Monday, January 21, 2013

Flemington Roses

What would a day at the races be without the champagne and roses for which Flemington is famous. Until the 1960s plants grown at Flemington Racecourse were annuals grown at Flemington's own nursery, but these were labour intensive and costly. Roses were introduced as a cost cutting measure, but now people expect the roses to be flowering on Melbourne Cup Day.

There are over 11,000 roses at Flemington and more are planted every year. They naturally flower through late spring and summer, and some even grace us with a second flowering in autumn. But do the roses at Flemington just happen to be in flower for the first week in November? It is no accident, and Tony Freeman tells us that understanding roses is the key to manipulating their flowering time and this involves pruning, watering, fertilising and pest control. At Flemington these are carried out to a strict regime. They respond well to the extra attention.

Pruning starts in the first week of June for the majority of the Floribundas but the yellow varieties are pruned later since they tend to flower earlier. David Austin’s like 'Graham Thomas' and other old fashioned varieties are pruned later in June; and the standards like 'Manou Meillard' towards the first week of July, again because they flower earlier. Next the hybrid teas are pruned and then towards the end of July the climbers. The last roses pruned are the Rosa'Crépuscule', with hedge clippers in early August. The roses are given two feeds a year of a pelletised organic fertiliser, made of blood and bone, manure and seaweed. This is supplemented with a liquid fish-based fertiliser throughout the year. This is sprayed on the leaves leaving an oily film which has the beneficial side-effect of repelling blackspot fungus. A high potash fertiliser is also used near to Cup time to help manipulate the time of flowering. Any varieties dragging their feet are sprayed up to three times a week to push them along.

Climbing roses produce blind shoots, which want to climb instead of flower. These canes are removed as well as tired or dead blooms. When dead-heading, two or three leaves should be removed, not just the head. Canes are espaliered since horizontal canes produce more laterals, each of which carry a bloom. Vertical canes produce only a few laterals and thus only two or three flowers on a cane. An added bonus at Flemington is the ample quantities of composting materials such as leaves and stable manure and straw, which make top class mulch for the rose gardens.

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