Monday, May 21, 2012

Transplanting Family Heirloom Roses

McQueen Family Home, Shady Valley, Tennessee, circa 1912.

"Oregon fever! The men who contracted it and came West were filled with dreams of prosperity while the women had a vision of creating civilization - homes filled with knowledge and beauty. While men packed practical provender - tools and provisions - women packed Bibles, quilts and their precious roses.

With her rose she shared water while crossing the alkali plains. In the chill Blue Mountains, curled in a common blanket, she kept her rose from freezing and finally, on that great day of arrival at her donation land claim, she would plant her rose in triumph that both had survived. Some 20 roses traveled across the Oregon Trail or around Cape Horn to be planted, watered, cherished and shared..."  (Calkins, Erica L. "Pioneer Roses Of The Oregon Trail -- Women Settlers Brought Some 20 Varieties West." The Seattle Times. February 19, 1995.  Web.  May 21, 2012.)

Harison's Roses    

Here is one variety the pioneer women brought, called "Harison's Rose."  (Thank you, Deborah Bedford,

I was inspired when I read an article similar to this one when I was trying to find out how to propogate roses.  I have heard that growing roses can be tricky, but here in the Mojave Desert, they seem to thrive in the mild winters and hot, sunny, summers.  I have two climbing roses near our front door which were a Mother's Day gift from husband and children a few years ago, and they are still one of my favorite gifts ever.  When I saw how well they grew, I added some other rose bushes to our landscape.  One of the bushes from a local nursery has a name that I can't recall, but I call them my sunset roses.  When they bloom, they start out a dark orange-pink color, and as they open, they have some yellow, light pink, and more orange.  They also smell incredible!  I will post a photo the next time they bloom.  I began wondering if there was a way to propagate another bush from this one bush, since it is so beautiful, and I came across the history of pioneer women carrying their roses across the plains as they moved out west.  I was fascinated at their determination and careful effort to bring a beautiful, living, reminder of the homes they had left behind.  Some of the rose plants they brought with them are alive to this day!  

At right are some pioneer roses covering an arbor at Lone Fir Cemetery Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. (Thank you, Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery).

I am going to try to propagate my sunset roses, but in the meantime, this month I took a trip back to Tennessee, where my mother's family lived, and found a family treasure.  My great-grandmother, Anna Montgomery McQueen, planted roses at the front of her beautiful, 2-story white farmhouse in Shady Valley, Tennessee (see photo at the top of this page).  She also raised 10 children, including my grandmother, Elva, and my godmother, Glenna, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday.  Years ago, Aunt Glenna transplanted some of Anna's roses to the front of her house in nearby Kingsport.  I asked Aunt Glenna if I could bring some cuttings of the roses back to Las Vegas with me, and she let me dig some of them up.  
Here are my great-aunt, Glenna McQueen Trent, my mother, Audry Black Nicholson-Chao, me, and my sister, Jan Nicholson Assimos, in Kingsport, TN.  You can Anna's roses at the bottom right side of the photo. 

My mom and Jan both have careers in growing and selling beautiful plants, and they helped me locate and dig up 4 bare root cuttings.  I kept them in water for a couple of days, then in damp paper towels and plastic bags on the plane ride home.  When I got home, I immediately put them in water and visited my local plant nursery to get instructions on planting them here.  On the roots, they recommended used a rooting hormone by Green Light, available at  nurseries or online here: 

I dug holes about 4 times the width and as deep as the root ball, put in the plants, 2 per large hole, and covered them with organic potting soil.  I watered them thoroughly and have made sure they are getting plenty of water in these early stages.
I planted them in part shade, part sun.  I was afraid that since they are used to the climate in Tennessee, the intense sun here might be too much for them.  Then I said a little prayer, covered around them with the rocks we use for mulch, and am waiting for signs of life.

Right now they just look like sticks in the ground.  It's too early to tell, but I think one of them may have a tiny bud that is beginning to form!

Look for more updates soon to see if these family heirlooms survive the move to Las Vegas!

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