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Santa Cruz Sentinel

July 20, 2006

Heirloom roses back in style

What is it about that queen of flowers, the rose, that mesmerizes us no matter the era and keeps us hopelessly in love?
The rose was sacred to the Egyptian goddess Isis, cultivated extensively by Empress Josephine at Chateau Malmaison and packed in covered wagons, headed west. From the earliest Persian literature, they were an integral part of our past, remaining ever popular. As humans have grown and changed, so has the rose. And sometimes, as with all change, what was once old becomes new again.
Old roses and their heirs originate from groups known prior to 1867. That was the year "La France," the first hybrid tea, made its debut, forever changing rose breeding by offering the strong habit of recurring bloom. The American Rose Society commemorated the event by designating roses originating from groups introduced after 1867 as "modern." Modern Floribundas, Hybrid Teas, Polyanthas and Miniatures became the darlings of the commercial market.

Old rose groups such as Alba, Damask, Gallica and Moss, the inspirations for Shakespeare and artist Pierre Joseph Redoute, fell from favor and were relegated to the realm of memories and specialty nurseries. But those fond memories along with the old rose's powerful fragrance, disease-resistant hardiness, and unique flower and plant forms have sparked an old-rose Renaissance in the gardens of today.
Visit the Roses of Yesterday in Corralitos and discover the enchanted world of old roses. You will find it tucked in a pocket of sunlight in the Corralitos redwoods. Slip through the gate and breathe in the sensuous perfume of roses, rich soil and redwoods. Stroll the paths, let the warm afternoon sun suspend time.

Dressed in a Levi's skirt, sandals and a straw hat, nursery manager Guinivere Wiley is usually found tending the plants. Emerging from a bed of roses, she weaves through the garden, a hostess introducing a new guest to longtime friends. She pauses at each plant exposing its finest points and history.

Wiley has been introducing visitors to old roses for the past eight years after leaving a career as a certified hypnotherapist to join her husband, Jack, and brother in-law, Andy, in re-opening the family nursery after being closed for a few years. The nursery was originally established in the 1930s by Francis Lester and later owned by Dorothy Stemler until her death in 1976. Her daughter Patricia Stemler Wiley and her husband, Newton, ran the business until passing it on to sons Andy and Jack.

People are amazed at the beauty and diversity of old roses, she says.

"The single rose gets the most comments," says Wiley. The hybrid musk Robin Hood 1912, an heir to the old roses of yesterday, is a great example. The flower may only consist of five flat red petals, but it repeatedly explodes into a profusion of blooms.

"The five-petal rose is one of the clues in the DaVinci Code" mentions Wiley. "It is a show-stopper."

In full bloom, Madame Alfred Carriere 1879 is a commanding sight, climbing skyward in an apple tree creating clouds of color. Wiley's enthusiasm in showing it off ignites the imagination as she explains that it is such a robust climber that it can easily reach a second-story bedroom. Thornless, too!

Young couples intent on eloping come to mind — although it was most likely purchased by parents with young children, for its large white flowers flushed with pink that repeat all season.

The delicate Eglantine, or sweet briar, Rosa rubiginosa ancient, is a nursery favorite described as having "small single flowers, like exquisite rose pink jewels hung on soft, crumpled green leather." It is mentioned in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" and has the fragrance of crisp, ripe apples. Wiley stops to point out the furry sepals of Alfred de Dalmas 1855, a moss rose, along with the chestnut rose, Rosa Roxburghii 1814, named for its buds resemblance to chestnut burrs.

Use "Rugosas, Gallicas and Albas for the backbone of the landscape, then utilize hybrid teas and floribundas. Mix perennials and annuals at their feet for a stunning landscape," explains Wiley.

For a special landscape effect, peg roses, such as the common moss rose, produce flowering arches that can be woven together for a spectacular effect.

Care for old roses could not be easier, says Wiley. Water deeply, fertilize with a complete fertilizer monthly and prune to shape after blooming. For protection, "We always recommend planting in an aviary basket to protect from gophers, and apply deer repellant if necessary," she concludes.

Wind through the beds one last time. Savor the colors, textures and fragrances and let your imagine float back: Madame Hardy 1832, Celsiana Damasks 1732. R. gallica 'Versicolor' Rosa Mundi prior to 1591, Rosa Rugosa alba ancient date unknown. With a little imagination, centuries of history begin to swirl along with countless human dramas played out in rose gardens.

How many tears were shed when the answer was no? How many breaths were held before a first kiss? How many hours of mediation or study? Perhaps it is the answers to all these questions and more held in each old rose that continues the fascination.

Contact Abbie Blair at

Everything's coming up roses

If You Go
WHAT: Roses of Yesterday. More than 230 old, rare, and select modern rose varieties. Potted roses available year-round. Bareroot roses available by ordering ahead, January through early May.
WHERE: 803 Brown's Valley Road, Watsonville.
hours: Garden open every day 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

DETAILS: 728-1901 or
Heirlooms for your heirs
On a ride through the Stanford campus in the late 1970s, Celia Roddy, a rose grower from Aptos, and her mother spotted "a really huge old rose," recalls Roddy. They were fascinated with its beauty; it seemed to be growing unattended in the middle of nowhere.
They took a bloom to a local nursery and discovered it was Mermaid (1918), and it was an introduction from Roses of Yesterday. The Roddy family garden grew over the years to include some 20 old roses. When the home was sold, Roddy could not bear to leave the roses behind, so they moved the majority of them to her new garden. While digging, Roddy remembered the Appalachian folk saying, "We don't pass things down. We pass down our plants."
"I think that is how people who like roses feel about them," explains Roddy.
Roddy is drawn to roses that have long histories and nice stories associated with them. One of her favorites, Dainty Bess (1925), is "a sweet rose that tends to need a little encouragement," laughs Roddy as she recalls urging the plant on. "You can do it." Windchime, on the opposite end of the spectrum, has a mind of its own, growing more on the wild side.
Each year, stories unfold in Roddy's garden. Some years the deer nibble a few leaves, some years a lot. Her father's roses take root and thrive, and Dainty Bess needs annual encouragement as she struggles. In bountiful years, rose bouquets are gifts for friends and family.
For Roddy, Theodore Roethke summed up rose growing nicely: "What need for heaven, then,/With that man and those roses?"
-- Abbie Blair

Deer Repellent
Spray your roses with this mixture to deter deer from your roses.
2 raw eggs
Tabasco sauce
Garlic juice (optional)
Plastic 24-oz. spray bottle

1. Put two eggs in a blender with ? cup of water. Blend very well, at least 2-3 minutes at high speed.
2. Add 2 cups water and 8 tablespoons of Tabasco and some garlic juice. Blend. Put into plastic bottle — add water to top and refrigerate.
Rose pegging
Causing rose canes to grow in an arch or horizontal by the use of pegging will induce flower stems to form along the entire length, forming graceful bowers of flowers.
8-gauge wire

Hook an 8-gauge wire over a matured cane. Secure it in the desired position, then push the other end of the wire into the ground.
Weave two or three canes together for a delightful effect.


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