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The Heritage Rosarium: A Once-A-Year Experience
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The Heritage Rosarium: A Once-A-Year Experience

Gardening

Mr. NICK WEBER (Owner, Heritage Rosarium): Jacques Cartier here, and Comte de Chambord, Sir Thomas Lipton and Fru Dagmar Hastrup.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

A rose is a rose is a rose, not here at the Heritage Rosarium in Ashton, Maryland.

Gardener Nick Weber has devoted the past 20 years of his life to tending and coaxing these heritage roses into a glorious bounty.

Mr. WEBER: Clytemnestra, Penelope, Cornelia.

LYDEN: Mostly, just for himself and his wife, Roseanne. But once a year, on Memorial Day weekend, Nick and Roseanne pity the rest of us mundane gardeners and let us take a peek.

Mr. WEBER: This rose right here is York and Lancaster. It's pink with white and pink stripes. It's one of the War of the Roses roses.

LYDEN: A lot of the roses here bear little resemblance to what we think of as roses. There are singles, with just five petals that open like a flat hand. Others explode with 100 petals.

Mr. WEBER: Lullaby is the great, great white.

LYDEN: Nick Weber's five acres are covered with ramblers and climbers. Nearly all are heirloom varieties or old roses - varieties that existed before 1867. That's the old rose/new rose divide.

Before 1867, hybrids sometimes occurred but only orchestrated by bees and wind. Then, horticulturalists caught up with nature and created the very first hybrid tea rose called La France.

Roses have been hybridized ever since, bred to have perfect buds and to bloom repeatedly. But certain qualities have been given short shrift, like fragrance. Not in Nick Weber's garden. The smells vary as much as the colors: spicy, sweet, lemony, powdery, subtle, overwhelming.

Nick was a scientist with the FDA once upon a time. That was before the obsession took hold. He says he can't really explain it. He'd rather just let the roses speak for themselves.

We start out in the St. Francis Garden.

Mr. WEBER: We call this the St. Francis Garden because of this old statue of St. Francis we got from the convent where my wife taught. The rose direct, that's right next to it, is a very wonderful rose, great damask fragrance.

LYDEN: So that's what we're smelling?

Mr. WEBER: Yeah, you'll have to check that smell.

LYDEN: Mmm, now that is fragrance. Mmm.

Mr. WEBER: About a dozen years ago, a couple came in. They called and asked if I had old roses, and I said yes. So they came to the entrance, and they looked around, and they just almost ran to this rose, and they looked at it, they smelled, and then they actually took some of the petals and tasted it.

And they spoke with a foreign accent, and I asked them what the story was, and they said from their country is they actually use this rose for a lot of medicinal purposes and other purposes. Of course, they used it for weddings. They use it in making cakes, and they used it for making (unintelligible)…

LYDEN: Rose petal jam. How many kinds of roses are in this garden?

Mr. WEBER: Truthfully, I have really no idea. I - just a wild guess is probably six or 700 varieties. It's hard to say I have a favorite, having that many, but I have four plants of Marie Pavie throughout the garden.

It's at its peak bloom today, and it has a wonderful old-rose fragrance. It's a little spice with a little powder, like almost baby powder with a little spice in it. It's in a class called polyantha, meaning many bloom. As you can see, this plant here probably has two or 300 blooms on it and it's eight feet by eight feet.

LYDEN: What I love about your Heritage Rosarium is how many climbing and rambling roses, and just to give people a sense of the scale, we're talking about roses that climb into trees, roses that climb into the upper second story porch of your house, that go for hundreds of feet, like this one we're looking at, over an arbor.

Mr. WEBER: And right back there, believe it or not, that's a rose. It's 40 feet high and 40 feet across, actually, 50 feet across. That is a Bobby James. It is not in bloom now, but you can see the clusters now if you look carefully. That will have 10,000 blooms on it next week.

LYDEN: Wow. How much time do you have to spend in your five acres of roses?

Mr. WEBER: Well, not enough, not enough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Well, Nick Weber, visiting your Heritage Rosarium this Memorial Day weekend has really been a pleasure. Thank you so much. I hope you have years and years of bounty here.

Mr. WEBER: The days you spend in the garden don't really count against your life's total. So I'll just keep working here in the garden more and more as we get closer to perfection, but as you can see, there's always something to do.

LYDEN: The Heritage Rosarium is closed now until next Memorial Day weekend, but you can still get a glimpse at our Web site, at npr.org.

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