The Texas Rose Rustlers might be coveting that old rose bush in your grandmother's front yard. But not to worry. Before taking a small sampling of the bush they always ask and always say thank you, says Joe Cooper, a San Antonio member of the group made up of antique rose enthusiasts mainly from Central Texas and Houston.
According to William C. Welch in his book Antique Roses for the South, the group got its start in Anderson, Texas, when a few rose collectors discovered an 1843 Bourbon. The group's main goal is to find and preserve antique roses and reintroduce them to commerce, Cooper said.
When given an open, sunny site with an occasional feeding, antique roses tend to be nearly maintenance-free. Unfortunately, the commercial market of roses has been almost entirely taken over by hybrid varieties that require constant care.
According to Cooper, roses have been a garden favorite for centuries. In the 1500s there were only eight to 10 varieties of roses in Europe. By the 1800s there were more than 10,000 varieties of roses sold around the world, being used as hedges, covering walls, and decorating gardens.
In the 1860s hybrid tea roses became what everybody thought a rose should look like and the old-fashioned roses began falling from favor. The old rose varieties were lost or became nearly extinct.
In the Seventies, rose enthusiasts banded to rescue antique roses from the brink of extinction. Collectors started looking in cemeteries and at old homesites for bushes from which to take cuttings. In Texas, the colonial settlement area around Washington-on-the-Brazos was fertile ground for their antique rose quest.
One of Cooper's favorite stories about collecting roses happened in Navasota, between Bryan and Houston. A Rose Rustler was passing through town when she spotted a beautiful and unique rose bush in Martha Gonzales' front yard. The elderly Ms. Gonzales didn't know where the rose bush came from, but it had always been in the yard. She readily agreed to let the Rose Rustler have a few cuttings from the bush. The next year, when the Rose Rustler went back through Navasota, Ms. Gonzales had died and the bush had been removed. Without the cuttings, the rose now called the Martha Gonzales would have been lost. Today, it is a popular landscape rose.
A computer consultant since 1963, Cooper says he serves his wife coffee and a fresh-cut rose from their backyard every morning. He has turned his avocation for roses into a vocation. At his family's ranch north of Boerne, he has opened the Peaceful Habitations Rose Gardens, where he propagates and sells antique roses.
"We're a very small operation now," Cooper says. "Come back in a couple of years and we hope to have a thousand varieties." A tour with Cooper or his foreman Fernando Maldonado around the garden lives up to its name. With 200 varieties of roses growing within the five acres of deer-proof fencing, the garden truly is a peaceful respite with beautiful Hill Country views.
It was Maldonado - who also manages the ranch and carpentry shop where they build upscale children's playhouses, treehouses, and furniture - who started Cooper in the rose business. Maldonado was caring for the rose bushes on the property when he stuck several of the trimmed twigs in the dirt only to see them sprout. The ranch sells their roses at $10 per bucket, including the beautiful and fragrant Martha Gonzales.
Friendly and easy-going, Maldonado has been a carpenter since he was 17 years old and worked at the Cooper's ranch for much of that time. His instructions are precise. "Below an old bloom, snip the branch about an inch above the first leaf and discard. Cut again below the third leaf and plant."
"You're not going to hurt a rose bush by taking a cutting," Cooper says. He explains the procedure for starting a rose bush in the simplest terms. "Snip it, rub some rooting hormone compound on it, stick it in dirt, and cover it with a plastic bag so it stays humid and doesn't dry out. In four to six weeks it should root. If not, throw it in the compost pile and try again."
Peaceful Habitations Rose Gardens and the Carpenter's Shop are north of Boerne off FM1376 on Seawald Road and are open most days 8am-4:30pm. For an appointment or just to let them know you're coming out, call Cooper at 210/736-2383 or e-mail at email@example.com. For a preview of the amazing projects they build at the Carpentry Shop visit their website at http://www.jhc-carpentry.com.
The Rose Rustlers will be meeting in Brenham in May for their regular exchange and fellowship meeting. For more information on the Rose Rustlers see their website at http://www.texas-rose-rustlers.com/ or call Joe Cooper or Margaret Sharpe at 713/464-8607.
Coming up this weekend...
Texas Independence Day Celebration at Washington-on-the-Brazos has the added value of unveiling improvements to the park during its recent closure, Feb. 28-Mar. 1. 409/836-3695.
Art Cars in the Eyes of the Image Makers mixes art forms to make an exhibit that baffles and inspires, throughout the International Month of Photography and FotoFest in Houston at 140 Heights Blvd., Feb. 17-Apr. 19. 713/926-6368 or http://www.insync.net/~orange. For information on FotoFest call 713/529-9140 or http://www.fotofest.org.
Victorian Mystery Weekend at Crystal River Inn in San Marcos mixes the fun of role-playing games with exploring, Mar. 6-7. 512/396-3739.
A Thyme for Herbs at the George Ranch Historical Park outside of Richmond highlights the use of herbs in folk medicines and cooking throughout history, Mar.7-8. 281/343-0218.
Scotland Road is the new thriller at the Bastrop Opera House, playing on Friday and Saturday nights, Mar. 6-28 at 7:30pm. 512/321-6283.
Outdoor Seminars continue at REI, 9901 Capital of Texas Hwy. on Thursdays at 7pm with Backpacking the Sierra Del Carmens, Mar. 5; Mountaineering, Mar. 12 &19; Volunteer Vacations, Mar. 26. 343-5550.