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I’m coming to the end of the rose-pruning season at the moment and thank goodness for that – my fingers are full of thorns and my hands are so scratched it looks like I’ve been washing in barbed wire.

I’m ending the pruning season with a really tricky one, though: in my new garden, there’s an old and rather dilapidated trellis fence across the back supporting three climbing roses – or are they rambling roses? That’s the problem. The owner knows what one of them is – it’s Albertine, which is a rambler, so that’s fine. The other two are a mystery, and they’re not the same as each other, either.

The difference between a climber and a rambler is quite a subtle one, but has quite an impact on how you look after them. As a general rule of thumb, if your rose is producing lots of whippy stems from at or near the ground, it’s almost certainly a rambler: if you can see a framework of branches in the centre, from which the flowering shoots are coming, then you’ve got a climber.

Of course, there are, as always, exceptions to the rule, and I think I may have one here. The rose on the left-hand side is producing lots of long, whippy stems – but it also has quite an established framework. Now this could be because it’s been quite neglected, so the whippy branches have been allowed to thicken more than they usually would – or it could just be a whippy sort of climber.

Oh dear… well, I hedged my bets and pruned it like a climber but leaving more of the whippy bits in than I usually would just in case it’s a rambler after all. I shall wait until it flowers and take a sample or two up to Wisley just to find out for sure.

Oh yes, and the difference between caring for ramblers vs caring for climbers? You prune climbers at this time of year, taking sideshoots back to 2-3 buds from the central framework, but ramblers you allow to… well… ramble until August, when you remove one in three of the oldest shoots right down to the ground to thin them out a bit. Climbers, you see, flower on growth made this year; ramblers flower on growth that’s matured from previous years. Which is why I’ll be in deep doo-doo if I’ve pruned a rambler like a climber – because I’ll have chopped out all those nice mature stems, and therefore the flowers… Well, time will tell, and luckily the owner is very understanding!

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