My experiments with using cut flowers in the garden don’t run much more creative than floating a few frangipani or camellias in a bowl. A visit to David Ruston’s garden at Ruston Roses, in Renmark on the Murray River, convinced me that mine is a paltry vision. When it comes to using cut flowers to decorate garden spaces no one I’ve ever met does it like David Ruston.
Let me show you what I mean, starting with something simple, a reasonably traditional take on an urn, filled with silver crassula and surrounded by the lovely pleated foliage of brilliantasia and a few sprays of sage. There’s a naturalism to the arrangement so that it’s not immediately obvious whether the succulent has been planted or cut and arranged.
There’s no such ambivalence about this one:
The dried heads of cardoon look fantastic (if slightly Miss Haversham) in this formal pyramid, and remind us that flowers are worth admiring, at all stages of their life.
But it’s roses that made David famous and it’s roses that are everywhere in vases around the garden and all through the house. Here, a basket of red roses on the rustic outdoor table:
More formally, here’s ‘Princess Margaret’, a few dozen of her, displayed in a polished antique sterling silver vase just outside the back door .
You see what I mean about my paltry ambition. ‘Princess Margaret’ is just one of about 4000 different rose varieties growing at Ruston Roses, which holds both the national rose collection and the Heritage Rose Society collection. The nursery was a leading supplier of both cut flowers and of grafting material in its heyday in the 1990s. Then the twin-whammy of globalisation and drought forced change. Roses from the Riverland couldn’t compete on price with those grown in Africa or South America, even if they continued to win on fragrance and freshness. Drought just made things harder. So Ruston Roses is now a tourism venture, luring visitors into the garden with the promise great food and coffee, as well as roses.
The highlight though is David Ruston’s garden. An inveterate collector, David keeps pushing at the boundaries of the garden, inching into the rows of roses to build borders of horticultural treats. Paths wind through beds that, late into autumn, tower above head height.
Here’s David, walking the path he made to cut through a giant fallen willow. Typically, plants are crammed into every space, including in pots on the uneven surface of the old tree trunk.
And everywhere there are bowls and vases and urns of roses.
Impressed as I am by David’s skill, I can’t see that I’ll be taking my vases into the garden, filled or otherwise, any time soon. But as well as marvelling at the skill, and sticking my head into every rose for a deep breath of perfume, my visit was a reminder of how wonderfully personal a garden is, and what an intimate privilege it is to see someone else’s!