Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mystery Rose "Maggie"

One of life’s simplest yet greatest joys is to find ourselves swooning over something lovely in our landscape....the dance of butterfly wings over colorful blossoms, sunlight on a goldfish pond, our dog napping in the shade of a tree.......or taking a deep long inhalation from a lusciously fragrant rose. But how often does that last one happen in these days of scentless "landscape roses" like Knockout?

"Maggie" is a fragrant rose lover’s dream, and it thrives in Florida and other mild climate regions, though my instincts tell me it would endure quite harsh winters too! Discovered by Dr. William Welch of Texas A & M University on a Lousiana plantation that his wife’s grandmother named Maggie had bought early in the 20th century, it is both beautiful and baffling. As is the custom when rosarians attempt to determine the identity of a Mystery Rose, he gave it the "study name" of "Maggie"...the quote marks allow other rosarians to know that it is an assigned name while research continues. An early guess as to its true name was ‘Gruss an Teplitz’ bred by the famous rose hybridizer Rudolph Geschwind in 1897. But many rosarians feel that ‘Eugene E. Marlitt’, a China-Bourbon rose also bred by the Geschwind and released in 1900 is more likely. But as the debate rages on, we can invite her sensuous beauty into our landscapes.

Look into each ruffled Victorian style blossom and eat up the saturated magenta-red color, far more sophisticated than your usual scentless, red florist’s rose. Then dive in with a hungry nose and tingle your soul with that heady, spicy Old Rose perfume so rarely encountered here in Florida. The blooms average three and a half inches across and occur singly or in clusters that can contain a couple of dozen blooms, making one cut stem an instant bouquet.

I had a landscape client in north Tampa in the early 90's who loved to woo women with blooms he’d snatch off of his "Maggie" bush thriving just outside his front door. He said it never failed to dazzle each lucky recipient totally unprepared for that sultry perfume and rich color.

All that China rose blood in its breeding makes it one happy camper in a Florida landscape as long as it is grown in full sun in damp, mulched, fertile soil. In those conditions, disease and big problems are minimal, an occasional cosmetic issue. So there is no need for the usual chemical weapons of mass destruction so often associated with rose growing in Florida. A good soil feeding each March, July, September and December with an organic like menhaden fish meal or Calf Manna (both sold at feed stores supplied by Manna Pro Corp.), or a quality chemical fertilizer like Sunniland Palm 8-6-6 will let it thrive and bloom year round. Spring and fall offer the heaviest bloom seasons, with intermittent blossoms throughout the summer. The more blooms you cut the more buds form!

Just imagine replacing a boring hedge of ligustrums or pittosporums with a row of "Maggie" roses spaced three feet apart! Or grow one in the center of a flower garden as a focal point. Live in a condo with a sunny balcony? Grow this sweet gem in a large (seven or more gallon) size pot and feed her with fish emulsion those same four months, three tablespoons per gallon of water. I like to give all my roses a light sprinkling of dolomite each March as, contrary to the myth, roses are not acid lovers like azaleas and ixoras. Many a frustrated rose grower has made matters worse by giving an ailing rose plant an acid fertilizer.

The cool spring, autumn and winter months are the ideal time to order "Maggie" from the widely respected mail order company ‘The Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas.(1-800-441-0002) Owner Mike Shoup knows Dr. Welch well and was pleased to help him get this treasure back out into the world, and the yards of folks aching for an easy to grow, deeply fragrant rose. Mike grows his roses on their own roots, never grafted, and your rose will arrive in a two gallon pot after being grown for twelve to eighteen months in that same pot, so there is none of the worry of a bare root mail order rose. Prior to being packed into the tall shipping carton, it will be cut back to reduce shock and to quickly regrow in your garden or container. Take it out of the carton and pot, plant it in a hole twice the size of the root ball half filled with compost, then water her in well. A deep weekly watering is fine for this undemanding rose in this age of permanent watering restrictions.

Most Floridians have given up on roses or never tried them, having heard the horror stories of endless hassle, elaborate pruning and toxic spraying regimens, or reversion to the rootstock, only to end up with a dead rose anyway. But "Maggie" offers us all the hope for both sweet success and even sweeter rose can we resist this old gal’s charms?

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