Half a century ago, one of Britain’s greatest ever gardeners planted roses at Mottisfont Abbey — and right now is the perfect time to go and see them

Planted by the legendary horticulturist Graham Stuart Thomas, the 1,000 individual roses at this priory-turned-country house are considered his 'masterpiece' and bloom only once a year.

Climbing over arbours, creeping along red-brick walls and rambling in borders, the kaleidoscopic spectacle of rose blooms at Mottisfont — the National Trust-run former abbey in Hampshire — is enjoying its brief annual moment in the sun. This year, which marks the collection’s 50th anniversary, the roses have bloomed slightly early.

In the 1970s, horticulturist and rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas, then gardens adviser to the National Trust, furthered his mission ‘to bring forth these lovely things from retirement’ by laying out roses and perennials in the old walled kitchen garden at the Augustinian priory-turned-country house, an achievement he later called his masterpiece. He used old-fashioned roses that only flower once a year, deemed all the more beautiful for their blooms’ rarity.

The roses of Mottisfont, Hampshire. ©Steve Sayer/National Trust Images

More than 1,000 individual rose plants of 400 varieties in every fragrance and hue are currently out, some of which may otherwise have been lost forever or can only be seen at Mottisfont.

The roses of Mottisfont, Hampshire. ©Steve Sayer/National Trust Images

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Highlights include Rosa gallica var. officinalis, a pale-crimson, deeply scented shrub brought to England from Persia by the Crusaders, the highly scented ‘Quatre Saisons’, an autumn damask grown by the Romans, and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, a palepink bourbon rose inspired by Empress Joséphine’s garden.

The roses of Mottisfont, Hampshire. ©Steve Sayer/National Trust Images

A pond and fountain, eight clipped Irish yews and herbaceous beds brimming with agapanthus, geraniums, peonies, pinks, lilies, phlox and nepeta complete the idyll.

The roses of Mottisfont, Hampshire. ©Steve Sayer/National Trust Images

Opening hours have been extended into the evening during rose season, until 8pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to June 29, and there will also be three jazz evenings with wine tastings from local vineyard Black Chalk (June 7, 14 and 21). You can find out more at nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/hampshire/mottisfont.

Mottisfont, Hampshire. ©Steve Sayer/National Trust Images