Peter Beales, MBE: Norfolk classic rose grower won top awards and lectured around the world
17:23 31 January 2013
A love affair with classic roses spanning more than 60 years by a Norfolk born-and-bred enthusiast brought pleasure to gardeners around the world.
Rose breeder Peter Beales, who achieved international recognition for his catalogue of more than 1,300 classic and old varieties, also won the country’s highest horticultural awards.
In 2003, he was presented with the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour in recognition of his success as a rose grower and for promoting gardening. Then two years later, he was made MBE for services to horticulture, which was presented at a Buckingham Palace investiture by the Prince of Wales.
His Attleborough-based company went on to win 19 gold medals at Chelsea over a quarter of a century since first achieving success in May 1989. Over the years, he bred and presented roses to the Queen and Queen Mother and other members of the Royal Family.
The chairman of the company, which was founded in 1975 with his late wife, Joan, was invited to lecture rose growers around the world and he became very well-known in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and North America. In 1988, he was the first non-US citizen to be presented with the Lester F Harrell Award by the American Heritage Rose Association.
Mr Beales, who died at the weekend aged 76, raised the profile of roses by lecturing, showing and notably by several writing books including the 450-page Classic Roses, which was published before Christmas 1985 and simultaneously in America.
Aged 15, he joined rose specialists LeGrice nursery at North Walsham. Under the inspirational Edward LeGrice – “a marvellous tutor and very influential in my development” – and head propagator Bob Hicks, his natural flair for plant raising was encouraged.
Within months, he had become assistant to Mr LeGrice and had joined the country’s first horticultural apprenticeship scheme with Arthur Clouting, of Buxton.
Always determined to run his own business, they came to Norfolk in February 1967 having sold their Surrey home. With the price differences between the two counties it was enough to buy 2.5 acres at Swardeston. It was a financial struggle but his acumen for marketing helped. His fledgling business received valuable publicity at the 1969 Royal Norfolk Show when one of his first 1,000 roses was named the Penelope Plummer after the 18-year-old Miss World.
As his roses started winning prizes and recognition, in 2003, the display won best in show award – the first time it had been awarded at Chelsea. Over the years, he bred and named roses for actors including James Mason in 1984, presented one to Sir John Mills shortly before his death in 2005 and also one in memory of Jill Dando. By royal request, he produced the Highgrove and on behalf of the workers on the Sandringham estate, a rose was named Clarence House by the Queen Mother to mark her centenary in 2000. It was to become one of the best-selling climbing roses.
He also rescued one of many long-lost roses, the Edith Cavell. After a public appeal in the EDP for the variety, which had been bred in 1919, a survivor was found in a garden at Brundall. It was given a new lease of life and re-planted below her statue outside the cathedral and blessed by the Bishop of Norwich in 2003.
While he was known around the world, he was also president of the Norfolk & Norwich Horticultural Society in 1996 and of the charity, Norfolk Gardening with Disabilities. He held many of the leading posts in the world of roses including president of the Royal National Rose Society in 2002. His expertise as a garden designer led to commissions across Europe and also by Prince Charles and the late Duke of Grafton to re-design the rose garden at Royal Lodge, Windsor, as an 85th birthday present for the Queen Mother.
And in 1990, he was recognised as a holder of a national collector of rosa species.
He held one of the highest honours in horticulture. In 2003, he was awarded the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour, which is restricted to just 63 recipients, marking the length of her reign.
South Norfolk estate owner Sir Nicholas Bacon, who is treasurer of the RHS, said: “Peter Beales was one of the great rose breeders from Norfolk. His many gold medals from Chelsea and other RHS shows illustrate the success of his lifelong passion. He was also instrumental in improving the flower tent at the Royal Norfolk Show.”
His wife of 51 years, Joan, died last September. He leaves a daughter Amanda, son Richard, who is the firm’s managing director, and four grandchildren.
A service to celebrate his life will be held at St Mary’s Church, Attleboorugh, on Friday, February 15 at 11.30am and afterwards at Peter Beales Roses.