The Abandoned Rose Garden

uncommonrose.com Web site July 2006

We closed our nursery, the Uncommon Rose, at the end of the 2007 Spring planting season. Our eight year experiment in agricultural on-line retail commerce ended. A new, more passive, experiment began.

With the closure, the disposition of the rose collection was a problem. Containing just under three thousand shrubs, it was an extensive collection of rare, unusual and old garden roses. In addition, there a few thousand test shrubs from our own rose breeding program. When in business, we had a staff managing the garden. Out of business, there was no money or staff to maintain the collection.

Phase 2 rose garden 2005
Our giant rose garden was laid out more like one of my mazes than an efficient easy to maintain layout. We rarely gave tours, but when we did and saw our garden through the eyes of our guests, we saw a living museum with surprises around every corner.

We maintained it ourselves for the first summer, but at the end of the season, we decided to abandon the garden to nature. We'd wait to see what happened. I had a laudable, but idealistic, goal of writing a white paper about the roses that survived after ten years: a compendium of roses requiring no chemical intervention, no watering and no pruning. However, when that tenth year rolled around, my health faltered and just getting around became difficult. There was no way for me explore the overgrown acre of what was once our rose garden.


Now in the thirteenth year of owning an abandoned rose garden, my health is better and circumstances have given me copious uninterrupted time at home. I've decided to hack into this acre of chaos and take stock. My labors in the garden during the last couple months of our first shelter-at-home era, I've already started to observe some trends:
  • invasive species win
  • some beautiful roses can thrive with absolutely no care
  • most modern roses sold by nurseries are disease ridden chemically dependent crap.

Phase 3 Rose Garden 2006


Phase 3 Rose Garden 2020

The garden was created in three phases over six years. The latter two phases demonstrated what we had learned from errors in earlier stages. In the third phase, the roses were planted in straight rows with ground cloth to suppress all unwanted growth and keep plants a good social distance from each other.  You can see from the photos above how well that worked fourteen years later.

Phase 1 rose garden 2020

I've done some rudimentary path breaking. In most places, a machete would have been useful, but all I had were my well worn secateurs and leather gloves. Once a trail was opened, I widened the path with the mower.

The big piles of shrubbery that lean over my canyon-like paths consist mainly of three or four species: the invasive English Hawthorn, the invasive Himalayan Blackberry, the local native Oak, and, every so often, one of our roses. The Hawthorn has the upper hand in the first phase garden area, it's still a two combatant war in the second phase zone, and roses remain a contender in the third phase space.

It's going to take a very long time to do this careful garden vivisection. For fire safety, I've really got to knock down these blackberries and hawthorns. We had one of the driest Winters on record, our drought is extreme this year. We've become wary after youtube-witnessing the conflagrations of California in the last few years. I can't bear to hire someone to scrape the ground clean with heavy equipment. So I'll try to do it myself by hand.

Phase 3 rose garden 2020


I'm using twitter for each day of the project while the roses are still in bloom. See the photos of the roses I've found.
Like many people these days, I'm contemplating my mortality. I wonder what legacy am I leaving to the future? I'm imagining a hundred years from now, some one will run across this property and notice an unusual rose growing up a tree. This farm will be a mystery, a treasure of old storied roses waiting for some future enthusiast. Perhaps, some hardy rose cultivars, thought long lost to extinction, will be found.  It has happened before.

Let me tell you of the story of the 1911 Roman Catholic priest and a pair of bikers searching for his twenty-first century rose legacy growing along the roadsides in rural Oregon: The Priest and the Rose Rustling Bikers