Roses forum→A boy's chance encounter with roses turns into a lifelong passion

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Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, New York (Zone 6b)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Photo Contest Winner 2020 Garden Photography Roses Bulbs Peonies
Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Dog Lover Cat Lover Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Region: New York
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Mike
Aug 25, 2018 10:25 AM CST
Thumb of 2018-08-25/Mike/7f1626

As a child growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I used to walk to elementary school each morning, back in the early '70s. For the first few years of school I made the trek with my big sister, but by the time she moved up to junior high school I was old enough to make the 3/4-mile walk by myself.

It was then that I started exploring the neighborhood, finding different routes to school. But being in no hurry to get to Mrs. Phillips' vocabulary lessons, I was easily distracted along the way. One of these diversions was a distant neighbor's rose garden, whose exquisite blossoms captured my attention one early spring morning. What had seemed like a mass of prickly vines the week before had turned into a collage of giant flowers blooming down the side of a split rail fence.

I can still remember standing on the curb at the corner of the fence, wanting to get a closer look at the blooms that beckoned me with their beautiful colors and shapes. The trail of roses ran from the street down the driveway toward the house. There were so many of them in different colors of reds, yellows, pinks, and whites! But I was afraid to trespass onto an unknown neighbor's lawn. Surely something so beautiful on someone else's property was off limits to a little boy like me. I could already imagine the house's inhabitants watching me with suspicion through their living room window. So despite my fascination with the show of roses, I went no farther down the fence line before resuming my walk to school.

As I repeated this routine on a daily basis, I gradually mustered enough courage to inch my way onto the lawn, to get a better look at the roses farther down the fence. The soft, creamy yellow petals that curled over a center of golden stamens invited me to come even closer. Checking the windows of the house and seeing no one, I cautiously put my little nose into the middle of the blossom, and breathed in deeply. The fragrance must have been intoxicating, because the next thing I knew I was moving further down the fence to see the next rose, and then the next one after that. I could have stayed all morning, but to avoid any trouble with my fourth grade teacher, I managed to pull myself away, knowing that I would be back again the next morning.

Day after day I bounded out of the house on my way to school, anticipating the roses that waited for me along the way. So long as no one was watching, I would stop and admire the blooms. As tempting as it was, I never plucked any flowers, though I may have picked up some spent petals that had fallen to the ground. Even in their wilted state, their silky softness was irresistible to the touch.

Like my sister before me, I eventually went on to junior high school – and went there by bus. My unknown neighbor's rose garden was no longer part of my morning routine. But as I grew older, I harbored a desire to grow my own roses. Although I worked in a nursery after my family moved to New Jersey during my high school years, it was not until I grew into adulthood and bought a house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia that I tried my hand at growing roses.

I purchased a rose book at the local garden center, and was surprised to read that I had to dig such large holes. So following the instructions, I took a spade into the backyard at the foot of the mountain where I lived, and proceeded to dig. I plunged my spade no more than six inches into the ground before hitting solid clay. I tried two or three other spots, but always hit the same bed of clay. Although my how-to book explained how to build a raised bed as an alternative, the drainage never proved sufficient, so I put my dream on hold.

Years later, I gave my rose ambitions another try after moving to New York's lower Hudson Valley. Taking my spade into the backyard, I was anxious to discover the quality and content of the soil beneath my grass. I soon found out that my entire yard was just a thin layer of topsoil poured over "hard fill" consisting of a combination of crushed stone, asphalt chunks, broken bits of concrete, and the unusual yellow bricks that paved the local roads at the turn of the last century.

Undeterred, I decided I could use the exercise, and I dug enough holes to plant over 150 roses around my home. With a combination of shovels, pick axes, pry bars, and sledge hammers, I managed to unearth tons of debris that had to be hauled off in trucks and replaced with amended soil. Since then I've moved into a new home and brought many of my roses with me. Today, my garden thrives, and reminds me of the roses that inspired me as a child.

A few years ago my retired parents relocated back to my hometown of Winston-Salem. While visiting them a few years ago, I took a drive to see the old house where I grew up as a child. As I entered the neighborhood, I turned down the street that I used to take on my way to school. I wanted to see if I could figure out which house had all the beautiful roses all those many years ago. As I came over the crest of a hill, I was amazed to see the corner of an old split rail fence still standing at the end of a familiar driveway, with roses in bloom. Further down the fence was an elderly gentleman tending some flowers in his yard. I pulled over to the side of the road, and sheepishly stepped out of the car and onto the old gentleman's yard. He looked up with a curious look in his face as I cleared my throat to introduce myself.

