Riding with the rose rustler

June 14, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

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During the last 25 years Merry Stinson has spent many a spring day driving around Washington County's towns and alleys hunting for roses.

She looked for older, heritage varieties, the kind that many modern-day gardeners shun in favor of bigger, fancier, modern hybrids.

Then she'd get out the pruners or the 2 1/2-foot-high shovel she carries in her Subaru Outback and take a snip or dig up a little root to plant around her Leitersburg home.

The result is a home surrounded by about 100 varieties of roses that grow wild, mostly in the backyard shading perennials and using trees and shrubs to climb.


Of course, if the rosebush was in someone's yard she'd knock and ask for permission first. Often she identified the rosebush variety for the homeowner.

If the rosebush was along the road or a rundown property or hanging into the alley, she'd just take a snip.

Of course, with all those clippings, Stinson has met many people. She can tell a few stories. Once she knocked on a door and was turned down. She went back two years later, and the same woman answered the door. This time the woman, now a widow, told Stinson that after her husband died, she realized how mean he was and didn't want to be mean like him. She gave Stinson permission to take a clipping.

Some of her other finds:

She found a Hiawatha rose cut low in the weeds by Long Meadow Shopping Center and brought a cutting home to grow a little bush. Oops. It's a climber that now stretches over 40 feet high up the through the clematis by her barn and onto the roof.

Stinson found a Marie Louise, a variety of rose named for Napoleon Bonaparte's second wife, behind an abandoned house in Ohio.

May Queen, a pink rose, she found along U.S. 11 near the Pennsylvania state line. "I'd driven up and back there maybe 20 years, (but) never been there at the right time." A year after she took a cutting, Stinson said the rosebush was gone.

Stinson's favorite rosebush is the Rosa Mundi, because it looks like each pink-and-white rose has been hand-painted differently. The variety was first written about in 1580.

Stinson, 58, who calls herself a rose rustler, said she thinks her love for heritage roses stems from two of her passions - as an architectural historian, she would see old roses amongst old houses and, as a gardener, took up an interest in them.

She works at Washington County Free Library part time and does consulting work such as researching the history of a house for private homeowners. She also has begun a greeting card business featuring her photography of her roses, sites in Scotland and more.

As for her heritage roses, Stinson said she enjoys their history, fragrance and form.

"I just sort of like the fluffy shapes. I don't know, just the character," she said.

But her gardens are not rose gardens. They are just one type of flower among many plants, shrubs and trees Stinson and her husband, Don Brinser, grow. In fact, sometimes one part of here garden will affect another. For instance, the shade from tree branches led to the loss of some rosebushes.

Stinson also lost some rosebushes to rose rosette disease, which is transmitted by mites. While her roses are older varieties, they are for the most part disease resistant, she said.

The potential for disease kept her from bringing any rose clippings back from a recent trip to Scotland as the clippings would have had to been quarantined for two years, which is just too much work for a rosebush.

"It's very frustrating, very, very frustrating because they have fantastic stuff and you can't bring it home," Stinson said.

Having been gone for a few weeks, she hasn't done much with her roses lately. But Stinson says she takes a low maintenance approach in general with her roses, just mowing around them, keeping the worst weeds out and pruning dead branches.

Some of the climbing roses have grown so high and thick, that birds make nests within the bushes while bees buzz around.

Many of the rosebushes Stinson took clippings from no longer exist thanks to houses being torn down and new developments popping up.

Her cuttings have helped preserve older varieties.

"That was an important part to me because of my work in history. If you see one unusual (rose) at an abandoned house, you know it's going to be gone," she said.

Stinson has given lots of cuttings from her rosebushes to friends, who also have shared their rosebushes with her.

Stinson said she doesn't drive around the county hunting for roses much anymore.

"Now I think I've pretty much cased the county," she said.

Rose rustler Merry Stinson has grown many of her roses from cuttings of other rosebushes.

To grow a rosebush from a cutting - with no root - dip the end of the stem in rooting powder such as Rootone and pot the plant in sandy potting soil. Stinson does this with several cuttings, hoping some take root so she can then plant them outside.

Water the planted cutting and keep weeds back so the rosebush can become established.

How to start a cutting

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