The Unorthodox Rose Gardener
By LMG Calla Victoria
Massive Peggy Martin rose bush
Renowned Rosarian Peggy Martin, Vice President of Membership for the Heritage Rose Foundation and Old Garden Rose and Shrub Chairman for the American Rose Society - Gulf District Area, invited the Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans (MGGNO) on a field trip to her amazing rose garden. After a relaxing drive as we were early, LMG Valerie Tang and I decided to explore the fair hamlet of Gonzales. We were literally stopped in our tracks by a grouping of rustic buildings that made us feel like we had stepped back in time. The place is called the Cabin Restaurant. It has old world ambiance complete with doors that looked like huge barrels, mason jars for glasses, and delectable cuisine. While dining, several of our other club members found their way to the Cabin and we had a wonderful time there.
After lunch we proceeded to the home of Peggy Martin and of course the very first thing that you see is this awesome Peggy Martin rose bush (her namesake) just sprawled all over the large wrought iron fence like some whimsical flower covered gigantic octopus. It was massive and definitely the star of the show! As we rounded the side of the home and entered the garden, we were greeted by the smiling faces of our other club members, a feast of goodies laid out in grand style, and the hostess with the mostess Peggy Martin.
I call Peggy the “unorthodox rose gardener” because her method of planting roses goes against everything that I have ever read, been taught, or heard about planting roses. The very first thing you are taught about planting roses is to give them a lot of space, the bushes like a lot of air flowing through, space them where they have lots of room. Peggy Martin plants all kinds of wonderful things right next to her rose bushes and it works. She’s got salvias, alliums, gladiolas, herbs, irises, and clematis all bunched in with the roses and it works! The second thing you are always told about roses is to plant them where they get full sun, roses NEED full sun. Peggy plants rose bushes under trees…what? Yes she does and she says the roses will find the sun. She has them planted under crepe myrtle trees and other large trees and they are happily blooming their little heads off.
Back to the Peggy Martin Rose Bush, it is my favorite rose bush and unlike many roses that prefer to be dry the Peggy Martin loves water. If you are killing rose bushes because of over-watering, the Peggy Martin rose bush is the rose for you. This fabulous climbing floribunda rose was a found rose, and found roses are just that-someone found them and they have no name. It was a pass-along plant and that is how Peggy got it from a friend, and she passed it along to other friends and rose enthusiast. One of those friends was Dr. Bill Welch, a rosarian and horticulturist at Texas A&M University. Neither Peggy nor any other of the members of the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society could ever pin down name of this rose bush. Even so, Peggy continued to pass it on to her friends.
Then came Hurricane Katrina which flooded and destroyed a lot of Louisiana. Peggy Martin lost both of her parents to Katrina. When Peggy and her husband were finally able to return to their property all was lost, the once magnificent rose garden in shambles, hundreds of her precious old garden rose bushes gone; but there, there in the mist of the devastation stood that crazy pass-along climbing rose with no name, the lone survivor standing deviant against the category 5 monster hurricane that was Katrina.
Needless to say the entire rose community was very concerned for Peggy Martin, her loss, her home, and her rose garden. As with so many in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they felt her pain and at the same time felt helpless as to what to do. In the middle of the night Dr. Bill Welch, the rosarian from Texas who had received a cutting of the nameless rose from Peggy Martin, had a revelation. That rose, the one that survived Katrina, let’s name it the ”Peggy Martin Rose” and use it to help raise funds to restore historic gardens that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. He took his idea to some friends at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which now manages the fund.
Rosaceae “Peggy Martin Rose,” sometimes called the “Katrina Rose,” is a must have for your garden. It is a floribunda rose bush meaning it sends out clusters of roses, bright pink roses. It is a climbing rose with long arching canes great for masking large areas like a page wire or wrought iron fence. It is disease resistance and thornless. It is a re-bloomer starting in March, again in late summer, and repeats until a hard frost slows it down for the winter. On occasion you can find the Peggy Martin Rose bush at the Pelican Greenhouse Sale which is where I purchased mine three years ago. You can find additional information on Peggy Martin and the Peggy Martin Rose Bush at http://peggymartinrose.com/.
This article is published in the June 7, 2014 issue of Data News Weekly.
Check out my “Gardening Tip of the Week” straight from Peggy's garden.