Roses have instilled a passion in many hearts and none more so than in that of the late Peter Beales, whose lifelong love of this most English of flowers has left an enduring legacy in the business he founded and the plants he saved from extinction.
The renowned rosarian’s death in January 2013 came just three months after that of his wife, Joan. Seven months later, his daughter Amanda also died. For surviving son Richard, the triple tragedy could have torn the heart out of the business.
But the very nature of the Attleborough-based rose growing firm - with its strong family ethos - has ensured it has not only survived but is blossoming.
Richard Beales now heads up the world-leading classic rose breeding business with a supportive and committed team around him - and the future looks rosy.
Fresh inward investment came last year from Canadian businessman Ken Flood, and there is a new management structure in place with work currently under way to expand the Plant Centre and Rose Garden, and a strong drive to grow the Beales collection of Modern Classic Roses.
Mr Beales said: “The Modern Classic Rose is something we are pioneering. It’s a way of offering the public a rose for all seasons. We try to breed in the health and vitality of the modern shrub roses, but give them the attributes - the colour, the perfume, the flower form - of the classic roses. We are looking to challenge David Austin’s New English Rose with our Modern Classics.”
Growing roses is not difficult, he said. “You need to choose the right stock for the right aspect in your garden and practice good husbandry. Roses have their own immune system and I always urge gardeners to do as little as possible to their roses. It’s not rocket science, but people have to be realistic because we are working with ‘Mother Nature’.”
The increasing popularity of roses has meant that production of container plants has moved up a gear with Beales building on its collaboration with the Pulham St Mary and Weybread commercial wholesale growers Whartons Nurseries Limited, who grow under contract for Beales and then distribute direct into garden centres.
“We have to work with fashion and what people like, and while bare root plants are still very popular, people now want roses in containers all-year-round,” Mr Beales said.
A sophisticated stock management system is in place which aims to predict and meet demand as it arises, and the rose firm also has its own acreage under production around its London Road headquarters, working with local farmers who rotate their crops around the production of roses. Roses are such a greedy crop that once harvested the land cannot be planted with them again for seven years, so it is important to rotate to return the goodness back into the soil.
Beales now has over 11,000 different varieties of roses, over 300 of which are completely unique to them. The late Peter Beales particularly loved old-fashioned roses and saved many from the brink of extinction.
While the preservation of roses is an important part of the Beales story, it is also doing its bit as a pioneer with its new varieties which can take seven to ten years to breed and bring to market, from first pollination in the seed trays, through development and grafting out in the field where disease resistance and growing habit is tested over several years, and then building sufficient stock to meet sales demand.
Marketing manager Sarah McKernan said: “We have a lot of varieties in the collection but not all get introduced. Last year, we launched three new varieties. This year we have one new one for the Chelsea Flower Show, and one other possibility.”
The new rose to be unveiled at Chelsea on May 19 is ‘Frilly Cuff’. The ninth in the new Modern Classic collection, it has been in development since 2008. It has a stunning deep red bud which opens to a fully double, frill-like cerise bloom with a delicate apple fragrance. It has been named by flamboyant interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen who has been a great supporter of the business, frequently visiting the Peter Beales stand at the show. He described it as “an enormous privilege and honour to be associated with Peter Beales Roses”.
Richard Beales will be taking the helm again at this year’s Chelsea Show, stepping into the shoes of his father.
“If I could achieve half of what he did, I would be a happy man,” he said. “He was very much the figurehead of the business. He and Mum worked 24/7 to build it and there was some trepidation about the changes we have now put in place.”
Part of that was moving the company to a more modern business structure with key people taking responsibility for their departments - many of them highly-experienced staff who have been with Beales for years and whose knowledge is second-to-none.
“The changes have empowered our staff and they feel they play a pivotal part in the company as it moves forward,” Mr Beales said. “I have put some of my own slant on it and built on the wonderful opportunities my father has left as his legacy. We need to go into the 21st century in a more business-like manner, but not lose sight of what we are - a family business. I think my dad would have approved of that.”