Andrew McIndoe pays homage to the reliable rose

This summer has been a gruelling test for many of our favourite summer flowers. Roses got off to a head start with the warm weather in April and part of May. Then June, their month, turned wet and cold with almost daily heavy rainfall and a few strong winds to add insult to injury. Some objected, producing soggy balls of rotting petals instead of fragrant, open blooms. Others put on a brave face and performed regardless.

Weather resistance is a quality sought after by the rose breeder, along with disease resistance, continuity of flowering, growth habit, fragrance and, of course, colour. However, it is surprising how many old roses still prove their worth through their resistance to weather and disease. The latter is particularly important in a wet summer. Even the most dedicated rose grower would have found it difficult to maintain a sensible spraying programme through the frequent rainfall experienced this year.

The Gallica roses include some of the oldest varieties still in cultivation. Rosa gallica "Officinalis" dates back to the 14th century. The "Apothecary's Rose", as it is commonly called, was grown for the fragrant petals of its semi-double flowers. Bright cerise pink in bloom, they dry to soft dark crimson and retain their fragrance. Although it flowers only once in midsummer, it blooms for several weeks and has tough mid-green leaves that are remarkably resistant to black spot and rust. Rosa gallica "Versicolor" (Rosa mundi) has pink flowers striped with cerise. It is a most attractive addition to a mixed border of shrubs and perennials and both these Gallica roses make an excellent low hedge.

Some of the more flamboyant Gallicas are among the most beautiful and weather-resistant old roses. I saw many on a recent wet visit to gardens in the Dublin area. Summer rainfall is common there so it is particularly important to select roses that succeed. The wonderful Rosa "Charles de Mills" excelled with its flattened many-petalled blooms of deep purple-crimson held proudly against healthy green leaves. Unlike many shrub roses, these do not hang their flowerheads.

The Alba roses have attractive blue-green healthy foliage, and usually a rather upright habit, so are ideal at the back of a border, particularly where they will contrast with dark evergreens. "Great Maiden's blush" and "Queen of Denmark" are two popular pink varieties but my favourite is Rosa alba "Semi-Plena". This has delicate white blooms with golden stamens with a wonderful fragrance. Again, the Alba roses bloom only in midsummer, but their foliage remains attractive and disease-free for much longer.

The English roses, bred by David Austi, have largely taken over from old shrub roses in our gardens. These combine the repeat flowering qualities of modern roses with the charm, fragrance and flower form of old roses. Several new varieties are introduced each year and progress in breeding means that many of the newer varieties are far superior to their older counterparts. Also, a far greater colour range is available today, including some exciting new introductions.

Yellow, copper and orange roses are virtually non-existent among the old roses and these colours are particularly welcome among the English roses. Rosa "Summer Song" is a recent variety, with shining green leaves and large blooms of deep burnt orange with a strong fruity fragrance. I have it planted with bright blue salvias and it makes a striking feature in the border. Rosa "Lady Emma Hamilton" is a delight with its bushy habit and copper-tinted healthy foliage.

The blooms are rounded with incurved petals of copper, tinted with orange and pink, red in bud. They are delicately scented and remarkably weather resistant. Even more important in wet conditions, they last well when cut.

Mid to late summer is a good time to choose and buy roses. A container- grown rose that has resisted disease and manages to put on a repeat flowering performance must surely be one that will do well in your garden. It is impossible to judge these qualities when buying a dormant plant in the winter or choosing from a catalogue.

To get the best from your roses for the rest of this summer, dead-head as they finish flowering. Rather than snipping off individual blooms, cut back flowerheads to two or three buds further down the stems. Feed the plants with rose fertiliser to bring forth late summer flowers. Be vigilant and look out for any sign of disease: pick off the first infected leaves and spray with a fungicide, repeating the treatment 14 days later.

One last word: If you have a rose that always fails to perform, one that still gets disease even though you spray regularly, get rid of it and plant a different variety that will deliver. There is far too much to do and to enjoy in the garden to waste time on one plant that sulks. Contrary to popular belief, you can plant another rose in exactly the same place without changing the soil if you use Rootgrow.

This is a preparation of mycorrhizal fungi that grow in association with the rose roots to aid establishment and extend the root system.