Old Garden roses, shrub roses

Pardon my absence for the last few weeks. I’ve been on a seed collecting marathon. About to wrap it all up.

Old Garden Roses

I remember helping my Dad prepare the soil for his rose garden in the back yard of the house I was raised in. It was sometime in the early 1970’s. We added compost and turned it into the existing soil. He had built a rectilinear “U” shaped garden with a square of lawn in the center and a cleverly designed decorative back-drop fence to suggest an enclosure of the space. It was not the prettiest rose garden I’ve ever seen in the way of robust green plants. The plants were spindly, as far as I can recall. The flowers, of course, were beautiful, as most rose flowers can be, but the plants were never impressive. Looking back, it was probably because he was so limited in choices of types of roses to chose from at the local nursery. After all, it was the seventies, man.


Mom, Dad, Me, Monet, Grandma and Grandpa Pastorek, Guy and Niki in the lawn of Mom and Dad’s rose garden about 1975

The look of those roses stuck with me and it may be the reason that I was never interested in gardening with roses. That is, until April of 1993, when I was introduced to a different type of rose called the Old Garden rose, the antique rose. At my first-ever Southern Garden History Society meeting in Brenham, Texas, there were a few stops on the conference field trip that were particularly memorable. One was Dr. Bill (William) Welch’s home garden just outside of Brenham. Dr. Welch and his wife had restored a turn-of-the-century clap-board house landscaped in a cottage garden theme, filled with old roses and a glorious display of spring blooming bulbs, annuals, and perennials. It was quite orderly and impressive: a wonderful horticultural display it was. Another destination on the tour was ten miles north of Brenham, to Independence, Texas. We visited the Antique Rose Emporium. I was, from then on, enamored with the use and the versatility of these wonderful garden plants.


above: a pillar-rose arched walkway leads from one garden room to another at the Rose Emporium in Independence, Texas (click on photos to enlarge)

What could a person not like about a plant that produces such beautifully fragrant flowers on a plant so fully lush and green and one that takes so little attention and care to grow. There is no spraying for black spot. No trimming or deadheading, as with your run-of-the-mill hybrid teas. You don’t have to prune them heavily in February as with hybrids. Instead, kick back with a toasty beverage and enjoy some down time. With these roses, not a thing is necessary, except to establish them and to enjoy them.

The best characteristic of Old Garden rose is that the plant grows on its own roots. So even the person who says he or she has a non-green thumb can grow these plants. There is no grafting or complicated technique involved in producing more plants for your garden and plants to share with friends. You can propagate them fairly easily once you figure out a method that works for you. I take hardened pencil-thick stems and cut them to about nine inches to one foot in length, removing any leaves. Sometimes, I leave a few leaves near the tip but cut those in half to help the stem cutting transpire. Then I “stick” them in a sandy medium about halfway down, so that a few leaf nodes are below the soil surface and a few above. Keep the cuttings moist and in partial(afternoon) shade it you are cutting in late spring or summer. Then gradually get them into the sun, and you’ll probably end up with a rooted plant. You can stick twenty cuttings into a three gallon nursery pot, easily. Or, you can simply lay a branch of a mature plant over, onto the ground, and pin or weigh the stem down to make soil contact and it will root for you on its own! No muss, no fuss!

If you want to grow just about anything from cuttings, check out fellow horticulturist Mike Creel’s awesome very-low tech propagation tricks to grow even the most difficult and nearly impossible-plants-to-propagate, using discarded plastic containers and bottles.  Mike is a master propagator. He has a keen horticultural eye and has introduced many plants to the industry and has taught countless folks how to grow plants in their own backyard. I saw his amazing propagation talk at the Cullowhee conference in 2006 for the second time. He’s rad! Scroll down to the bottom of his PDF link to see pictures of his radical home-made propagation contraptions.  Way-cool stuff, ya’ll!

Click to access CreelWay122006.pdf

I am not a particularly knowledgeable rose propagator and I am certainly not a rosarian. I have though, experimented with many Old Garden roses and have had clients over the last twenty years who have grown them in their gardens. I’ve come to realize that you can’t beat these plants for color, texture, form, flower and especially for fragrance. There are many “classes” of roses to choose from: all shapes and sizes of plants and of flower forms. Some of my favorites are the “pillar roses”, which are easily managed climbing cultivars, perfect for training onto small structures and vertical uprights in the landscape. These plants top out at ten or twelve feet in height rather than some climbers that reach thirty feet or more.

The easiest of Old Garden roses don’t need training at all: they are the shrub roses. These are plants that grow to be rather dense shrubs in the garden during the growing season and become more “structural” in the winter, when the plants become semi-deciduous, exposing green stemmed masses, best displayed with a backdrop of evergreen foliage or an element of architecture.

