Chambersville Heritage Rose Garden – Presented by Claude Graves

On a warm spring day in 2004 my friend Dean Oswald called and asked me if I would come up to their farm and give them some advice on putting in a rose garden. I had known Dean and his wife Carol for a number of years as members of the Collin County Rose Society. They had graciously opened their magnificent garden at their home in Plano numerous times for the annual Collin County R S Garden Tour. Judging from my knowledge of their home garden I anticipated their thoughts for a “rose garden” at their farm would be something extraordinary.

Dean’s passion is trees, Carol’s passion is roses. I was soon to learn that the “farm” was actually a tree farm. Dean had started a new business in his retirement which dovetailed with this great interest in trees. Dean had founded Chambersville Tree Farms named for the small country church and cemetery adjoining his property. The church and cemetery stand as the last visible signs of the small farming community of Chambersville, Texas which is just a few miles north of McKinney, which is 30 miles north of Dallas. His property was the farmstead of the Chandler family. Mrs. Chandler had a reputation as a renowned gardener. It is said that people would come from miles around on Sunday afternoons to enjoy Mrs. Chandler’s garden. In fact my wife Pamela who was born and raised in McKinney remembers as a child doing exactly that. Although the original home is gone, each spring the legacy of Mrs. Chandler springs forth in a display of naturalized bulbs from her gardens. Dean felt that it was fitting to re-establish a beautiful garden on the property befitting the history of the land.

When Dean showed me the area that he envisioned as a rose garden my earlier feelings that this might be something special were confirmed. It was a beautiful plot about 5 acres in size bordered by a Lake on one side and a few native pecan trees on the other side with a grass meadow sloping down to a large water conservation lake beyond the pecan trees . I was excited about the possibilities for this wonderful site, but then Dean said, “But, maybe it would be better to put it here…” He walked me down behind the tank’s dam and thru an opening in the tree line which had been obscuring my view to the East.

The panorama before me was breathtaking. The area immediately in front of me was the continuation of the sloping grass meadow mentioned previously plus the area below the earthen dam forming the conservation lake. The entire area sloped gently to an almost dry creek bed to my left. Across the creek bed a complimentary area sloped gently upwards to a number of large native trees. This was the place for an extraordinary garden! The two areas combined looked to be about 20 acres which included perhaps 5 acres that were heavily wooded.

Dean and Carol were initially envisioning a beautiful garden of shrub and Hybrid Tea roses in traditional “beds” however they were concerned about the maintenance problem they might be creating. When I saw the property I saw something quite different!

For a number of years the Heritage Rose Foundation, of whom I am the Treasurer, had been discussing various garden schemes for HRF gardens. One of the main missions of the foundation from its inception in 1987 was the establishment of a national heritage rose garden. Over the years it became more apparent that the creation and operation of a garden by the foundation was not realistic both from an economic and geographic perspective. Discussions had begun to be developed by Gregg Lowery of Vintage Gardens, a Trustee of the Foundation, that a more logical approach was to recognize and support numerous regional public and private gardens around the country. (This concept has now expanded to around the world). The idea was to recognize and catalog gardens in different climatic zones that offer special interest to those that wish to study and preserve important heritage roses. It was anticipated that each garden in each unique environment would grow the roses that excelled in their climate, providing an opportunity to see those selected roses growing at their absolute best, while leaving the rest to be grown in other gardens in environs more suited to those rose’s needs.

When I saw Dean & Carol’s property it begged to become a repository for all the wonderful Teas, China’s and Noisette’s that grow so well in our Texas heat. One problem with these roses is that some can grow to quite enormous sizes. In most gardens they must be severely pruned to keep them confined to the available space. Here was a space of sufficient size to allow the roses to be grown to their natural mature size in a rural setting not unlike where many of the Texas found roses were discovered by the Texas Rose Rustlers in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.

At first Dean & Carol were not enthusiastic about the “old roses” but they warmed rapidly to the idea of vigorous healthy plants without spraying and massive pruning. I am happy to say that they have both come full circle now with more exposure to just how beautiful the Teas and Chinas can be with their continuous bloom and carefree manner. After a trip to the International Heritage Rose Conference in Duneden, New Zealand last December they are forever captive to old roses!

In addition to changing the content of the garden we also changed the concept of the garden from the traditional rose beds with neat straight rows of roses to a concept of roses planted in individual prepared sites (in effect a separate “bed” for each rose). The idea for this came from my memory of a garden my wife and I visited in France on the Post Tour of the Conference Internationale Des Roses Anciennes in 1999. This special garden was actually just a pathway around the periphery of a public golf course. Every hundred feet or so there was a rose planted as a singular specimen plant. Most if not all of the roses were species roses. The effect was startling with these massive roses standing alone very much as nature had intended them to be. We did not have the space of an entire golf course at Chambersville but we did have enough space to simulate roses growing in the wild at least on a limited scale.

