At the end of last year, the news was announced that one of Shropshire’s best-loved sons, the rose grower David Austin, had passed away aged 92.
David grew up in the Shropshire countryside and he developed a fondness for plants at a young age, delighting in the lupin displays at the nursery down the road from their family farm. But when his sister gave him a book about old garden roses for his 21st birthday, it was the beginning of a lifelong passion that was to transform his life – and change the world of roses forever.
David felt that although the more traditional blooms were charming and often had magnificent fragrances, they were lacking in the colour diversity and ability to repeat flower common to the more modern Hybrid Teas. He set about trying to develop a flower with the charm and fragrance of the old roses, but with the glamour and tenacity of modern roses.
After a dogged process initially blighted by fungal disease thanks to David’s inexperience in flower breeding, David’s first English rose, ‘Constance Spry’, was launched in 1961. Among his expansive collection, other notable varieties include ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ – twice voted the nation’s favourite rose – and more recently, ‘Olivia Rose Austin’.
With his Albrighton nursery now well-established, David was rewarded for his outstanding contribution to horticulture, receiving gold standard accolades at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and an OBE for services to horticulture in 2007.
Until the very end, David was very much part of the business, regularly examining the breeding crop in the fields accompanied by his Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bertie. His son David Jr, MD of the company for the last 25 years, says, “My father – or Mr A as he was affectionately known within the wider Austin family – was a remarkable man. His love for the art of rose breeding was truly inspiring; he loved nothing more than seeing the pleasure that his roses gave to others.
“His presence will be sorely missed within the global family company that he created. But the passion he instilled will continue and we will hold true to my father’s vision when he founded the company almost 50 years ago.”
The Austin family invites anyone who wishes to share their memories and condolences to send these to [email protected]