Until the discovery of old garden roses, I shared the prevailing bias that roses were hard to grow, were fussy, needed to be sprayed, needed to be pruned in a certain way and were short lived. Roses we have since discovered have changed my bias and made me an advocate of these easy care roses and I truly believe they are the ultimate garden plant.
The beauty and hardiness of a rose called 'Mermaid' first got me hooked on antique roses in the late seventies, and my fascination with and unbounded appreciation for them has been growing ever since. I didn't start out as a rose lover. To my thinking, roses were just one bush with a thousand different flowers. With a Master's degree in Horticulture in hand, I started a nursery business in 1976 as a grower of woody ornamentals for the landscape industry and retail centers in central Texas. I soon lost interest in the overused plants I was working with (ligustrum, pittosporum etc.) and began to look for plants native to Texas that might fill the same niche.
On our forays to hunt native plants, my staff (which numbered two at the time) and I also started finding ever-blooming roses surviving without any apparent care in rather desolate surroundings. This was fascinating to me, for I had never thought of roses as something that could endure the notorious extremes of the Texas climate (droughts and blue northerns) without a gardener's care.
'Mermaid' opened my eyes. In 1982, while returning from a delivery and taking an unaccustomed route back to the nursery, one of my co-workers chanced upon a huge rose covering a chain link fence. He made an unauthorized "rustle," brought back flowers and cuttings, and urged me to go see it. It was surviving, indeed, performing spectacularly, in a completely neglected setting. My first thought was that there must be a landscape niche for such a specimen. Identified by a rosarian as 'Mermaid,' I could not find it available in commerce anywhere. Soon it, and the other "survivor" roses we stumbled across over the next couple of years, became the foundation of the Antique Rose Emporium.
These roses are different. For the past 30 years our goal has been to give credibility to these plants and happily we find ourselves part of a recent upsurge of interest in antique roses. We know from personal experience and from letters and comments of many repeat customers that there is no way one can begin to appreciate the versatility of thses roses until after a few seasons of working with them. Nothing we say here will substitute for the benefits of hands-on experience. But we hope to answer enough questions (see our FAQs) and generate enough enthusiasm to launch you into the world of old roses with confidence. Be aware, however, that these are captivating plants, and once taken with them you're likely to never be the same.
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