By Sean Conway
Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Well, if the rose has been named after you, you might not think so.
I have a friend who is an accomplished rose grower in Santa Barbara, Calif. She grows roses better than anyone I know, and is very discerning about which plants she includes in her collection. For her birthday her husband decided to have a rose named for her -- and in doing so clearly raised the bar for all spouses of avid gardeners!
The husband contacted a rose breeder and was allowed to select a plant from the fields of roses the grower had selected from his hybridizing program. He chose a sturdy repeat blooming shrub rose with fully double apricot flowers that was disease resistant and had a strong fragrance. He named it 'Susanne's rose' in his wife's honor.
Having seen how spectacular it looks and grows in her garden, I'd say it is destined for heirloom status.
If you've been paying attention to trends in gardening, you know that "heirloom" is a term that refers to plant varieties that have been in continuous cultivation, passed down from one generation to the next because of their special qualities, be it disease resistance, fruit yield, fragrance or hardiness.
Many seed catalogs devote entire sections to heirloom varieties. Heirloom varieties of annuals, cut flowers, perennials and especially vegetables, have brought renewed interest to cultivars that have been around for quite some time and were once mainstays of the gardening world.
The business of selling plants is not so different from selling clothes. Fashion dictates what is hot and what is not. Every year the newest must-haves take center stage. Trends come and go, but few individual specimens have what it takes to stand the test of time.
Roses are a perfect example. Every year, dozens and dozens of new named hybrids come to market with the promise of something better: larger flowers, disease resistance, sturdier stems, you name it. Yet only a few manage to stand out in the crowd. The rest become, well, wallflowers.
For some avid gardeners the most sought-after roses are varieties that have completely disappeared from cultivation, only to be rediscovered by avid plant collectors in abandoned gardens, along roadsides, or sometimes standing vigil in old cemeteries.
These collectors, known as "rose rustlers," treat their hobby more like a sport than a pastime. One of the most active rustlers has even turned his interest in these rediscovered treasures into a business. The Antique Rose Emporium is a Texas nursery specializing in roses that are not often found in cultivation, let alone at your average garden center.
Proprietor Mike Shoup specializes in antique and species roses. An avid nurseryman, Mike started collecting roses he discovered growing in out of the way places. He discovered beautiful old specimens but had to do some real sleuthing to locate their names. He quickly discovered that most of his finds were no longer in cultivation.
Shoup soon realized that if these plants were thriving on their own without anyone's help, they would be perfect plants for modern rose lovers looking for easy to care for plants.
Browsing the inventory of the Antique Rose Emporium (Antiqueroseemporium.com) is like looking back in horticultural time. The pages of beautiful roses, each with different attributes were once the celebrated "must haves" of their day, just as "Susanne's rose" is today.
In horticulture, as in fashion, fads come and go. Perhaps a century from now in some long forgotten out of the way garden, someone may rediscover the charms of 'Susanne's rose.' It would certainly be nice to think so.
Sean Conway's book is "Sean Conway's Cultivating Life: 125 Projects for Backyard Living" (Artisan Books, 2009), describes 125 projects for backyard living.
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Copyright ©, Cultivating Life by Sean Conway