in Britain at the time.

Just add sun: the completed rosarium, with Custodian Awards venue The Sculpture Gallery behind. Image: Woburn Abbey Gardens
Just add sun: the completed rosarium, with Custodian Awards venue The Sculpture Gallery behind. Image: Woburn Abbey Gardens

Woburn gardeners have planted the 17m x 9m rosarium with a newly-selected range of varieties, just in time for The Woburn Abbey Garden Show next weekend and the Horticulture Week Parks & Gardens Live and Custodian Awards events on 28 June.

Garden estate manager Martin Towsey decided on the restoration following the discovery of a book entitled The New and Improved Practical Gardener, and Modern Horticulturist by Charles McIntosh in the Woburn Abbey archives. The book mentions both a Rosarium Britannicum and a Rosarium Scoticum.

Rosa Munstead Wood 'Ausbernard' image: David Austin Roses

McIntosh’s text said: "At Woburn Abbey, the magnificent seat of his Grace the Duke of Bedford, is a Rosarium Britannicum, or a garden dedicated to the cultivation of roses, natives of Britain. It was formed in 1830, and contains all the species and varieties of British roses, the entrance to which consists of an iron trellis arch, covered with climbing roses; there is also a trellis along one of its sides, for training the creeping species to, terminated at each end by an ornamental stone vase; the other side is enclosed by a hedge of Scotch roses."

The text prompted a treasure hunt in the grounds for the original site. An 1838 map was discovered which shows the rosarium, alongside a circle, in the centre of which appears to be a tree.

In January gardeners, led by deputy head gardener Doug Francis, excavated an area close to Woburn’s Sculpture Gallery – the venue for this year’s prestigious Horticulture Week Custodian Awards – where the rosarium was believed to have originally been sited. They uncovered cobbles in a circle surrounding a mulberry tree which matched the map. It was here the gardens team reconstructed the rosarium.

Rosa Princess Alexandria of Kent - image: David Austin Roses

The Sculpture Gallery is also a popular wedding venue, making the siting of the rose garden even better, said Towsey, who is giving two tours of the gardens as part of the Horticulture Week Parks & Gardens Live events on 28 June, which will take in the new garden. 

"The rosarium will further add to the attractive garden already in situ, forming a picturesque spot for wedding photography, while also reinstating an important feature in the 25-year plan to restore the 17-hectare gardens back to Repton’s original vision. We also plan to run rose study days as part of our Woburn Garden School prospectus."

Woburn consulted David Austin Roses rosarian Michael Marriott on replacements for the Old English varietites which no longer exist.

Rosa Claire Austin 'Ausprior' - image: David Austin Roses

The Duchess of Bedford, a keen gardener, selected varieties which would be strong, healthy, offer repeat blooming, good scents and are in-keeping with the original garden vision. Gardeners planted the bare root roses in the south-facing loamy clay site this spring. Varieties include include Rosa ‘Olivier Rose Austin’, R. Claire Austin, R. Scepter’d Isle, R. Darcey Bussell, R. Munstead Wood, R. Scarborough Fair and R. Princess Alexandra Of Kent and R. Harlow Carr.

Woburn commissioned rose trellis iron works in a pattern taken from Repton-designed Ashridge and Endsleigh, both of which originally belonged to the Woburn Estate, and added bespoke metal edging and Breedon Stone pathways to the design.

The Duchess of Bedford will officially open the Rosarium Britannicum on Sunday 25 June at The Woburn Abbey Garden Show, headlined this year by Adam Frost and Pippa Greenwood. 

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