Rose lovers, I have such a treat for you today: An interview with Susan Lyell Young, owner of Restoration Roses in Tennessee. Susan and I “met” via this blog and on Instagram and it’s been a pleasure living vicariously through her adventures in seeking out and growing some of the most hard to find or lost to commerce roses from around the country and parts of Europe. If you’ve ever dreamed of following your passion for roses to wherever it might take you, then you’re going to love Susan’s story. Enjoy!
L: Susan, the work you’re doing to bring rare roses back into cultivation is spectacular and I think I can speak for my fellow rosarians when I say that we’re so excited to have you here.
S: Laurie, it is a pleasure to speak to you about my passion and I’m so appreciative of your interest. I’ve enjoyed your blog photos and rose tips. I think you are one of the best online sources for the care and culture of roses.
L: Wow, thank you! *blushing* So, let’s dive in and talk about your background with roses; how did you get bit by the bug?
S: I’ve been a perennial gardener most of my life and always strived for that cottage garden style. So I had a pretty solid knowledge of growing plants. Five years ago I was picking up some mulch in a Kmart and came across a nasty, bagged, waxed, near-death rose named Mr. Lincoln. I think it was $5.00. So I brought it home and planted it and it grew! The blooms were so gorgeous and fragrant…I was hooked! I had always thought roses were difficult to care for but this one did so well with just watering. I don’t use any chemicals in my garden. I’m completely organic. And I use Integrated Pest Management for insects. After the unexpected success and ease of care I just couldn’t get enough information about roses and once I knew a bit more I decided I wanted to try own root antique rose for their fragrance and health advantages over moderns.
L: That’s funny you mentioned ‘Mr Lincoln’, that’s one of the roses that hooked me, too. The fragrance is quite memorable. Once you start growing roses, it’s hard to stop collecting, isn’t it?
S: Once my friend Tammy taught me how to propagate I became even more enthralled and really started to educate myself about the care, keeping and history of roses. I quickly amassed quite a reference library! It wasn’t long until I ran out of room on my postage stamp urban lot and started looking for land.
L: I know that feeling all too well! I’m curious about your nursery and it’s overall size as I’m sure others are, too, who might be interested in flower farming. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
S: My farm is a total of 12.8 acres. It’s on bottomland between a creek and a wooded ridge with a spring creek running through it. The actual growing area is likely closer to 5 acres. It requires a 4 wheel drive to get there—you have to cross two creeks…literally. There are no bridges. The realtor didn’t want to sell it until the bridge was installed but I told her I didn’t want it if there was a bridge. It’s very private.
L: Ha! I love that. That certainly makes the trip to the farm a bit more interesting. How many roses have you gotten in the ground so far?
S: I’m just getting started with the actual in ground planting. I’ve been growing around 700 roses in pots and managed to get 300 into the ground this fall in addition to 300 peonies. The rest of the roses I hope to get into the ground in the spring along with a couple hundred dahlias. There are two main growing areas now, both requiring deer fencing. One area contains my small 10’X20’ greenhouse and tilled beds for planting perennials, annuals, herbs and vines. The other area (across another creek) is a 30’X80’ area where I have planted the roses and peonies, thus far. I will be planting a shrubbery this spring on the edges of my woodland. I’m a member of a local flower collective committed to healthy sustainable flower farming. I’m sure you are familiar with the slow flower movement. I will be growing unusual perennial and annual flowers in addition to fragrant shrubs and flowering fruit trees. Did you know the average florists’ rose is treated with harmful chemicals banned in the United States? Not to mention the travel involved. It’s a shame that something of such beauty is actually made toxic in an effort to enhance and prolong its beauty. Just as folks are interested in how and where their food is grown, folks are becoming invested in how and where their flowers are grown. The American grown flower movement is real and it is coming on strong! Always buy local and you are guaranteed freshness, and most often, organic flowers.
Madame Caroline Küster, Louis Armstrong Park, ©Restoration Roses
L: So true! The slow flower movement has really taken off, thanks to the hard work and dedication of so many, like you, who are fighting the good fight. Your farm sounds like a dream and I love how you’re incorporating so many other plants so it’s not a monoculture. You’ve done so much to get your rose farm established, but surely the mother plants had to come from somewhere. Myself, and others who follow you on Instagram, have noticed that you’ve traveled quite a bit lately to build your collection. Where have you gone and who have you met? What’s it like importing roses from other countries? (I’ve heard that can be a bit of a kerfuffle.)
S: Yes, I have been a traveling fool lately…in search of the rose. What fun I’ve had and what great people I’ve met. In September I met Leo Watermeier, curator of the rose garden at Armstrong Park at his French Quarter home in New Orleans. He gave me permission to take cuttings from this amazing collection of old teas, Chinas, noisettes and hybrid musks. Their climate produces teas that are over 10 feet high. There is a massive Mutabilis there, likely 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide. What an amazing place, New Orleans and what a beautiful garden there at Armstrong Park.
Shipping cuttings back home ©Restoration Roses
S: In October I took a trip out to Northern California. There are so many amazing roses out there on the West Coast, no longer in commerce, particularly in the Gold Rush counties. In the mid 1800s folks brought rose cuttings when they journeyed out West. These roses have survived and thrived with no care for more than 150 years. “Progress” is causing the loss of many historic homesteads and cemeteries have adopted the perpetual care routine—resulting in rose loss from herbicide and weed eaters. Some roses are there one year and built over the next! I had to get some of these treasures growing east of the Mississippi! At some point on this trip I collected so many cuttings I realized that I might as well start a nursery. These roses need to be preserved and in my opinion, sharing is the best way to protect against extinction. Most public gardens are no longer growing roses and some that do are sponsored by a couple of large rose corporations and therefore grow mostly large corporate bred roses. Novelty is the name of the game in the rose business and wonderful roses have been lost in the quest for something “new”—although not necessarily better—just “new”.
