The Early History of the "Peggy Martin Rose"
Peggy Martin has been a mainstay in the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society for many years. She and her husband, MJ, lived in Plaquemines Parish a few miles across the Mississippi River from the city of New Orleans. My wife, Diane, and I were her guests several years ago when I accepted a speaking engagement for the NOOGRS.
Peggy graciously cared for us during our visit and entertained us in her home with a memorable Louisiana style seafood boil that had been harvested by her husband just hours before. Peggy's garden included a wonderful collection of old roses assembled with love and care over the years. There were many wonderful specimens that appealed to me but one rambler in particular caught my eye. I am always interested in thornless roses and Peggy was particularly enthusiastic about a large, healthy specimen she had collected in 1989 in New Orleans. According to Peggy "I was given cuttings of the thornless climber in 1989 by Ellen Dupriest who had gotten her rose cuttings from her mother-in-law, Faye Dupriest. Faye had gotten her cuttings from a relative's garden in New Orleans. When I first saw this rose it was in full bloom and smothered the 8ft wooden fence in Ellen's back yard. It took my breath away! I had never seen a rose so lushly beautiful with thornless bright green foliage that was disease free. All along the canes there were clusters of roses that resembled perfect nosegays of blooms."
I departed from New Orleans in the late summer of 2003 with several cuttings of Peggy's thornless climber. I was pleased that the cuttings rooted quickly and immediately set one on the fence that encloses the A/C equipment at Fragilee, our weekend home in Washington County, TX. I was a little dubious of the site I had selected because the soil was less than ideal. My concern soon disappeared as I saw the cutting quickly mature into a vigorous specimen that spans most of the 12-15 linear feet of 4' tall picket fencing.
I didn't allow myself to get overly excited about the plant because I assumed that it would be a "once bloomer" with a fairly short flowering season in the spring. On a subsequent visit with Peggy she indicated that my plant would rebloom in the fall after it had been established for a couple of years. I must admit that I had some doubt about the rebloom in our hot and sometimes very dry Texas climate. Last year Peggy's rose rewarded us with a nice bloom from September through November. Even with being covered by ice for two days during mid-December '05 we have had some scattered bloom all winter.
Katrina takes its Toll
We fretted about many of our New Orleans friends during the 'Katrina' storm. Getting information was not easy with so much of the communications system inoperative. We were uneasy about traveling to Birmingham for an annual meeting with the gardens staff for Southern Living magazine. We spent the night of September 7, at our home in Mangham, La. Mangham is in the northeastern part of the state and 'Katrina' had only brushed by as it veered to the east through Mississippi. We were relieved that our cotton and soybean crops received only minor damage and the old pecan trees in our yard suffered little more than loss of most of this year's crop.
Upon arrival in Birmingham we checked into the Marriott Courtyard located near the Southern Living headquarters. Early the next morning we went to breakfast and were seated adjacent to two couples who sounded like they had New Orleans accents. After introducing ourselves we learned that they were from Plaquemines Parish and had lost their homes. Birmingham was the first place they were able to find shelter. I asked them if they knew Peggy Martin and her family and they said they knew them well and were we familiar with the tragedy of their losses? It seems that Peggy lost both her elderly parents in the flood that inundated nearly all of Plaquemines Parish. We were, of course, deeply saddened that Peggy had lost her parents, her home, and commercial fishing boat that her husband used to supplement their income.
An Inspirational Survivor
It took a couple of months for me to reestablish communication with Peggy. She and her family have moved to Gonzales, LA which is close to Baton Rouge on Interstate 10. I asked Peggy about her roses and home and she indicated the house and garden were under about 20' of salt water for two weeks following the hurricane. When she was finally able to return to visit their property she was heartened to see the lush growth of her thornless climber, a testament to its toughness and status as a true survivor. This rose and one crinum were all that remained of the once beautiful garden.
I had already been convinced that this rose deserved to be widely available and enjoyed by gardeners in other locations. Its disease resistance, thornless stems and colorful displays of bright pink flowers along with a graceful vining form make it a logical choice for creating beautiful garden pictures. My specimen 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.