One of my Chrysler Imperial bushes put on it’s first bloom a few days ago, and I got a few pictures while it was at it’s peak. Some of the petal edges show a little burning — it was probably in the bud during our last cold snap and got a little frost bit. Still it has that gorgeous blue-red I’ve always seen on Chrysler Imperials, and it smells as good as it looks.
Both of my rose bushes made it through last year’s extreme drought conditions with very little help from me. At times they were completely leafless, but every time it rained a little, they would put out new growth. Then they endured the winter with no extra protection from the elements. A lot of people think that roses are too fussy to bother with. I used to think that, myself. That was before I learned that roses had names, like “Don Juan,” “Madame Plantier,” “Dublin Bay,” “Fragrant Cloud,” and, of course, “Chrysler Imperial.” For some reason, plants with names like that all of a sudden seemed worth whatever effort it would take to be able to have them co-habitate with me in my yard.
Madame Plantier and Don Juan were two of the first roses I fell in love with, through some gardening cards I subscribed to for several years in Kentucky. Finding those two roses in a local gardening center was a different matter, and eventually led me to on line searching, and the Antique Rose Emporium (ARE). Although I was still living in Kentucky at the time, I was able to order a Madame Plantier rose to plant in my front yard. In a few years it grew into a big, spreading, wild-looking bush with attractive, small leaves, fewer than average thorns, and every spring would produce a huge crop of pinkish buds that opened into saucer-sized white flowers with a wonderful, old-fashioned fragrance. I miss her.
Since returning to central Texas, I’ve experimented with roses in containers. ARE has a list of some that are supposed to do well, but I suspect I didn’t have large enough containers, because after a couple of years they started dying. When I brought home the two Chrysler Imperials winter before last, I went out and got a couple of 32 gallon garbage cans, drilled a few holes in the bottoms, and planted them in those. Why don’t I just plant them in my yard, you ask? Because a few short inches below the surface it’s all concrete — heavy gray clay mixed with gravel of varying sizes. Hell to dig through, tends to repel water, which means the soil above it can stay soggy for weeks if we get a lot of rain. And one thing you learn about roses if you do any research at all is they need “well-drained” soil. They like a lot of water, but they hate wet feet.
The interesting thing about the roses ARE sells is that all their root stock were foundlings — cuttings gathered (or “rustled” — more on that later) from abandoned farmsteads and cemeteries, where they’d been thriving with no help from gardeners for years. And it seems that some time in the early eighties or thereabouts, some intrepid souls took to sneaking in to some of those places and snipping off bits of the plants, taking them home and growing them in their own gardens. The story of the Texas Rose Rustlers is colorful and entertaining, and unfortunately, they don’t tell it on their website any more. But their “Etiquette of the Rustle” page, and the “About” page at ARE contain some kernels of the story.
Now that it’s spring again, I’m thinking of expanding my garbage can garden, at least by one, so I can get another specimen of one of the first container roses I tried. She’s called Dame de Coeur, and is the most electric red and has the most knock-your-socks-off wonderful fragrance I’ve ever encountered. I love my Chrysler Imperials, and want another Mister Lincoln someday, too, but the “Queen of Hearts” is the next red on my list.