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Antique Roses and the San Antonio Rose
Roses have been a favorite flower and landscape plant for thousands of years. But, according to some rose authorities, the characteristics that created and maintained that popularity are frequently missing in the modern roses offered today. Old roses are finding new friends these days because they tend to be tougher and long-lived.
The definition of an old rose is a bit fuzzy. Some authorities consider only roses produced prior to the introduction of the first hybrid tea in 1867 as being old. But many others consider any rose that has an "old rose look" and is 50 or more years old as a candidate.
Foreshadowed by modern hybrids, old roses have been overlooked in this century. However, there is now a renaissance afoot to restore the older varieties to their rightful place in the garden. Their historic interest, tenacity and form should make old roses as indispensable to today's gardens as they were for centuries before.
Probably the one factor that has most discouraged people from growing roses is their demanding spray schedule and frequent short life. It seems that breeders during the past 75 years or so have concentrated on developing bright colors and beautiful bud form while overlooking shrub appearance, disease resistance and longevity.
Old rose varieties tend to be more resistant to diseases. Many show a strong tolerance to black spot, a fungus that can devour a modern rose left untreated. Often these roses are found surviving unsprayed and unattended at abandoned home sites and rural cemeteries.
Modern roses are hybridized primarily for their striking colors and long bud forms, and the shape of the plant itself is not outstanding, especially if judicious pruning is not practiced. Old roses have an inherent beauty of form, a quality that does not diminish over the years. This makes old roses especially useful as landscape plants. The old rose colors tend to be more muted and pastel than in modern hybrids, but many collectors acquire a preference for the softer hues. Many old rose varieties display handsome foliage, while others set attractive hips in the fall that can be harvested for their Vitamin C content.
A common misconception about old roses is that they only bloom in the spring. It is true that some of the old roses are once bloomers but there are hundreds of varieties that bloom and re-bloom from early spring until late fall. Many of these make attractive small and medium size shrubs that are highly effective as hedges, ground covers and shrub masses.
Another plus for the old roses is their historical associations. The old roses grown in Texas are vegetatively propagated, which means that the rose plants sold are part of an actual plant that could have been admired by Pliny, cultivated by a Chinese emperor, grown at Malmaison by Empress Josephine, or carried West by an American pioneer woman. It is this tie with the events of human history that makes the old rose the ultimate antique: unlike a painting or a piece of furniture, the old rose is a living testament to history and to man's quest for beauty.
With the growing interest in water conservation and Xeriscape plants emerging in San Antonio and Austin, it seems logical that old roses should once again be utilized as landscape plants. Any plant that has survived unattended in central Texas cemeteries for more than 100 years should certainly be considered well adapted and drought tolerant!
The Search for the San Antonio Rose (1988)
To stimulate participation and find the "genuine" San Antonio rose, the Miller beer folks—the ones who make Genuine Draft beer—posted rewards of $500 for the oldest ever-blooming rose bush that has endured the longest in this area, and $250 for the oldest ever-blooming rose variety identified in this area. Over a hundred entries were submitted and some interesting finds were made by the official judges—Ms. Pamela Puryear of Brenham; Dr. William Welch, State Ornamental Specialist from College Station; and Greg Grant, Bexar County Horticulturist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. The La Quinta Motels furnished the accommodations for judges during the search period in San Antonio.
A 100?year-old, fragrant, pink, unknown variety is tops in the oldest bush category. It appears to be a bourbon X China cross, similar to ‘Louise Odier’. There is also a 99?year?old Lamarque noisette rose in the same yard. Other very impressive finds have been an abundance of Mrs. Dudley Cross, a cream-colored, very hardy 1907 thornless tea rose. There are also numerous plants of Louis Philippe, a floriferous 1834 red China rose, and what appears to be a gallica rose brought over by boat from the Canary Islands. In addition, roses have been found that were brought over from a various assortment of foreign countries, including Germany, Prussia, England, Ireland and France.
Another rose occasionally found in the area is the fragrant 1857 tea rose, Duchesse de Brabant. Interestingly enough, this was reportedly Teddy Roosevelt's favorite rose and he reportedly wore a bud in his lapel on a daily basis.
