NEW ORLEANS – This is the story of a rose. A nameless rose. A rose that has no thorns – not one.
It came to Peggy Martin as a little cutting from a friend, who had gotten a cutting from a relative, who had in turn gotten it from another relative.
Peggy planted the rose by an ugly old shed she wanted to cover.
Soon enough, the rose covered the shed with its beautiful pink clustered blossoms and long graceful canes.
That was 18 years ago, and that’s how it stood all those years in Louisiana, showing its beauty to visitor after visitor, standing out as the pride of Peggy’s garden until 2005.
Renaissance. This is also the story of rebirth.
Peggy and her husband, Marcus, left the nameless, thornless rose that August, fleeing from Hurricane Katrina. When they returned, the rose was the least of Peggy’s thoughts.
She went home after the hurricane to claim the bodies of her mother and father, who drowned after refusing to leave.
What’s more, there was nothing left of her home, nor her beautiful garden.
More than 450 rose bushes and all other plants she had nurtured over the years washed away. The home place stood under 20 feet of saltwater for at least two weeks.
But when the water receded and Peggy returned once more, there was just a glimmer of green under the muddy remains where the rose bush had been.
In bloom. And ultimately, as the sun continued to shine and rain fell at the right time, the rose bloomed again and again and again.
Now the rose is being cultivated by five nursery owners who got cuttings from Peggy’s bush.
A portion of the proceeds from their sales will fund horticulture restoration programs in New Orleans and other hurricane-damaged botanical and historical gardens and parks.
And the abundant plant now has a name: the Peggy Martin Rose.
“It has been a wonderful bright spot for me. It has kept me from dwelling on my sadness,” said Peggy, who now lives in Gonzales, La.
The rose had been a catalyst for Peggy joining a gardening club. That enabled her to meet fellow gardeners – many of them well-known horticulturists who came to address the New Orleans members.
Unnamed. “I always loved that rose, and all those years, any time anyone came, I could get them to come look at the rose to see if they could tell me what its name was,” Peggy said.
That is how Bill Welch, Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturist, came to know the rose.
In 2003, when he was in New Orleans to speak at her garden club, Peggy brought Welch and his wife, Diane, to her garden. He didn’t know its name but was intrigued by the thornless bush with flower-loaded canes cascading around the shed.
She told Welch about the hand-me-down cutting and offered him a snip of it as well. The Welches rooted their cutting in their yard by a fence that surrounds air-conditioning equipment.
But they were skeptical the plant would thrive in the extreme heat and different soil around their place in Washington County, Texas.
Survivor. “I saw the cutting quickly mature into a vigorous specimen that spans most of the 15- by 4-foot fence,” Welch said.
“It is literally covered with clusters of dark, pink flowers each spring from mid-March through May. It starts blooming again in late summer and repeats until a hard frost slows it down for the winter.”
The bush, he felt, was destined to be developed as a hearty variety for home gardens.
“I was convinced that the rose deserved to be widely available and enjoyed by gardeners,” Welch said.
“It’s disease resistance, thornless stems and colorful displays of bright, pink flowers along with a graceful vining form make it a logical choice. The lush growth of her thornless climber rose is a testament to its toughness and status as a true survivor.”
Fundraiser. But it was a “middle of the night” thought, Welch said, to use the rose as a fundraiser for restoring gardens in the hurricane areas, an effort started by the Garden Club of Houston.
With Peggy’s agreement, several nurseries were mustered to grow cuttings for sale, with a portion designated for the restoration fund.
“A great rose and a great cause,” Welch said. “That’s a hard combination to beat.”
Peggy has a cutting from the original plant in her new garden, and her original is still thriving on the old home place. She’d still like to know what its name was.
“I’m still on that quest. I still want to know its true name,” she said of her namesake rose.
Sales. As for the restoration effort, the Peggy Martin Rose is selling rapidly. The five nurseries involved in the project maintain waiting lists to fulfill orders as cuttings mature.
The nurseries are: Antique Rose Emporium; Chamblee’s Rose Nursery; Petals from the Past Nursery; King’s Nursery in Tenaha, Texas, 409-248-3811; and Naconiche Gardens.
According to experts, the rose is hardy through zone 5 with winter protection.
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