David Austin, who bred 230 varieties of English roses, and who won 24 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, died in 2018 at the age of 92. He was fond of saying that a rose without a fragrance is only half a rose.
Austin’s parents were farmers in Shropshire County in England, and he followed in their footsteps. However, it was a book that he received on his 21st birthday called Old Garden Roses published in 1936 by A.E. Bunyard that changed his life.
Old roses, such as albas, gallicas, and damasks had aromas that he enjoyed, so he started crossing them with modern hybrid teas that had good attributes but not the fragrances that he loved.
His first rose, named for British floral designer Constance Spry, was a pink climber that smelled like myrrh. A disadvantage was that it only bloomed once a year. A yellow climber that he named “Graham Thomas” was his first big breakthrough.
To create a new rose takes a lot of effort and about nine years, so a lot of time. But over six decades Austen created 230 hybrids, and his roses are now sold around the world. He is the father of repeat flowering roses that combine old fragrances, lovely color and form, disease resistance, and improved shelf life, and in addition, he gave them memorable names.