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 mothers boarding school in Concord, Sutherland Hall. Thats
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.
"Its 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
Emmys love affair with roses began when she was a little girl. She road her tricycle
down the street and picked roses from a neighbors bush so often that the neighbor
finally gave a cutting to her mother, an avid gardener.
"Its a Charles de Mills, and its still here," Emmy
Then, when she was 20, the rose bush her mother gave her sparked her interest in old
roses. Shes 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
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
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 dont take a lot of
care, and theyre 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
Theres Champneys Pink Cluster from
1802, the first rose hybridized in America. Theres 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.
Theres 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 Rachels Garden at President Andrew
Jacksons 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. Theres 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 its 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
"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)