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Roses With A Past Have Great Stories
Couple tend history by growing historic plants in their garden

By Ramona Landberg
Special Correspondent, Charlotte Observer

For Emmy and Bill Morrison everything comes up roses. The Morrison home and rose garden on Concord Road in Davidson is the site for the members-only meeting of the Davidson Historical Society next Sunday.

Why meet in a rose garden? Because so many of the roses have historical significance. They are what rosarians call "Old Roses", Varieties that date from 1860 or earlier. And each of these rose bushes in the Morrison garden has a history of its own.

As she walks the rows of rose bushes in her back yard, Emmy Morrison refers to the printout from a database developed by their son, William Jr. "This one is ‘Old Blush,’ she says pointing to the plant climbing on a trellis at the end of the driveway. This one goes back to 1752, the year it was first introduced.

"It was at my mother’s boarding school in Concord, Sutherland Hall. That’s the fun of this. There is so much history in these roses."

Another bush in bloom is ‘Rugosa Rubra’, from 1870, with exceptionally fragrant roses. "It has big hips," Emmy says of the seedpods that follow the blooms. "It’s good for rose hip jelly, and the birds love the hips."

The Morrisons both grew up in Cabarrus County, where they raised two sons and still have siblings. They moved to Davidson 10 years ago bringing along 65 rose plants in a truck. Over the years they have added to the collection, which now numbers 85 varieties and over 200 plants.

Emmy’s love affair with roses began when she was a little girl. She road her tricycle down the street and picked roses from a neighbor’s bush so often that the neighbor finally gave a cutting to her mother, an avid gardener.

"It’s a ‘Charles de Mills’, and it’s still here," Emmy Morrison says.

Then, when she was 20, the rose bush her mother gave her sparked her interest in old roses. She’s been collecting them now for 50 years. Bill her husband of 46 years, is her gardener and helper. He snips off a dead branch, pulls up a weed and points out his favorite, ‘Aviateur Bleriot’, from 1910.

"He never stops," Emmy says. "The neighbors all think I work him to death."

Wherever they go, the Morrisons are on the lookout for new varieties. They find them at old houses, in cemeteries, along the road, in formal gardens at museums and historic buildings.

Heritage roses are those that originated in the 19th century or earlier. The purpose of the Heritage Rose Foundation is to collect, preserve and promote the culture of roses, particularly those that are not known to be available for purchase.

"Old roses are tough," Bill Morrison says. "They don’t take a lot of care, and they’re not susceptible to all the diseases of modern, highly bred roses. They may get mowed down in a cemetery, but they come back".

As the Morrisons walk along the rows, they point out different varieties and their unusual features.

There’s ‘Champney’s Pink Cluster’ from 1802, the first rose hybridized in America. There’s ‘Common Moss‘ (R. centifolia muscosa), from 1696, whose bud and stem have a mossy texture. This bush came from a deserted house in the mountains where it had been trampled.

There’s ‘Natchitoches Noisette', of unknown age, which came from a cemetery in Louisiana, featured in the movie "Steel Magnolias".

‘Old Blush’ is a rose growing at the house in Appomattox where General Robert E. Lee surrendered. "Banshee’ comes from Rachel’s Garden at President Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage in Nashville.

Veilchenblaue, the bluest rose sold commercially, is a rambling multiflora often used a root stock. It was almost lost, but came back from some of these root stocks. The Morrisons found a specimen of R. roxburghii plena, (Chestnut Rose) form 1870, in Enochville.

My mother and I were picking strawberries, and I saw it in a yard," Emmy Morrison says. The buds of this one look like chestnuts. There’s a whole row of apothecary roses, which were used for healing.

Rosarians identify varieties by their foliage, the buds, or the flower, sometimes with the help of other members of the Old Rose Growers Society.

But it’s customary to give a rose a name until it can be more accurately identified. One rose Emmy Morrison found at a little church in Iowa she called "Ezra" for the grandson on whose birthday it bloomed.

Another she named "Call Down The Storm" for a novel by the late writer, LeGette Blythe, the setting for which was post-Civil War Mecklenburg County, around Huntersville.

She found the rose at a deteriorating old house at what is now exit 25 on I-77, before the highway was built.

As members of the Heritage Rose Foundation, The Morrisons often exchange roses with other members.

"I take clippers with me wherever I go," she says, adding, "you always have to ask permission before you start clipping."

(From Mecklenburg Neighbors, May 10, 1998)


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