"Good afternoon," I said.

"Is there something I can do for you" he asked?

"I used to live in this neighborhood about 40 years ago. Have you lived here long," I asked?

"Oh, yes. We've been here for more than 50 years," he answered.

"Well, then, I owe you a great debt of gratitude," I said. He looked at me with a puzzled expression, so I explained. "You see, when I was a boy, I used to walk past your yard on the way to school, and would always stop to admire your roses. They made such a lasting impression on me that I vowed one day I would grow my own, and today I have more than 100 of them in my garden in New York."

"Is that so? My goodness! I can't tell you how many children I've sent home after school with bouquets for their mothers," he said. "But I don't know of any of them who went on to grow their own rose gardens."

"You still have the old fence," I said with a smile.

"Yes, there are still a few climbers left on those rails," he said. "But I'm afraid I'm too old to care for them like I used to. It's tough to bend over and prune them any more."

"Well, at least those daffodils behind you look pretty good," I said.

"They should; they're plastic," he explained!

I laughed, and asked if they held up well in the southern humidity.

"Yes," he said, "but they still get mildew," he said with a sly grin.

We walked over to the old fence, and he explained how he had grown and cultivated many roses over the years. One was a hybrid he propagated himself and named "Old Salem" for the restored Moravian village where the city originated in the 18th Century. It almost made it into commercial circulation, but like so many before, it was too prone to blackspot.

We chatted for a few minutes before I took my leave, but before I did, he told me I had made his day.

I smiled in return, and told him he helped make my garden.


[Last edited by Mike - Aug 26, 2018 7:45 PM (+)]
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fisherwoman
Aug 25, 2018 10:39 AM CST
Mike, that is an absolutely beautiful story of your childhood discovery of roses . Your teacher would grade it an A for depth, suspense and humor. Like the old guy, I am getting too old to care for mine but haven't resorted to plastic flowers yet. I bet some child has spied your roses...
Name: Shyam
San Francisco, CA (Zone 10b)
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Rose_Guy1127
Aug 25, 2018 10:43 AM CST
@Mike: Lovely way to kickstart my morning reading your post. Thanks for sharing!
Name: Bonnie
Texas
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RosesnTx
Aug 25, 2018 11:27 AM CST
Mike that is such a wonderful heartwarming story! Thanks so much for sharing it with us and I thinks it's so awesome you were able to meet that sweet elderly gentleman and share with him the positive impact he unknowingly made on you as a young boy. I have a feeling you will have the same conversation with someone one day as well that you impacted their love a roses.
Name: Jin
Orlando, Fl (Zone 9b)
Plumeriagirl
Aug 25, 2018 7:27 PM CST
Mike, what a journey Hurray!
I absolutely love your story and best part you explained it so well. I just wish you would have met them earlier Bec that would have taken you totally to a new level maybe working there and learning even more and bringing home a bouquet for your mom. Oh, that elderly gentleman is really nice to offer that to kids' mom. I always wow that. They were great and shows the goodness of their heart.
I am bringing some to workers at work or decorating the managers office. They always thank me for putting a smile on their faces. A few are interested in some roses. Most of them , have never seen an English rose or old rose or smell them. I told them wait till end of next yr, their blooms will be bigger.
I wish they were bigger so I can give them to my neighbors also. It is all sharing and bringing every one together, you know I tip my hat to you.

I read your story aloud to my family. It is very inspiring and we are so happy that you went back and met the owners. I am so proud of you ,Mike. Took guts and courage. Great story and I am glad you are a Rosarian. Hurray! I tip my hat to you.
You made my Day :)
Jin
[Last edited by Plumeriagirl - Aug 25, 2018 7:32 PM (+)]
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Name: Suzanne/Sue
Sebastopol, CA (Zone 9a)
Sunset Zone 15
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Calif_Sue
Aug 26, 2018 9:49 AM CST

