Of all the roses I have tried, antique roses perform best in the South Texas heat. This group of old garden roses are on their own roots, not grafted. Many of the old roses are strongly scented with that “true rose” scent and are less prone to insect and disease problems. After all, these varieties have survived in cemeteries and abandoned home sites for many years, before being “discovered” by nurserymen and brought to the retail trade.
Most of these antique roses bloom all summer long and are drought tolerant, especially if you cover the beds with 2 to 3 inches of mulch a couple of times a year. When applying mulch, be sure to pull it away from the main stems, approximately 6 inches, to allow for good air circulation. Good air circulation is most important for roses, so don’t crowd them in the landscape. Always water roses in early morning and do not wet the leaves. If possible, clear out all weeds in the area where you want to plant roses, put down a layer of weed cloth, then add drip irrigation, and top off with a layer of mulch. This makes for easy maintenance (and the older I get, the easier I want my gardening).
Remember, roses prefer full sun, so place them in sunny, open areas.
Antique roses come in bush shapes, climbers, and some that will make lovely hedges and borders. Antique roses can be mixed with some of our native plants (since the water requirements are similar) and look great in xeriscapes or in cottage gardens. Old Blush (1752) is one of the most common, fragrant and treasured of old roses. This rose easily reaches 6 feet in height and 10 feet across. The fragrant, semi-double, lilac pink flowers are in loose clusters, turning to a darker pink in the sun. They provide large orange hips that you can use in tea or jam.
In case you didn’t know, rose hips are very high in Vitamin C, so don’t waste this bonus from Mother Nature.
Mutabilis (prior to 1894) opens sulfur yellow, darkens through orange to pink and finally crimson. This colorful display is the reason for its common name, the butterfly rose. You may have seen these tall shrub roses in every flower bed at the central town park in Fredericksburg, Texas. This is one that is not scented, but the color is well worth the trade-off. A fabulous contrast to mutabilis is the Martha Gonzales (China rose), with bright scarlet, single, flat flowers that form a hedge or border at 2 to 3 feet high.
Duchesse de Brabant (1857) was a favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt. The cupped pink flowers have a cabbagey roundness to them, as if they are picked from an old rose painting. This rose is continuously in bloom, has a rich fragrance, light apple green leaves on a shrub that reaches 4 to 6 feet in height. Place in the garden with dark-leafed plants, like rosemary, to show it off.
The Fairy (a Buck rose from 1932) is part of the Earthkind Rose Collection tested by Texas A&M. The Fairy has a spreading shape that looks great massed in a border or cascading over the edge of flower beds. The 3 to 4 foot height makes it very versatile. The Fairy has clusters of double pale, pink roses that bloom all summer long. For more information on the Earthkind roses, go to www.aggie.horticulture @tamu.edu.
A great book on old roses is Antique Roses for the South, by William Welch of Texas Cooperative Extension. Until recently, I would have had to tell you to travel to the Antique Rose Emporium in San Antonio to get these and other antique roses. A former employee of theirs, Jennifer Wilson, has recently established a business here in the Rio Grande Valley, near Harlingen. For a catalog or more information, you may contact Wilson at Lucy’s Garden, (956) 421-5600.
Barbara Storz serves South Texas residents as the area Extension Horticulturist. You can reach her at (956) 383-1026 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.