Flowers Under $50: Antique Roses

by Mary Kathryn Paynter

Although beloved by florists and brides, roses have a terrible reputation in the gardening world. Known for being high-maintenance, fickle and easily susceptible to the slightest threats, most popular types of rose bushes have a loveliness that comes at a price. So I was thrilled to learn about the existence of antique roses, a whole family of roses that are easy and cheap to grow (and maintain), bloom almost year round in mild climates and are as lovely as cut flowers. Today, I’m using antique roses from my garden to make an inexpensive but elegant tablescape.

Of course, when trying to use flowers on a budget, it only makes sense to look to the native plants around you as sources of cut blooms. Here in Texas, antique roses found growing unmaintained in places like cattle fields and cemeteries were cultivated in the 1970s for their hardiness and climate tolerability, and in 1976, the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas, was born. The emporium now cultivates and sells hundreds of antique roses, ensuring that this beautiful heirloom plant never disappears.

Before discovering these particular types of roses, I had always been terrified of trying to grow roses. But once I heard Antique Rose Emporium founder Mike Shoup speak about Texas antique roses, I was hooked. The blooms are fragrant, wild, stark and beautiful, and the plants are unbelievably easy to maintain. — Mary Kathryn

All photos by Mary Kathryn Paynter

The full post continues after the jump . . .

Your local climate will determine the best time to cut the flowers. Like most plants, when they are pruned, they respond with a spurt of new growth, helping them to be fuller and more easily shaped. This new growth is susceptible to extreme temperatures, so it’s best not to prune shortly before scorching heat or a possible frost. Of course, in Texas, this means we can prune through the winter without many problems, but growth conditions vary per climate. Unlike modern roses, antique roses don’t necessarily need to be pruned. Some antique roses will get so leggy and climbing without pruning that they have been known to grow for a quarter of a mile.

The types of roses I’m using today are Kirsten Poulsen (deep pink), Iceberg, white Lady Banks and Red Cascade. Red Cascade is a particularly lovely miniature antique rose that has avid, wild growth and can quickly overtake a fence, rooftop or balcony. Larger blooms can be cut the same length as standard-cut roses, while these leggier, miniature types of roses do well in garlands or strewn about a tabletop.

Whenever working with roses, it’s always important to wear gloves, preferably thick leather ones. I use a floral knife to cut the tinier stems and de-thorn the roses and larger shears to cut back thicker, woodier stems. Find a place on the stem where it splits into two, then prune just above that, with your knife or shears angled to cut diagonally through the stem. This ensures that the plant will grow even bushier at the cut. To quickly de-thorn the roses, gently hold the stem just below the bloom and lightly shave off the tips of the thorns in a downward motion with your knife.

Once cut, arranging the roses is simple. Trim the foliage off the stems so that it will not be submerged under water. If some roses lose their petals while working with them, grasp the stamen and quickly snap it off the plant. This is called “dead-heading” and is done to the living plant to help it bloom as much as possible. I like re-using the petals to scatter them around the table because they smell divine. Longer, leggier stems can simply be wired together to make a garland or laid about the table to fill in gaps — they are hardy enough to look beautiful without water for at least a few hours. I left the foliage intact on these because I find the tiny, delicate leaves to be truly beautiful in and of themselves.

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  • Lovely post! Just want to say that I’ve grown a few hardy, trouble-free antique roses myself (my favorite is ‘Dortmund’, a deep red) from the Antique Rose Emporium… and I’m in Cleveland, so my fellow northerners can know that there are options for most zones.

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