May is definitely a good rose month around Calvert County. Everything is happy and blooming and the Japanese beetles don’t arrive until June 1. (Yes, I have predicted their arrival date.)

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There is a vigorous and continuing debate in gardening circles about roses. There appear to be two opposing camps. There is the camp that says roses are difficult, finicky and require lots of work. And there is the camp that says roses are easy-as-pie-what-are-you-whining-about?

Frankly, I think it all depends on your particular temperament and how much are you are naturally inclined to like roses in the first place.

Myself, I am VERY MUCH inclined by nature to adore roses. NOT THE KIND you get from the florist, which are generally ick and sick. I like a big bushy plant of crazy flowering roses that seem nearly wild.

I also believe that the camp to which you dedicate yourself–the roses are great or roses are evil camps–depend very much on your experiences.

Some of my very earliest memories are of my grandfather’s abundant rose garden. The whole family would gather at their house on Rush Street in Norfolk, Virginia, for Sunday dinner and story telling. Grandpa would hang around for a while until he couldn’t stand it (the grown-ups) any longer and then retreat to the garden and spend the afternoon deadheading and hand watering the roses. I distinctly remember sitting on a fence and watching how peaceful and happy he seemed all by himself while the relatives were hooting and telling stories.

Since I’ve been old enough and (reasonably) responsible enough to plant and care for roses, I have had the happy luck to have planted mostly antique roses.

I first learned about these old roses when I read a book many moons ago that included a chapter about “rose wranglers.” These are rose enthusiasts who seek out and secure old, non-hybrid roses growing neglected on old farms and fields–sometimes with permission and sometimes by stealth. These rose wranglers made the whole rose culture seem fun and exciting. Their enthusiasm for the cause convinced me there is merit to the old ways of roses.

The antique roses I’m growing include a beautiful pot-grown Katharina Zeimet, with its abundance of tiny white flowers that repeat bloom all summer long. The Antique Rose Emporium website says this shrub rose was discovered in 1901. I have had it in a big pot on the patio for about three years, where it has grown to its full-grown 3′ – 4′ size.

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By the driveway I am growing the climbing New Dawn, again from the Emporium, discovered in 1930. I let it languish and trailing on the ground for a couple of years while I tried to figure out what to do with a climbing rose at that spot. Then I found these 6′ high rose trellises from Jackson & Perkins. My dad, thankfully, assembled them for me last July 4 weekend and they have already taken over the structure. I still need a more permanent solution.

There are also these extremely vigorous shrub roses that have grown to 6′ high in about four years. I have long ago lost the tag and really need to sort through the Emporium’s catalog to recapture the name because EVERYONE asks about this beautiful, repeat-blooming rose.

I am desperately seeking a Cecil Bruner (the non-climber) to add to my rose container collection, but, alas, I have thought of this too late and must wait until another time.

Do I have any hybrid roses? Yes. I planted some baby doll roses in the Colonial garden last summer. They, too, are blooming and beautiful. I will see how I like them next summer and whether they prove to be as hearty as my old friends.

If you want to learn more about antique roses, I recommend the site hosted by my favorite antique rose grower, Antique Rose Emporium. You can visit their info site at Antique Rose Info.

And if you run across Cecil Bruner, please send her my way. Pretty please?

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