Celebrities pictured loving Norfolk grower's roses at Chelsea Flower Show
- Credit: Denise Bradley
The Chelsea Flower Show is never far from Ian Limmer’s thoughts.
“Around September, we start planning and designing our stand,” says the nursery manager of the world-famous Peter Beales Roses at Attleborough. “Then around October/November I start choosing the varieties.”
For many growers, garden designers and enthusiasts, the RHS show is the highlight of the horticultural year.
Thousands of visitors, including a host of famous faces, flock to the Royal Hospital Chelsea to tour the glorious show gardens – with millions more enjoying the colourful spectacle from their sofas.
This year’s show has been a stellar one for the team from Peter Beales Roses.
Not only did they launch three new varieties, but their exhibition stand scooped a coveted Gold Medal – and the President’s Award for the best stand in the entire floral marquee.
Their Gold Medal is their 27th since the nursery, which was established in 1968, has been going to the show – and their 17th on the trot.
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And an array of celebrities visited and admired the nursery's colourful and fragrant display, including pop stars Martin and Shirlie Kemp, Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, Baroness Benjamin, chef Rick Stein, journalists Sophie Raworth and Angela Rippon and TV presenters Phillip Schofield, Anthea Turner, Nick Knowles and Anneka Rice.
Ian joined Peter Beales Roses as a Saturday boy 45 years ago when he was 15.
For he and the team, this week was the culmination of months, and, in the case of the newly launched roses, years of work.
As Ian explains, it takes around a decade to create a new variety of rose.
“To develop a rose that you feel happy and confident to launch at Chelsea Flower Show it takes about 10 years from the time that you actually cross the roses,” he says.
“We do several thousand seeds and look at new varieties. We do reject a lot because either they’ve got mildew or black spot. You’re trying to find the real good healthy ones that you could then put into the fields, and then trial them in the fields and then in pots and so on, so that they’ve got a good healthy strain.”
And the 900 roses that were chosen to adorn their stand have been carefully nurtured since November to ensure that they look their blooming best at exactly the right time.
“In November over 2,000 roses are potted and then they’re left outside just to harden off and naturally acclimatise themselves, even in the frost,” says Ian.
“Then around mid-February they go into the glasshouses, because it’s not natural to have all the roses out in May. If you look in your garden, you’ve got one or two varieties out, but to have everything at their best [for show time] you do need to force them.
“So from February through until May Michael Baldwin, who does a lot of our breeding as well as all the Chelsea plants and is a real, passionate horticulturalist, lives and breathes Chelsea Flower Show.
“They need to be watered, sprayed, vents opened, vents closed. They are moved all around the glasshouses – and if they come on too advanced, they’re moved outside into shaded areas to slow them down. At 10 o’clock at night he could go up and it’s a cold evening and he’ll shut the vents.”
Ian will visit the Chelsea roses every two or three days and chat with Michael about how they getting on.
And it requires constant vigilance.
“There must be no greenfly, no black spot, they must be healthy and looking in their prime,” says Ian.
Out of the 2,000 roses, 900 perfect specimens are selected.
And a week before the show opens, a five-strong team from the nursery goes down to London to start transforming their nine-metre by nine-metre exhibition space in the floral marquee into an idyllic rose garden.
On the Monday, all the ironwork, such as arches, obelisks and trellises are put into place and their cloister-style centrepiece stand is built from scratch with stones and brickwork.
Then from the Tuesday right through to the night before the press day the team are busy dressing the stands.
Ian and the team were thrilled to be coming home with two awards from this year’s show – and they know that if they want to continue to be winners, they can’t rest on their laurels.
“We really do put a lot of effort in and to be awarded the President’s Award is absolutely fantastic for Attleborough and for Norfolk. Anybody who’s had anything to do with the Chelsea Flower Show knows that you can never take it for granted that you’re going to get a Gold Medal,” says Ian.
A perennial favourite...
Peter Beales Roses launched three new varieties of rose at the Chelsea Flower Show. Founder Peter Beales opened his first nursery in Swardeston in 1968 and went on to save many rose breeds from extinction.
Ian says that roses are proving as popular as ever.
“We’re just delighted to be a part of adding pleasure to people’s gardens.”
The new roses launched at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show are:
Oxford Physic Rose
The Oxford Physic Rose was launched to mark the University of Oxford Botanic Garden’s 400th anniversary. The birthplace of botanical science in the UK, it was originally known as the Oxford Physic Garden.
“It’s a beautiful, semi double, soft pink flower which is very bee friendly,” says Ian.
It has the look of an old-fashioned rose, and the scent is reminiscent of a classic rose: very sweet, strong and lasting.
Rachel’s Joy is aptly named in memory of Rachel Flood, a former director of Peter Beales Roses, vice president of the World Federation of Roses and a dear friend of Peter Beales.
“Rachel had a real passion for roses and we felt it was right just to honour her with a beautiful, soft peachy-pink flower,” says Ian.
“It has a lovely sweet, subtle fragrance as it opens.”
Peter Beales Roses staff member Mia Osborne came up with the name Loyal Companion, which will resonate with many.
“It’s a beautiful floribunda rose that starts off peachy apricot, then goes to a pink and ends up white,” says Ian.