Actual work on the garden began in 2005 with the purchase of most every Tea, China and Noisette that was commercial available from Mike Shoup at the Antique Rose Emporium and Mark Chamblee of Chamblee’s Roses. Additionally Gregg Lowery furnished many roses that were more unusual and less commonly available.

Chambersville Tree Farm is set up to grow out small nursery stock trees to larger sizes on a production basis, they are not equipped to take care of very small rooted cuttings and they have no propagation facilities. The very small roses, mostly from Vintage Gardens, were farmed out to the members of the Dallas Area Historical Rose Society (DAHRS) to be grown out to a larger size compatible with Chambersville’s capabilities. The larger one and two gallon roses were grown out at Chambersville in the same fabric bags used for trees. These bags were developed by Dr. Carl Whitcomb of Oklahoma State University and are designed to prevent root circling in the container. The roots actually penetrate the fabric bags very small pores then air prune. The result is a root that branches inside the container instead of circling. Evidentially the bags work great on roses as the roses demonstrated excellent growth during their time in both 7 and 15 gallon bags.

In the spring of 2006 actual site preparation work began. The initial garden design was done by Carolyn Hayward, currently President of the Collin County Rose Society and a professional garden designer. The original design centered around the concept of a “natural” looking field of roses, with just enough symmetry to not be chaotic. An important criteria in the design was that the China roses would be planted on 15 foot centers and the Tea roses planted on 20 foot centers. Over time the initial design was morphed by Dean and myself into a slightly more organized plan that included features added as we progressed. Stephen Scanniello, President of HRF and noted rose author, felt it was important that the garden incorporate the rich history of Texas found roses. We were in full agreement and added a section devoted to the roses found in Texas as the entrance to the garden. Individual sections are devoted to Tea roses and China roses. Noisettes will be displayed on pillars, fences and column/rope swag structures around the garden to provide an element of height. A section was also added to display a full collection of the Bermuda Mystery Roses. As the garden design evolves Stephen Scanniello is having significant influence on the project to make it a place of great beauty as well as a place to observe and study historical roses.

After staking out the location of every rose the next step was the improvement of the soil at each rose location. The soil improvement method used was a close adaptation of the technique recommended by the Texas Cooperative Extension in their EarthKindâ„¢ Rose and Environmental Soil System. Each rose location was first tilled with a tractor mounted tiller. A layer of fully composted tree trimmings and dairy cattle manure was added and then a layer of expanded shale was added and the area was again tilled. (Expanded Shale is a product of Texas Industries, Inc. it is produced by heating shale in a kiln to a temperature that expands the shale into a small porous aggregate. Texas Cooperative Extension has found that inclusion of expanded Shale into clay soils will greatly increase the friability and drainage of the soil).

After the site soil preparation the next step was to install an irrigation system. Here Dean outdid himself. A fully automatic irrigation system was installed that delivers water by way of individually controlled bubblers directly to the base of each rose. Then came the BIG day, the planting the first roses. I remember the story of the 100 year flood on the day they planted the San Jose Historical Rose Garden… Our experience was a little different, but just as memorable. It was August 15th, 2006 and the temperature reached 105 degrees. Over the next few weeks we planted 145 roses most of which had been growing for about a year and a half in 7 and 15 gallon containers. We finally found the most efficient way to plant them was to dig a hole at each site with a thirty inch auger on a tractor, two men then place the rose into the hole and removed the growing bag after placing the rose in the hole. The hole was then backfilled with the native clay soil/compost/expanded shale mixture. The roses were then heavily mulched. In spite of 28 consecutive days in August of temperatures over 100 degrees and no rain the roses thrived. We lost one rose out of the 145 we planted.

On October 12th 2006 a dedication ceremony was held to dedicate the Chambersville Heritage Rose Garden as part of the Heritage Rose Foundation’s Annual Conference held in Dallas. The dedication marked just the beginning of what we plan will be a significant resource for those rosarians wanting to study our heat loving historical roses. We currently have over 70 additional roses being grown out to sufficient size to plant in the ground. The current “Phase I” still has 150 empty irrigated holes to fill (Chinas and Teas) and Phase I only encompass 5.5 acres of the 25 acre site. We have lots of room for more roses!

The Chambersville Heritage Rose Garden is a private garden, however it is currently open to heritage rose enthusiasts on a pre arranged appointment basis. Plans are to schedule at least two weekends next year to have the garden open to the general public. We will also be planning HRF and DAHRS events in the garden. As the garden grows and matures we hope to make the garden available to the public more frequently.

We are asking for help from the heritage rose community to help us build our collection of Tea, China and Noisette roses. In the spirit of the HRF Garden Scheme we will be eager to share our roses with others to insure that more of the rare roses are grown in more locations to help preclude the loss of any more historically significant roses. We hope you will look upon the Chambersville Heritage Rose garden as one more link in the chain of protection for old roses. We solicit your help in providing unusual and endangered China, Tea and Noisette roses for our collection. Rooted cutting would be preferred however various members of the DAHRS and I are willing and able to root cuttings for the garden.

We will be closed Memorial Day Weekend, May 28-30th.