ORLANDO – Some things just naturally improve with age, like fine wine, while other things, like most cars, take on wear and tear. And while some people may not realize this, one type of plant clearly falls into the category of things that stand the test of time.

“Some one said to me recently if roses can live for 100 years or more in a cemetery or old church with no irrigation, no spray program, and probably no fertilization, how easy can this get,” said Philip Paul, the vice district director of the American Rose Society’s Deep South District.

Paul, who has grown roses all over the United States and specializes in antique roses, said people don’t always understand that Old Garden Roses “are the proven roses that are easier to care for,” and have history on their side: they were created before 1867.

“They’ve done extremely well for me in the Sarasota area,” Paul said, and that includes the one he likes the best, the Mrs. B.R. Cant Tea Rose, which dates to 1901.

“Mrs. Cant is my absolute favorite, and I was pleased to see a Mrs. Cant out in the garden,” Paul said during a speaking presentation on Sunday at the Harry P. Leu Gardens in downtown Orlando, where he was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Orlando Area Historical Rose Society.

“Mrs. Cant is about eight feet tall in my garden,” he said. “She doesn’t need to be pruned. How can a 1901 rose get better? Well, she can by comparison to other roses.”

Paul was invited to offer advice on “Easier Care Roses” for the many local residents who take great pride in the look that roses bring to their gardens, front lawns, and decorating styles.

The Orlando Area Historical Rose Society held its monthly meeting on Nov. 7 at Harry P. Leu Gardens, a good spot to find examples of Old Garden Roses.

“Our main focus here is on historical roses that have survived without spray,” said Elaine Ellman, co-founder of the Orlando Area Historical Rose Society. “Old Garden Roses have survived the ages. The modern roses take a lot of chemicals and spraying, and our roses grow profusely. We’re one of the few gardens that just don’t have modern roses. We have old species roses that have stood the test of time.”

Paul said that’s true even in Florida, where the growing conditions for roses can be challenging, at best.

“You want to know how the rose grows in each of the growing conditions, and you know that here in the South, the conditions are very different from up north,” he said. But that doesn’t mean they can’t thrive in this state, he added.

“Let’s talk about easy care,” Paul said. “There are really two kinds of roses – the first is the Hybrid Tea or modern rose. They’re really beautiful. They’re getting more expensive. They have very good short-term utility and they’re a bit more fragile.

“Then you have your friend, the Old Garden Rose,” he added. “They’re very beautiful and have a low initial maintenance and low care. Easy care is a term used to define a rose that often requires no spray or limited spraying and fertilization, and it varies by areas of the country. All roses need some care, and there are a lot of things that make easier care roses.”

That starts, he said, with minimal irrigation, when roses can thrive on nature’s water.

“Mother Nature provides the irrigation,” he said. “They’re generally drought tolerant and require minimal if any spraying. Pruning is often not necessary. It lives well on its own rootstocks, and its genetics are superior. There are ways to get it done, and one is to select the easiest care rose in the first place.”

That would be the Older Modern Roses, he said.

“What are harder care? Unfortunately today that is often the modern rose,” he said. “Hybridization can have its downside in the genetics.”

Some prime examples of Older Roses, he said, include the Louise Philippe China Rose (1834), the Francis Dubreuil Tea Rose (1894), the Duchesse de Brabant Tea Rose (1857), the Sombreuil Large Climber (1880), the Fairy Polyantha (1932), and the Perle d’Or Polyantha (1875).

“The Duchesse was Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite rose,” Paul said. “That’s a rose that does extremely well in our climate. The Sombreuil is one that I added about a year ago. It’s a great climber. The Fairy and Perle d’Or are two great Polyanthas — the Polyantha being a small cluster rose, and they do very well in our climate, too. Watering seems to be a need here because of the heat, so if the rain doesn’t do it, you may need to. These roses are more drought tolerant, but I don’t want to test that.”

Tom Burke, the president of the Orlando Area Historical Rose Society, said lovers of rose gardens should keep something else in mind: the holiday gift giving season is fast approaching.

“They make a great holiday gift,” Burke said. “If you have a friend and you’re looking for a gift for them, a new, Old Garden Rose is a great gift, particularly if you give of yourself to teach them how to plant them.”

Where to find them? Ellman recommended Traci Anderson’s Antique Rose and Nursery in Eustis, while Paul recommended Angel Gardens in Gainesville, which can be reached at gardenangel22@gmail.com; Rose Glen Gardens in Naples (www.roseglengardens.com); or the Goodwood Museum in Tallahassee.

Another good option, he said, is to mail order your roses from Texas at either the Antique Rose Emporium or Chamblee’s Rose Nursery.

Paul also recommended that people buy G. Michael Shoup’s book, “Roses in the Southern Garden,” which he called a “must have” for anyone who grows roses.

“Old Garden Roses are really, really special,” Burke said. “They’re special in your garden. Old Garden Roses are very easy to care for.”
To learn more, contact the American Rose Society’s Deep South District Web site at www.deepsouthdistrict.org. The organization will be holding its Mid-Winter Meeting in Lake City, Florida on Jan. 14-16, and Paul noted that “You don’t have to be a member of the DRS to go – but we’d like you to be.”

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