During their visit to Chappell Hill, featured in the April issue, Angela and Virgil Fox stop and smell the roses at the Antique Rose Emporium. Editorial intern Caitlin Sullivan chats with the store’s owner, Mike Shoup, about finding, growing and “rustling” antique roses.
What exactly is an old garden, or “antique,” rose?
The first hybrid tea rose was developed in 1867. Ever since that introduction, all roses from that date are considered modern roses. There are a few exceptions, but all roses before that date are considered old garden roses.
The general rule is that modern roses were developed by breeders in an effort to perfect that flower; they’re good for show, but not as good for the garden. An “antique rose” is a loose term that means a rose that works well in the garden.
How did you get into selling antique roses?
Our nursery business was not doing well, and we wanted to create a niche so we would not have to compete with nurseries selling similar plant material. We set out to find alternatives to overused landscape plants, but it was in the search for Texas native plants that we found roses growing in the same environment where native plants had evolved, like beside abandoned homes and in cemeteries.
We knew that we had come across a group of plants that were all time-tested but easy to grow; they could withstand the tests of Mother Nature, and at the same time offer incredible qualities like repeat blooms, blooming throughout the season, fragrance, and wonderful, diverse forms that allow them to be integrated into any type of landscape situation. Old garden roses proved to be just the ticket because they are tough and resilient; they’re good for the modern homeowner who wants to grow something easy.
Why would someone choose antique roses over modern roses?
People need to understand what application they’ll be buying their roses for. If they’re looking for the perfect flower for their dining room table, they need a modern rose. If they want a rose that lives year after year in their garden, providing fragrance, then an old garden rose is for them.
I can’t say enough about fragrance, it’s the emotional bond you have with these plants. If a flower doesn’t have any fragrance, you may as well be looking at a picture of a rose in a book. Fragrance will take you back in time for many, many years, when you were smelling that rose at your grandmother’s house, or to the future when your kids will be smelling that same rose.
Do you have a favorite type of antique rose?
The “found” roses. These are roses that have been lost in commerce but still survive, and because of their survival, they’re being brought back into modern gardens. They were once introduced as a named variety, but their names have been forgotten.
Many of the roses you sell are found by “rose rustling.” What’s that like?
People think of rose rustling as this image of some guy dressed in black riding a horse in the middle of the night with a shovel over his shoulder stealing people’s roses. But the real story is the search and rescue of these lost and forgotten roses. Rose rustling is nothing more than finding roses that have, in many cases, been growing for a long time in a tough environment. When a rustler comes across a rose like this, they give it every opportunity to live into the future. We never dig it up; we dig out the dead wood and the weeds, we take a cutting, and we root it. Then we have a clone of this rose that’s proven itself to be so good and can now be offered to other gardeners. There’s no pillaging involved; it’s just trying to take what we’ve got and make sure it’s not lost.
Do you have any tips for gardeners who may want to start growing antique roses?
The old rose is the ultimate garden plant. There is a bias that most people have about roses: that they’re fussy and hard to grow, that you have to rely on a spraying schedule and make sure nothing else is around it. That is all tossed out the window when you consider the antique rose. It’s truly a wonderful garden plant, and it needs to be planted with other plants. We have gardens with perennial, native, and annual plants, and roses too. Those gardens look good at all times of the year because different plants are doing different things all year long.
The antique rose has fragrance, and it’s easy to grow. It has history and nostalgic value, as well. It’s unlike what we’re taught about roses in a lot of ways, but it retains all of these wonderful attributes; it has all of the best qualities.
From the June 2012 issue.
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