Saturday, July 9, 2011

Volunteers replenish New Orleans' heirloom roses

Plant sale Saturday at City Park features roses

Contributing writer, The Times-Picayune 
"I don't know a thing about growing roses. I propagate them," said Timmie Reinecke, as she patted sand around spindly roots dangling below a rose cutting.
roses-potting-trio.jpgView full sizeVolunteers Cheryl Weinberg, left, Timmie Reinecke and Linda Hattier pot plants of roses while working at the Pelican Greenhouse in City Park.
Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, a bandanna tied around her forehead, Reinecke briskly made 4- to 6-inch cuttings off stems of mother plants.
"I take tiny little sticks and make roses," said the retired librarian, who has been a volunteer in New Orleans City Park's gardens for the past 16 years.
The "rose lady," as Reinecke is known, is part of a stalwart band of volunteers who meet twice a week at the Pelican Greenhouse and Wetland Plant Center, near Interstate 610 and the railroad track, where they pot, repot and label Old Garden roses for sale to the public on one Saturday of the month. The next sale is this weekend.
Old Garden roses are not modern hybrids, but primarily 19th century heirloom roses. The Pelican Greenhouse has 130 varieties, some dating as far back as 1810.
"They have proved to be reliable and carefree. We don't have to spray them," Reinecke said.
Summer heat is just a state of mind to this close-knit group of volunteers, who have formed deep bonds of friendship through horticulture. Most are retired or work only part-time. Many do hospital shift work as nurses, physical therapists, doctors and medical technicians and enjoy digging in the soil in their free time.
Three who became friends years ago at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing nurture their relationship while propagating Old Garden roses.
After potting the cuttings, Reinecke puts them inside the greenhouse for twice-daily misting. Within three to four weeks, most will root and be moved into larger pots in a process called "bumping up."
Judi Dorfi trained in 2006 with the LSU AgCenter's Louisiana Master Gardener Program and was required to do community service work in the Botanical Garden. She never quit.
roses-potting-closeup.jpgView full sizeVolunteer Linda Hattier pots a rose.
Fontaine Wells read a story in The Times-Picayune in 1990 about the park's need for volunteers. Her youngest child was in kindergarten, so she had spare time.
"I think we need to take care of something," said Linda Hattier, a retired nurse who is now in her 11th year of volunteering.
About 25 people volunteer in City Park's gardens on a regular basis, as well as walk-ins and one-timers, said Kathy McNamara, horticultural director of the Botanical Garden.
"People who sweat and get dirty are my kind of people. And we have so much fun," said Lynne Pourciau, another retired nurse. After toiling together all morning, the group breaks for lunch.
Traditionally, roses were collected from cuttings, given by one family member or friend to another. In the South, the best-adapted roses begin as cuttings that grow on their own roots, not from grafting, according to William Welch, a horticulture professor at Texas A&M and author of "Antique Roses for the South." Cutting and rooting is the procedure that Reinecke uses at City Park.
Flooding after Hurricane Katrina all but obliterated New Orleans' Old Garden rose population. One variety survived the storm and drought that followed, however. A climbing, pink, thorn-free rose continued to bloom, even submerged in floodwater. That unidentified rose was later named for Peggy Martin, who was then vice president of the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society. All but two types among Martin's 400 rose plants in her Plaquemines Parish garden perished beneath 20 feet of saltwater.
In 2003, Welch had taken cuttings from Martin's garden back to Texas, where the unidentified rose flourished. After the hurricane, he organized six nurseries to donate a percentage of profits from sales of the Peggy Martin rose toward restoration of historical rose gardens in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
"This rose is a beautiful symbol of survival on the Gulf Coast," Welch said.
City Park plant sales took a hiatus until the stock could be replenished. Rose sales resumed on Valentine's Day 2009, McNamara said. Thanks to donations from rose society members and nurseries, the Pelican Greenhouse has more Old Garden roses than before, with fanciful names like Lady Banks, Louis Philippe, Mrs. B.R. Cant and Old Blush, as well as newer varieties.
Potted roses are among more than 100 kinds of plants and flowers to be offered at the public sale. Roses and gingers are $10; most other plants are $5.
"We appeal to plant fanatics," McNamara said.
The next plant sale is Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Pelican Greenhouse, off Henry Thomas (Golf) Drive just south of the I-610 underpass. Checks or cash accepted, no credit cards. Arrive early for best selection. For information, call 504.483.9464.
Mary Rickard is a contributor to The Times-Picayune.

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