CHAMBERSVILLE, Texas – Texas has had a prominent role in the quest for saving old roses. The practice of organized rose rustling started here about 30 years ago. Rose hobbyists, including several from the Dallas area, met to canvass small-town gardens and lonely country roads in search of old roses that looked like they had weathered decades of neglect, yet survived to bloom abundantly. They took cuttings from the rose bushes (asking permission first, if the locale was inhabited), rooted them, planted them in their own gardens and shared rooted cuttings with others.
Although many heirloom roses have returned to the nursery trade, few gardeners know they are organized into 13 types, with varying growing habits. That's one reason a group of North Texas rose enthusiasts and Stephen Scanniello, president of the Heritage Rose Foundation, hatched a plan to create a vast study garden planted with Chinas, teas, hybrid musks, noisettes and ramblers. Plant them and let them grow to their full potential. The study garden would be a resource not only for old-rose specialists but also for gardeners who want to choose the right rose for the right place.
"One of the goals of the Heritage Rose Foundation is to ensure the preservation of heritage roses and to teach what are the right roses to grow," says Mr. Scanniello, who lives in New Jersey. "We decided to collect roses suitable for your climate, and show them in the ideal conditions under minimal care. That's a very unique approach."
Nine years ago, Claude Graves, an "obsessive-compulsive" Richardson rosarian and active member of HRF, toured a rose garden in France laid out around the periphery of a golf course.
"They just let them get as big as they wanted to get," he recalls. "I like that concept of displaying the old garden roses in their full glory. Not pruning them, not forcing them into a size that's really too small for their natural habit."
That aspect stayed with him and was rejuvenated several years later when a fellow rosarian, Dean Oswald of Plano, asked for Mr. Graves' advice about planting old roses to beautify a young tree farm he was developing in Chambersville, Texas, about 10 miles north of McKinney. He was entranced, he says, with the romantic notion of planting ramblers to scramble over a rusty old tractor near the farm's entrance.
When Mr. Graves visited the rural acreage, a rolling pastureland that dates back to 1847, with windbreaks of native trees, a creek and ponds, that memory of the French golf course surfaced. Instead of planting the one rambler, Mr. Graves asked, what about setting aside space to plant 300 roses?
Photo by NATALIE CAUDILL/DMN
Heirloom roses signify the entrance to the Chambersville Heritage Rose Garden, open on spring and fall weekends.
"I like roses. I think this is a very worthwhile thing to do," says Mr. Oswald, explaining why he agreed to the plan. "And, it will increase traffic to the tree farm."
Mr. Oswald, who grew up in Oak Cliff and ran a family manufacturing business that supplied military contracts – until the end of the Cold War diminished the need for his services – started the tree farm as a second career. A strawberry blond, Mr. Oswald's face is sun-baked, a clue that this is a man of action and not someone who sits behind a desk.
"Claude and I are collaborators. Claude is the spirit and soul. I am simply the implementer."
In the middle of the summer in '05, Mr. Oswald plowed the soil where the study garden was to be installed, added compost and expanded shale to improve the soil, sited the spot for each rose and drilled planting holes and laid an irrigation system that would feed and water each bush.
"It was 104 degrees the first weekend we planted and 100 degrees the next."
The roses are not sprayed for diseases, nor are they cut back to force them into a certain size. They are heavily mulched (about 6 inches deep) with finely shredded cedar. The tree farm is managed by Mr. Oswald's son-in-law, Chad Simmons, who insists on organic practices. Organic fertilizer is pumped through the irrigation system as well as molasses to feed beneficial bacteria in the soil and another extract to sustain beneficial soil fungi. A foliar feed of compost tea is next on the schedule.
In spite of North Texas' notorious propensity for besieging roses with blackspot and powdery mildew, there is very little evidence of it in the Chambersville garden. With tea roses, for instance, planted on 20-foot centers, the bushes enjoy optimum air circulation. Feeding the soil as well as the plants also help the heirloom roses fight off disease.
"We've got to provide a place for people to see what these roses can do if left alone to do what they do," says Mr. Oswald. "That's why they are planted so spaciously. These babies," pointing to the tea roses, "will grow to their magnificence."
Now that the roses are established, the garden is ready for visitors. Volunteers from North Texas' rose societies have scheduled work days there to weed and prune out old growth about every other year. When the roses are in full flower the same groups stage picnics for members.
The garden is open on spring and fall weekends to the public and so is the tree farm. Mr. Oswald has added old garden roses, EarthKind roses, Griffith Buck roses (developed in the middle of the last century for Midwest gardens and their colder winters) and even a few new roses to his inventory of oaks, Japanese maples, crape myrtles, cedar elms, magnolias and other landscape trees suitable for North Texas.
The Chambersville Heritage Rose Garden is open on weekends in spring and fall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For directions, go to www .chambersvilletreefarms.com or call 214-295-1058 .