Moderator

Just wonderfully written Mike, so happy you shared that! As you wrote about driving into the old neighborhood, my anticipation grew, I started thinking ahead, "wouldn't it be great if the original owners still lived there"?! And a happy ending it was! Thumbs up
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[Last edited by Calif_Sue - Aug 26, 2018 2:36 PM (+)]
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Frisco, TX (Zone 8a)
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teacup754
Aug 26, 2018 1:23 PM CST
Thanks for your story Mike. I shared with my husband who asks what's new in blog land each day. He enjoyed reading your post as much as I did.
Name: Arlene
Southold, Long Island, NY (Zone 7a)
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pirl
Aug 26, 2018 6:48 PM CST
Loved the whole tale and the happy ending was perfect. Great job, Mike.
East TN (Zone 7a)
Kesroses
Aug 26, 2018 7:44 PM CST
Thanks, Mike, for a great story. I'm glad you shared it with us.
Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, New York (Zone 6b)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Photo Contest Winner 2020 Garden Photography Roses Bulbs Peonies
Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Dog Lover Cat Lover Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Region: New York
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Mike
Aug 26, 2018 7:50 PM CST
Thanks for so much positive feedback, everyone. I enjoyed sharing the story with you!
Name: Jim
Central Pa. (Zone 6a)
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jim1961
Aug 26, 2018 8:17 PM CST
Wonderful story Mike! Hurray!
Name: Daniel Erdy
Catawba SC (Zone 7b)
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ediblelandscapingsc
Aug 26, 2018 8:23 PM CST
I agree Thanks for sharing.
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Name: Kris Legault
Southern Oregon (Zone 8a)
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Kristinelego
Aug 27, 2018 7:52 AM CST
Mike, I had much the same experience walking to school. There was a home with a pickett fence that had the most glorious yellow rose draped over it
Every day I looked forward to walking past that home.
It wasnt until I worked for Harry and David/Jackson and Perkins that I purchased my first rose and it has been an obsession ever since.
So thank you for sharing your story. It is Interesting how a passion can be birthed at such a young age
I know that you will share your passion when you spot that you g boy with his nose in your roses
You can't plant your new favorite rose if you are still watering your least favorite
Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
Charter ATP Member Dog Lover Cat Lover Keeper of Poultry Keeps Horses I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Level 2 Plant Identifier Raises cows Roses Farmer Celebrating Gardening: 2015
porkpal
Aug 27, 2018 8:37 AM CST
My inspiration to grow roses is not as fascinating as Mike's and Kris' , it came from driving by a nursery on the way to work that had a glorious yellow rose taking up the corner to their entry. One day I finally stopped to see whether I could buy one and the lady tending the store said they had none for sale. I was briefly disappointed until she grabbed a pair of clippers and offered me some cuttings. She also instructed me in the use of a "mini greenhouse" to root them. That, now huge, Mermaid was just the beginning and is still a great favorite.
Porkpal
Name: Carol
Alberta, Canada (Zone 3b)
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Canadian_Rose
Aug 27, 2018 11:28 AM CST
Oh wow!!! What a wonderful story!!! What a wonderful happenstance that beautiful roses and a poetic boy would meet and form a life long passion!! I'm so proud of the little boy you were. Thumbs up
Carol
Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, New York (Zone 6b)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Photo Contest Winner 2020 Garden Photography Roses Bulbs Peonies
Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Dog Lover Cat Lover Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Region: New York
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Mike
Aug 28, 2018 4:01 PM CST
Photo taken at about the time of this story.

Thumb of 2018-08-28/Mike/c70715

Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
Charter ATP Member Dog Lover Cat Lover Keeper of Poultry Keeps Horses I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Level 2 Plant Identifier Raises cows Roses Farmer Celebrating Gardening: 2015
porkpal
Aug 28, 2018 6:07 PM CST
Mike, you are so cute with hair!
Porkpal
Name: Karen
New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Region: Arizona Cactus and Succulents Plant Identifier Plays in the sandbox Greenhouse
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plantmanager
Aug 28, 2018 6:10 PM CST
That's a really cute pic! Are you a redhead, or has the pic just turned reddish?
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Name: Bonnie
Texas
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RosesnTx
Aug 28, 2018 6:12 PM CST
Wow Mike were a cute kid, you could have been my twin!
Name: Mike Stewart
Lower Hudson Valley, New York (Zone 6b)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Photo Contest Winner 2020 Garden Photography Roses Bulbs Peonies
Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Dog Lover Cat Lover Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Region: New York
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Mike
Aug 29, 2018 5:57 PM CST
Karen, my hair was much more brown than red, but my mother used to tell me when I was a kid that it had a red tint. Not so much anymore!

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