Everett W. Cockrell, who had the winner in the oldest bush category, has an interesting history to go with his entries. His 100?year?old, pink, fragrant, unknown variety, which appears to be a bourbon X China cross, was known only as the "Old?English Tea Rose" in the Cockrell family. The bush was carried as a cutting from near Mission San Juan by Cockrell's aunt named Leila Schuhardt to Fort Sam Houston in 1884. In 1887, she married Everett C. Williford and moved to a cottage on Prospect Hill, currently 1910 Buena Vista. In 1888, she brought cuttings from her Fort Sam Houston home as a souvenir of her stay there and—by extension—her stay at Mission San Juan. The "Old?English Tea Rose" still lives and blooms, even though it has had no care or watering in years. The roses are small, pink and delicately fragrant; the blooms are usually in clusters that open by turns, from spring to the second freeze.
An interesting story related by Everett Cockrell indicates the importance of mulching and organic matter to prolific plant growth, in no matter what form. "In 1937, Aunt Leila was depressed by the seedy appearance of the old bush and the fact that it responded poorly to plant food. When Silverbean, queen of our cat tribe died, I buried her deep—in the south end of the failing rose bush—and watered the grave. In a few months, the transformation in the south end was remarkable. That was my cue to “deep?six” Little Feller, Silverbeam's consort, at the north end of the bush with the same gratifying results. At this point I confessed the source of flourishment (to coin a word) for the old bush. Aunt Leila stood stunned for a moment and then finally concluded that the entire yard should become a pet graveyard, so cherished pets could serve on after death. With that tacit permission, I "boxed the compass" with victims of traffic, fights, and old age."
So there you have it Rosarians—an aged-old technique of rose culture and carcass elimination. The Indians used fish to fertilize corn so why shouldn't we modern-day types use pet carcasses?
There is also a 99?year?old Lamarque Noisette rose in the same yard. In 1890, Mrs. Williford brought cuttings from a neighbor's yard in Fort Sam Houston and planted them in front of her home at 1910 Buena Vista while her new home at 1916 Buena Vista was being built. Her care for the ‘LaMarc’ was rudimentary. Her yard man would free the chains binding the canes to the porch column and allow the canes to fan out on the ground. The dead wood would be pruned out and the chain lifted to bind the canes in a huge bouquet. The blossoms were spectacular: long branches of snowy blooms all along the top like a layer of snow. The season was the same as for the "Old?English Tea Rose." Illinois relatives relished having snapshots of both roses sent home to snow?bound Illinois labeled "Gathering roses on New Years' Day."
In 1925 and again in 1932, nurserymen called to say the ‘LaMarc’ was no longer to be found and asked for cuttings. Mrs. Williford told them to help themselves and was astonished when they gave her $5 and $10, respectively. This was during a time when apartments in the LaMarc Cottage rented for $25 per month—completely furnished: pots, pans, furniture, bedding, tableware, dishes, linens, towels??the works.
Leila Catherine Williford, neè Schuhardt, was born in Jonesboro, Illinois, on the 30th day of July, 1872. Her widowed mother brought her and her siblings to live on acreage close to the San Juan Mission in 1886. When she herself was an old lady, she loved to tell stories of faces peering out the windows at night because of "Indian raids". Her Uncle George, an Army captain, found a large house on Grayson Street and moved his sister and her children in to stay with him. Fort Sam Houston was three miles out in the country, and she remarked in her later years that she moved from one out?in?the?country home to another. When she married in 1888 and moved to Prospect Hill, there were only three houses on the wind?swept height and again, three miles from the edge of civilization. She opined that she had been destined to live out her life as a "country hick".
In 1890, the year that she and her husband, Everett "Dick"
Williford built the house at 1916 Buena Vista, her brother, John "Curly"
Schuhardt, built his home on out the gravel path that was Buena Vista
at what is now 2318 Buena Vista. The only other house west of the Williford
home was the old Mickelson home at 2201 Monterey Street, which was then
a dirt lane.