50 years of Peter Beales roses
PUBLISHED: 12:31 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:31 17 July 2018
Angela Sharpe Photography 2018
Norfolk rose nursery Peter Beales is a world leader in its field and is celebrating 50 years of growing beautiful blooms
It is a cool grey June day when photographer Angie and I turn up at Peter Beales rose gardens; but even so, the place is alight with colour. At every turn there is something bright and beautiful to greet the eye.
It has been delighting Norfolk gardeners for half a century since the late Peter Beales turned over the first spadeful of earth to realise a dream.
Nursery manager Ian Limmer has been part of the story for most of that time, since he joined the nursery 42 years ago. “I started just before my 16th birthday as a Saturday boy, weeding and watering,” he says, “with no real intention of coming into the industry.
“But I enjoyed the outside life and within two months Peter offered me a chance to go to the Chelsea Flower Show and I thoroughly enjoyed that. By the summer season I was learning how to bud and graft roses and so on.”
Peter clearly saw something in the young Ian and offered the teenager an apprenticeship. “Peter was very fair; when I was 17 he lent me £150 to buy my first little van – a Reliant three-wheeler – and helped me learn to drive.” He used it to take the orders down to the Post Office – 10 to 15 a day back then.
Now the packing shed puts together around 300 orders a day to dispatch to gardeners from Birmingham to Budapest. Back then there were four members of staff; now the site gives employment to 50 people in the gardens, the shop, tearoom, offices and distribution, many, like Ian and his brother, head gardener Vaughn, have decades of loyal service under their belts.
Despite spending every day of his working life with roses Ian has never grown tired of them and is a passionate evangelist for the flower. “It’s such a huge, vast subject. Roses date back to the 12th century. I’m still learning now. You never know it all.
“I’ve got two or three favourites; Macmillan Nurse, Rosa mundi, which dates back to the 12th century, and Chevy Chase, which is a rambler. Whenever you see any of those at their best they are absolutely fantastic. But when you see something at its best you think ‘that’s one of my favourites.’
“Next week when you walk past it the rain will have come, it’s nearly over and then something else becomes your favourite.”
Pressed, Ian says that the Macmillan Nurse is probably his No1 choice; “Because it is one we bred ourselves, it’s got the old-fashioned look, the health of the more modern roses, it more or less flowers continuously, doesn’t get too big and it was brought out for a good cause.”
Ian takes us on a tour of the garden; it is a joyful riot of blooms in immaculate weed-free beds, roses of every hue and shape bursting out wherever you turn. The garden is carefully planted so that there are flowers out for the whole season and as one variety finishes, its neighbour picks up the mantle.
And then there is the scent. Even on a cool day the air is heavy with rose perfume and as we wander around we sniff the flower heads and discover the different aromas, some spicy and strong, some softer and sweeter.
There are structures from past Chelsea Flower Shows to admire – Beales has a proud record of success at the world’s most prestigious flower show – and climb to get a birds-eye view of the garden. But it is not all pristine beds and immaculate blooms; the wildlife garden is a weedy wonderland set up to help the flora and fauna and is a huge hit with children and adults alike.
How does Ian see the next 50 years? “We will be getting bigger, not out of control, but as long as we focus on quality and being a specialist with a good team of people we will continue to grow.”
It’s all in the genes
Breeding and developing new roses is a key part of the work at Peter Beales. But for those seeking the perfect black or blue rose, there is likely to be disappointment. “The genes are just not there, it just does not happen,” explains Ian. What happens is that the ‘black’ roses are actually super-deep red and the ‘blue’ end up as purple.
“If we could do it we’d be able to retire the next day!” he jokes.
As it is the rose development programme is pretty intensive. “When we’re breeding roses every year we’ll cross probably 2-3,000 different varieties which will produce 40,000 seeds every year. Out of those in ten years’ time there might be 6-10 varieties that are good enough to launch.”
Peter Beales grew his worldwide reputation as a classic rose expert from a small site at Swardeston in 1968, later moving to Attleborough.
His love of old roses took him around the world and as his knowledge expanded so did his business. He was a prolific winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, winning 19 gold medals among other top horticultural awards.
He died in January, 2013, aged 76.