Monday, May 9, 2011

Heirloom Roses

I don't know her name, but my rescued rose has been here for 30 years!

The weather of late is reminiscent of the fourth of July and it is not yet mid-May. The drought has reached epic proportions and in all my years of observing Nature, this is the first time that no spring field grasses are seen at all. In fact the regional drought is so extensive that April 22-24 were proclaimed “Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas“ by Gov. Rick Perry. He urged Texans of all faiths to offer prayers “for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life.” May we all pray for rain and remember to add a request that we are spared Nature‘s wrath… it seems to be in great abundance to our East.

In spite of the drought the heirloom roses may be seen blooming in a scented profusion of pink, yellow, or white clusters. Roses were wildly popular and easily affordable in the early nineteen hundreds when cemetery boards encouraged people to plant them to beautify the grave sites of loved ones. These hardy roses were also set about rural farmhouses; Grandma Dougherty hand watered her roses each Wednesday with the rinse water from the family laundry. However times change and the roses were forgotten, remaining in lost obscurity long after the farm residents departed. Trampled by cattle, overgrown by native grasses, starved for water, they managed to survive and it became a personal mission to ‘save’ them. So when we first began our garden thirty five years ago, we trekked about and collected roses from creaky farmhouses where these marvelous specimens had survived the Dust Bowl... unattended! They have been a delight for these many years and bloom faithfully with few requirements and little fuss.

Interestingly Oklahoma Living Magazine contained information about these robust roses this month. In an article by Allan Storjohann, who is Manager of the Myriad gardens, the story of the reintroduction of these old roses is told. It seems a few dedicated people felt the ‘farmhouse roses’ needed to be saved so for twenty five years they collected specimens just as I did... from abandoned farmhouses and overgrown cemeteries.

The Texas ‘Rose Rustlers’, as they are called, worked with Texas A and M Research and the Antique Rose Emporium to propagate these extraordinary species for re-release to the public. The poor roses youngsters were given every torturous and extreme circumstance to overcome and only survivors were kept. Given very little water, planted in either clay or alkaline soils, with no chemical insecticides or fungicides allowed and no fertilizer applied makes for ‘trial by fire‘ for a rose! Needless to say, many did not live however those that did are tough! The list is located at Earth Kind Roses and it seems there is a lovely rose for every for garden circumstance… and one may be planted even during a drought.


  1. A decade has passed since you posted this, but I just now came across your photo. I have the same unknown rose. My grandmother got it from a cemetery in rural west Georgia, in the 1940s. Did you ever find out what it is?

  2. I have the same rose that i dug from an abandoned homestead