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Gertrude Jekyll

As spring is nearing closer it’s hard not to get excited for the upcoming growing season. Especially with the abnormally warm start to the year, the roses are already beginning to show signs of life.

This will be my first year growing several varieties of old garden roses (roses from before 1867 when the first hybrid tea was introduced) but its fun to think about what led me to where I am which is essentially my obsession with David Austin roses.
At my very core I am a researcher. I cherish many memories sitting around the family encyclopedia (google for kids that were born before 1990) looking up information on everything that I could possibly want to know. I was the type of kid that wrote reports for fun. Fast forward back to my adulthood and I am still odd and everything that I find interesting becomes researched until I know as much as I possibly can. So after my first season of gardening, I had decided to add Mr Lincoln, and was giddy and looking forward to the following season of blooms. The long winter ahead (and it was an awful one) gave me plenty of time to research and discover a whole world of roses. And now I knew that I would need to add more than just Mr Lincoln to satisfy my new obsession. I was intent on  making my purchases from a high end local nursery come spring, and they had a website filled with their inventory. At this point my main considerations were color and bloom form and I still had the mid century idea of what a rose should look like (ie hybrid tea) engrained into me. In all of my researched however I discovered David Austin roses which I initially dismissed due to the “odd bloom form,” that I didn’t realize was the classic shape of a rose. However because from the articles I had read, these were listed as premium and promised incredible fragrance I decided to add one to my list. It’s funny to think back when I thought a single David Austin would be enough. The local nursery only had several listed in their inventory and so I searched though and honestly remember not really caring for any of them. I wanted a pink rose, however the only pink they had was called Gertrude Jekyll and she seemed to be a loud, hot pink that was a tad over the top for me. I added her to my cart anyway.
That winter dragged on and the thought of having a rose garden was now an obsession. By the time that spring rolled around and my plants were ready to pick up, I had communicated with the nursery so much that they all knew me by name and were thrilled to meet me. I collected all of the items that they had been holding for me, checked out and flew home to get everything planted.

Fast forward again and I was amazed to see that all of the roses were starting to produce buds. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and figured that none of them may flower in the first year. Even seeing the buds was exhilarating. Gertrude was the first to open, and that was when I decided that a single David Austin rose would never be enough. She was amazing and I was in love.
Somehow her bright pink coloring didn’t seem so garish in person; although bright there was still a more subdued quality to it. I soon discovered that she was difficult to accurately depict her color in photographs as the pink would become so intense that it would appear one dimensional.

And then there was her fragrance. David Austin describes her fragrance as "The quintissential old rose fragrance."  To me, Gertrude smelled like an expensive perfume - a fragrance that I never knew a flower was capable of producing in that intensity. It's kind of sad to think that until that day I had never smelled that fragrance on an actual rose, but rather just in rose scented fragrances. To this day I have yet to smell a more powerful rose fragrance.
Gertrude went on to produce several flushes that first summer, and she seemed to only get better every time new blooms would open. She was my favorite and I was officially converted from the more formal looking modern roses that I had filled my rose garden with. And then as summer was nearing its end, Gertrude showed her ugly side. Black spot. Blackspot for days. As an inexperienced gardener and especially with roses, I thought that she was done for. The blackspot multiplied so quickly on her leaves that she completely defoliated and no longer looked attractive. The rose that i had fallen in love with and spent all summer tending to had now become an eye sore and I really thought that she was a goner. After doing some more research I was happy to discover that black spot wasn't lethal and that she could recover, however I didn't want to deal with this every single year. Fortunately i have never seen black spot that bad again after the first year.
Another possible downside to Gertrude, which I personally don't look at as a negative, are her thorns. Gertrude Jekyll takes thorns to the next level. She doesn't merely have a few prickles on her canes, but rather her prickles have a few canes attached to them. Tending to Gertrude means battle scars.
I now have many David Austin roses, but Gertrude is still one of my favorites. Although there are some amazing fragrances, none of them are as strong or classic as Gertrude. At least none that i currently have. I am still adding several every year with the goal of finding one stronger. If you're considering adding this rose to your garden, just do it. She is incredible. She has her negatives, however all in all she is an incredible plant.

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