Jill Perry, curator of SJHRG, Kim Rupert, hybridizer & Susan
S: Thanks to the amazing generosity of a few West Coast rosarians I was given permission to collect cuttings from the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, the found roses in San Juan Bautista and several absolutely amazing private collections. I rustled a few along the way as well…
S: You asked about importing roses…let me tell you…the USDA does not play around. Essentially roses can now only be imported from France and Germany. Imported “plants” are actually the size of newly rooted cuttings. Stems can be no larger than a few centimeters eliminating any grafted rose—which in turn eliminates Germany as a source. After you find a willing export nursery you must apply for an import permit and a quarantine agreement. In order to receive your quarantine permit, an agricultural official comes to you property to deem it suitable for quarantine purposes. Imported roses cannot be closer than ten feet from domestic roses and may not be trimmed or moved for a period of two years. If you are given your quarantine permit then you may place your order. Once your plants arrive in the United States you must be travel to the port of entry to accept delivery or pay hefty fees to a “broker” to get them sent to your home. From that point they are your roses. However, you are subject to inspection at any time and fines apply if you have failed to comply with the regulations…some of which appear to be written by people who have never grown anything! After obtaining all my permits and being inspected I placed my order for some 70 teas and Noisettes from France. The first growing season the French nursery was plagued by some sort of fungal infection and the owner and I agreed they would never pass muster. I was disappointed but surely did not want to risk such an investment. The following season I was informed by the nursery owner that she was in the process of selling her nursery and moving to the United States, and had been sending roses to a holding greenhouse in California for several months. At this point I had to accept that it didn’t make any sense, even to this rose junkie, to take the risk that the plants might not thrive in my possession. I chose to wait until hers are free from quarantine and purchase plants grown here.
L: What an exciting adventure you have been on! Thank you for sharing your experiences with collecting and importing. I’m sure other readers out there are also feeling just as astounded as to how much dedication and resolve goes into something like this. I guess it’s also safe to say that you’ve amassed quite a bit of knowledge about various rose cultivars and, of course, now the question begs to be asked: do you have any favorites?
S: Favorite roses? You love roses as much as I do and you know that one’s favorite rose likely changes daily, if not more! But, having said that I will say I have a few that are just all around stars. Maybe my favorites meeting a set of criteria? The Pemberton Hybrid Musk ‘Felicia’ (seen in top photo) is the hardiest disease resistant fragrant rose I grow. Felicia is the highest achiever in each of those categories, particularly in the fragrance category. Other healthy, hardy and floriferous roses which are not quite as fragrant are Ivor’s Rose (a modern, now called Flamenco Rosita) and Parade, a Brownell Climber. I have never seen blackspot on either of these roses and I have never seen them without a flush of blooms – once they are established. These are saturated raspberry pink often-quartered blooming workhorses. Fields of the Wood (Rhode Island Red) is a fragrant, deep dusky crimson climber with near constant bloom and amazing health.
“Rhode Island Red” ©Restoration Roses
S: My favorite rose for fragrance is Austin’s Jude the Obscure. A beautiful apricot- parchment glow of a globe. There is nothing else like it. Clothilde Soupert is a real gem. Healthy, manageable growth…baby powder fragrance. Celine Forestier is an amazing Noisette—vigorous and variable color depending upon temperatures. Vineyard Song is a Ralph Moore modern rose that just perfumes the entire garden…never stops blooming…always healthy. It blooms like a rambler but grows like a shrub. Louis Phillipe, Perle d’Or, Sweet Pea, Pompon de Paris, Gardendirektor Otto Linne are wonderful for beginners. Dr. Grill is a vigorous tea.
‘Sweet Pea’ ©Restoration Roses
L: There are so many ways to propagate roses from cuttings and I always encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a whirl and see what works best for them. Since you’ve had wonderful success with your method, care to share any tips?
S: What works for me is to use a landscaping mister kit and put the cuttings into a plug made of coir. The difficulty lies in keeping the plug moist—it cannot be saturated and it cannot be allowed to dry out. So the frequency and length of the misting has to be adjusted depending upon the daily amount of humidity in the air and the temperature. I have a friend in Texas who uses blasting sand in her propagation pots. I always use rooting hormone. Some roses root easily and in any weather. Some do better in spring rather than fall and vice versa. I always prefer a cutting six inches or more in length with the girth of a pencil or better. The best advice is to keep trying different methods and not give up. I’ve also found that some roses need to gain size before they will produce cuttings which root.
L: Well, I’m sure that many rosarians out there are eager to get their paws on some of the roses in your collection. When do you hope to have them available for sale and how would a prospective buyer get in touch with you?
S: I have built my website and beginning this spring I plan to offer some of the roses I have collected on my travels. I will also visit Northern California again to obtain more cuttings from roses that failed to root. The best way to find out which roses I’m offering each season would be to go to my website, RestorationRoses.com and subscribe to my newsletter. I would encourage anyone with an uncommon rose to share cuttings, with me, or with a rose loving friend to ensure they are not lost to disease or the passage of time.
L: Thank you, Susan!
PS: Readers, you can follow Susan’s Instagram feed at: @RestorationRose