I’ve been feeling rosy and nostalgic lately. I’m sure it’s The Rose Rustlers book that Dr. William C. Welch and I are wrapping up. I know I’ve said we are wrapping it up over and over again, but this time I mean it. No fooling! I went over the final layout this week and just proofed the index this morning.
With all the pressure of writing it, I didn’t have time to enjoy the stories I was telling. But now they are starting to sink in. I sure had some great times rose rustling. And I most certainly got to see some amazing roses and meet some incredible people. The great thing about the roses we “discovered” was that they were grown without sprays, fertilizers, water, or pruning. That’s exactly the amount of care that fits my schedule these days.
A number of the roses we wrote about are long gone. But luckily a few of the originals still survive. And thanks to rose rustlers, most of the cultivars are at least still with us.
Thankfully, I’ve held on to some of my favorites. One of those is ‘Duchesse de Brabant.’ The first non-Antique Rose Emporium specimen I ever witnessed was next to a small frame house in Port Arthur when I was on my way to work at Alston’s Nursery on 9th Avenue. Unlike most teas, the Duchesse has a wonderful fragrance. I have one planted just outside a window at Big Momma’s, my paternal great grandparent’s old dogtrot house just up the road.
Another old tea rose I grow is ‘Mrs. B. R. Cant.’ She hangs out in my chicken yard. Southern Living once asked me to name the two most disease resistant roses that I grew and I named ‘Enchantress’ and ‘Mrs. B. R. Cant,’ both true teas. Tea roses and China roses are supremely adapted to the South. Unfortunately, they weren’t cold hardy in the North and Europe and they weren’t good cut flowers, so they were dropped worldwide in favor of the more cold-hardy and longer stemmed hybrid teas. Sadly, increased disease and thorniness came along with this “upgrade,” leaving the South without many of her most treasured and adapted garden roses.
Along with ‘Mrs. B. R. Cant,’ I grow a number of other roses in my chicken yard including the “Flores Street House Eater Rose” (most likely the climbing Noisette, ‘Lamarque’) and “Fanick’s Pink Marechal Niel” (most likely the climbing tea, ‘E. Veyrat Hermanos’). I’m training the first onto the back corner of the hen house and the latter high into a large yaupon holly.
I’m using another one of my very favorites as somewhat of a hedge inside my back garden fence. ‘Cecile Brunner,’ the original “sweetheart rose” is one of the Earth-Kind roses designated by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and will forever provide me a source of miniature roses for bouquets and cute little vases. This enduring polyantha rose bred in France in 1881 will also soften my double loop wire fence and provide me a bit of fragrant enclosure.
I recently ran across a beautiful specimen of ‘Cecile Brunner’ at the third generation Longview Flower Shop, where it has been growing on the street corner for more than fifty years with no supplemental fertilizer, water, or sprays. Nobody even knows who planted it! Despite some competition from a large pecan tree and reflected heat from the nearby concrete, she continues to show off for those passing by or dropping in.
Another polyantha rose I grow is ‘La Marne,’ just off my back porch where I can enjoy its multi-hued pink petals and its nice fragrance. I used to enjoy seeing a number of them along Hwy 21 near Caldwell when I’d make my commute back and forth from San Antonio.
As much as I enjoy the tried and true roses we uncovered in this rose rustling saga, I have to admit that I treasure the stories and those who preserved them just as much. Each gardener had a story to tell. And on top of that, each rose had a story to tell, as each historic cultivar can be tracked back through history and horticulture.
The book is dedicated to the late Pamela Ashworth Puryear of Navasota who inspired both Bill and me to pursue heirloom roses and other plants uniquely adapted to Texas. Pam was one of a kind, and then some.
Just in case you think our rose rustling days are behind us, they aren’t. There’s not a spring or fall that goes by that I don’t admire a tough-as-nails rose surviving in some off the beaten path, neglected site, that needs saving.
Please remember that rose rustling (or any plant rustling for that matter) isn’t about “stealing.” It’s about preserving genetic diversity, history, culture, and horticulture. Rules of rustling include never trespassing on private property and always offering cash, plants, or your first born in exchange for cuttings. After taking cuttings, plants should be left better than you found them, with some deadheading, weeding, fertilizing, and mulching. Make sure to remove any trees growing up within the plants because in the long run they bring doom to a rose bush.
As a young horticulturist I didn’t like growing roses. And then I met Dr. Welch and Pam Puryear… -Greg