Human Flower Project

Under the Lash of Beauty

Our rose failures outnumber our successes, but it’s spring. Who’s counting?

imageView from inside Wanda’s house, Smithville, Texas 4/5/12

Photo: Human Flower Project

Roses we have killed:




Great Western


Coquette des Blanches

Zepherine Drouhin

Mme Isaac Perriere


Is that enough? Considering that memory’s not all that thorough, especially where failures are concerned, we’ve likely underreported.

Fantasies we have entertained, with varying degrees of persistence:

the Texas State Domino championship

daily meditation

landing an academic job in the Sociology of Culture at middle age

an up-do

learning Czech

expecting a thank-you note from anyone under 30 (make that 35)

getting a feature story in the NY Times Magazine

good posture

starting to play the accordion at age 58

(Definite under-reporting here.)

imageWanda and Peggy Martin, a spring bloomer and cardinal habitat

Photo: Bill Bishop

Yesterday, thanks to a visit to a dear friend’s garden 40 miles east and a trip to the Antique Rose Emporium an hour farther away, our record of rosa-cide was expunged by joy and the splendor of the spring flush. It’s time to try again.

We drove to Wanda Gamble’s beautiful old house near the tracks in Smithville, where some 70 rose bushes were at full tilt: Sombreuil with its lemony and lacy white disks, Zephirine Drouhin, red knockouts along the curb, purple Angel Face (even Mother has failed with this one), Don Juan, Blaze, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and several more of the luscious David Austin varieties, the miniature Cascade, and scores of others we can’t name.

Wanda’s wise to the big differences between gardening realities in Smithville and in Austin. She’s also a landscape painter and industrious person, the type who pulled all the old asbestos shingles off this house herself and is not afraid to take on challenges like dachshund puppies, French drains, soufflés, etc. She could probably learn Czech if she put her mind to it!


Wanda’s front rose garden, Smithville, TX 4/5/12

Photo: Bill Bishop

Where she has put much of her mind, heart and energy for several years is into this spectacular garden, now at the height of its beauty. Its greatest glory is a huge Peggy Martin rose that has grown up along a column and hangs like the bunting of Titania across the front porch, covered with peach-pink flowers. A cardinal is nesting in this living palace, and Wanda is careful to guide visitors around to the side door so as not to disturb her resident bird.

How could anyone, even an Austinite living on a limestone shelf, even a confessed rose murderer fail to hope (a.k.a. fantasize)?


Shopper with a wagon of plants, Antique Rose Emporium, Independence, TX

Photo: Bill Bishop

With Wanda, we headed on through LaGrange and Burton and Brenham to the Antique Rose Emporium, to study and finally to choose. After nearly two hours of hunting and marveling, and sweating, we made our selections from among the thousands of rugosas, noisettes, ramblers, climbers (mannerly and unmannerly), early teas, and Mike Shoup’s own Pioneer Roses, born and bred right here in Independence, Texas.

Wanda took home Lafter, with which she will undoubtedly succeed; she plans to pair it with a huge Mutabilis bush, since both bloom with flowers blended yellow and orange. She also bought a salmony pink double rose, fresh off the truck from the A.R.E. fields. It looked nearly azalea-like to us (Wanda also has a way with azaleas).


At the Antique Rose Emporium, Wanda walks along a fence covered with Peggy Martin, the rose famed for surviving 20 feet of salt water flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

Photo: Human Flower Project

We came home with Cole’s Settlement, a tall and handsome single white rose for our neighbor Jim. And for us, it was Vielchenblau, a spring-only bloomer with small, fragrant purple blossoms. The plant we bought is covered with buds and went in this morning between a cenizo (purple sage) and a tall yucca, right at the sunny bend of our corner lot.

Viel Glück, friend.  You’re going to need it around here!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/06 at 09:12 PM


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