About fifteen miles south-west of Norwich, just off the A11, is Attleborough. In the town’s one way system you find a modest brown sign for “Rose Garden” in the direction of Thetford. Just beyond an industrial site and two soon-to-be housing estates, still so modest as to be easily missed, is the entrance.
Once inside you discover why Peter Beales doesn’t need to advertise itself. We arrived at about half past noon and the small car park was full. Fortunately there is a large field for the overflow. Already there were a camper van, a conventional van and a couple of cars parked. Another car was leaving.
A footpath leads past the limited-mobility parking into either the nursery and garden or the cafe. Four hours after breakfast – not to mention Pilates for one of us – meant time to eat. The choice is inside or out, where the courtyard has a moderate amount of shade. There is a decent range of basic food, including sandwiches, salads and cooked items, but of course the purpose is never eating but always plant hunting. We had the special Greek salad – pleasant enough on a hot day – and something to drink.
There was time enough to notice people using mobility vehicles – available, I think, at the nursery. A unisex (including disabled) toilet is inside and three (M, F & D) are outside.
We had target roses, a climber and a rambler, both with small blooms, in mind but wanted first to see how they grow in the show garden. It is an object lesson in every sense: not only can you note the habits of different plants but also how the blooms hang and develop through the season. Not that roses are the only presence. As most of us probably see a rose as a feature in a mixed border or on an arch it is good to see how the nursery sets them off in company as well as in special rose beds.
In a few minutes we had two or three potential purchases in mind. Then, behind a memorial bench to the late Peter Beales, until 2013 an inspiring advocate and grower of prize roses, we found a brilliant red rambler, Excelsa. That became our number one priority.
Nothing else matched Excelsa on our journey round the garden, though we had two likely for our climber. In the sales area we met problems: no sign of one of our climbers, and to compound that we found a rambler that wasn’t red but pink, also bearing the name Excelsa. What to do? Find a helpful member of staff, fortunately easy to do. Although he couldn’t give all the help we needed he called a colleague who is responsible for rose development. Yes, that was pink. Where had we seen the red one? Described, he explained our mistake: the one we were looking at was Super Excelsa, what we wanted had no adjective. And there it was, among the E labels.
Could he help with the climber? He said he’d try and went away to the stock area. In a few minutes he was back with a choice of two. We chose the more developed one he recommended. It’s called Minnehaha, so we were laughing.
All we had left to do was find some companion plants, which took very little time, then after loading them carefully to travel home. A worthwhile half day with results we look forward to developing – and hopes of a little corner in emulation of what Peter Beales had achieved. Unlikely, though, that we’ll have Chelsea gold medals as they continue to gain.