Glory of the Garden

Text by Vicki Ingham / Photography by Sarah Arrington

Rose varieties old and new capture the heart with their lush blossoms and heady fragrance. Maybe that’s why they’re Cupid’s favorites. 

More than sixteen years ago Sherry Eldridge and her husband moved to a new home, and they began almost immediately to create a backyard garden that mirrored the cottage-style décor of their house.

Hardscapes were installed—white trellises, picket fencing, lattice walls, and charming one-of-a-kind birdhouses and bird feeders. Then Sherry went to work putting in the plants. She didn’t start out with roses, but once she discovered a nursery specializing in antique roses, she fell in love with the old garden plants offered there. “They’re so fragrant,” she says, “and they have the big, full blooms, the look we like.”

Now hardy, deliciously scented roses climb the trellises, anchor the beds, and bloom with abandon around garden statuary. The selection includes antiques such as Marie van Houtte, introduced in 1871; the “found” rose Peggy Martin; and new Knock Out roses, whose disease resistance, low maintenance, and long blooming season have made them the most widely sold rose in North America.

Compared to finicky hybrid tea roses, the old varieties are undemanding and relatively disease free. To keep them looking their best, Sherry applies a fertilizer that includes treatment for black spot every five to six weeks during the growing season. Light pruning after each flush of blooms keeps them from becoming too large and gangly. In return, the shrubs reward her with bouquets of flowers from spring through fall, slowing down only when summer heat is at its worst.

To fill in around the roses and provide color between cycles of blooms, Sherry uses heat-loving perennials and annuals. Perennial salvias, coneflowers, and lamb’s ears are some of her favorites. “It’s a lot of work to keep it looking pretty,” she admits, “but it does bring us a lot of joy—all the birds, hummingbirds, butterflies. Sometimes I’ll look out and see my husband going from flower to flower. I guess he’s stopping to smell the roses.”