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Tea Roses & Me

by Sr. Mary Garascia

Originally published in This Good Work, a publication from the Sisters of the Precious Blood.

Three years ago, during the first spring after I moved into Salem Heights, our central house in Dayton, I resumed one of my “hobbies,” growing hybrid tea roses. I’ve added a couple of them in each year since then, mostly to the front rose bed. Flowers are beautiful, but modern roses are beautiful “in spades” because they bloom continuously all summer.

I really became pretty good at growing roses when I met Father Richard Jozwiack. A senior priest in the Saginaw diocese, he helped in the parish I led. He had lost his rose garden when he retired to a condo, so I invited him to start one in the yard of our parish house. I became his assistant and student, and by the end of my term, we had over 100 different hybrid tea roses!

Roses are an ancient plant. They appear in Minoan jewelry and frescos before 1400 B.C., and in Chinese and Greek gardens by 500 B.C. Roses only began to be cultivated in Europe around 1700 and accelerated in the 1900s. That’s when a Chinese species bred for 1,000 years, Rosa chinensis, became the preferred root stock for developing the roses we love today.

Before hybrid tea roses were developed, “old roses” (also called antique or heirloom roses) mostly bloomed only once, and mostly pink and more like shrubs. But they had lovely fragrances, classified as rose, nasturtium, violet, apple, lemon, clove. The first recognized hybrid tea was La France, introduced in 1867. Unfortunately, when hybridizing began, the old rose fragrance was lost, but in the last decades, it has been added back into many newer hybrid tea roses. I choose only fragrant species for our gardens. Hybrid tea roses were bred to bloom continuously, and today there are many colors and color combinations.

We also have other kinds of roses in our Salem Heights beds. Most common is landscape or bush rose. Being older, our bush roses do not have fragrance, but they do bloom continuously all summer. Occasionally you’ll also see a miniature (shrub type) rose in a border if Sisters ask me to plant their little rose gifts for them! Hybrid tea roses are taller roses, with mostly single flowers, on long stems suitable for cutting.

June is the month when roses are the most fragrant. Hopefully by the beginning of June, we will begin having a rose or two at our front desk until Thanksgiving. When we see a magnificent hybrid tea rose and smell its fragrance, our eyes and noses hopefully open our minds and hearts to the beauty of our earth, to its fecundity and preciousness, to our duty toward our earth, and to the Source of all beauty.

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