One shrub rose that I would rather not be without is Duchesse De Brabant, an old tea rose. This is a plant that is a real southern garden contender. Fall is no longer fall for me, without this plant in bloom. I grow mine in a big clay pot and it stresses out occasionally with drought during the summer but doesn’t ever miss a beat. It is always dependable to bloom from April to late May and then again from September til hard frost, about January 1st-15th, here on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain. It will bloom intermittently through the hottest part of the summer and will produce an occasional fluffy blossom in February and March. It is highly and beautifully fragrant. It was introduced to the gardening trade in 1857.


Take a cluster of buds inside to bloom. I do that for Candi all the time. The buds open up and have a very a detailed structure. When they are back-lit, they are fine art.

Old Garden roses are long term plants, in fact, they don’t really get going until after about three years in the ground. They produce a huge roots system and are able to adapt and subsist, like good southerners do. These plants like all-day sun: the hottest sun. Don’t try them in any afternoon shade at all because they will be sad that you did. They will mope until you release them into a full sun location.

I get my plants, when I buy them, from the Antique Rose Emporium since they  have such an extensive availability list and their plants are beautifully grown.


above: The white cultivar of Duchesse de Brabant, a “cabbage” rose, called cabbage rose, I believe, because the flower is round. Duh.


above: new growth of Duchesse is always a striking rusty red

In the 1980’s and 1990’s a resurgence of interest in historical roses began, with trips to cemeteries and to old home sites across the southeast, but especially with “rose rustlers” in Texas, and culminated in the availability list of the AR Emporium and the exceptional book by Mike Shoup and Liz Druitt, Landscaping With Antique Roses. This book is a classic and covers thoroughly, Old Garden roses for the Deep South. It should be on every landscape contractor and designer’s shelf.

You could breed roses for a hundred years and not produce better plants than the old timey shrub roses. These are very classy plants. They have pizzaz. A certain je ne sais quoi!


above: Duchesse in typical form. Photo probably taken in spring or fall, its heaviest bloom time.

For a real deal, you can go to amazon and get one of Mike and Liz’s used books for two bucks, free shipping if you have amazon plus. ha. wow. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0942391640?ie=UTF8&tag=rosegathering-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0942391640

The prettiest Duchesse I have grown would be the one at a former client’s house where I planted a plant at the base of a huge brick wall perpendicular to a wall of windows at the living room. I trained the plant up, over the years, to a height of ten feet by tying-up the upward reaching terminals to the wall. I trained the plant against the wall rather than letting it grow to its normal rounded, overall form. It was in a courtyard area, better-protected from the frosts, so it bloomed more than it normally would in winter.

Shrub roses can be kept smaller than they’re normal size by simply shaping them occasionally during the growing season, using a hedge shear, like one would a boxwood.

During the course of writing this post, I encountered another rose friend that again, brought me back to Brenham. In Eunice, Louisiana, while collecting seed at the Cajun Prairie restoration site yesterday, I took a break for lunch and upon returning, saw a really old hedge of Cramoisi Superior: a rose, a fragrance, I dearly miss in my garden. I’ve got to get one. I had it for many years in my old garden. The first Cramoisi I met was in Brenham in an old home place, over-grown; the house no longer existing. The garden, or parts of it were still there, the old roses still holding court. Dr Welch had us smell the flower. A wonderful raspberry-rose scent graced our noses. I am told that this plant and some of the other shrub roses were taken as cuttings in wagon trains when settlers went west, and was often the only living tie to the old country and to the family “back home”. They have been nurtured and passed-around for generations and they are still fulfilling the simple folk’s dreams.


above: a typical cluster of Cramoisi Superior, lives up to its name, “superior”. The scent is divine.


above: a planting that has probably never seen a shear. It may be 25 years old but it was probably planted when the house was built fifty or sixty years ago. Hundreds of blossoms scent the air. Not the most creative planting design perhaps, but who cares? A sense of separation from the street is had and no doubt a heady scent of raspberry-rose wafts onto the front stoop on a regular basis. These plants are about seven to eight feet high with trunks as big around as the calf of my leg.



above: a luscious but nearly inconspicuous planting of Cramoisi Superior

If you are interested in OGRoses, check into meetings of the Old Garden rose group nearest you(see below). You will likely find plants available there and certainly will find folks willing to teach you about these wonderful garden additions. And if you find yourself in the hill country of Texas, stop in and visit Mr. Shoup’s wonderful garden. I bet you can’t leave without buying something.


Antique Rose Emporium                                      http://www.independencetx.com/AntiqueRoseEmporium.htm

Old Garden Rose Society, New Orleans has a very enthusiastic membership. they grow and know their roses                                           http://www.neworleans-oldrose.com/

Mississippi Old Garden Rose Society         http://www.msogr.com/

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