The Mountain Gardener: A rose garden for the ages
by Jan Nelson
Jun 03, 2013 | 2428 views | 0 0 comments | 134 134 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Under blue skies on a perfect spring day I sat recently with Colly Gruczelak, my friend, fellow columnist and gardening enthusiast, surrounded by roses, roses and more roses. Next to an old apple tree and a gnarled cherimoya we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch Colly brought while she shared stories about this rose nursery we were visiting called Roses of Yesterday.

Back in the 1960s one of Colly's many jobs was to proof-read the catalog for Roses of Yesterday and Today as it was then called. So she is quite familiar with the history of this rose business located on Brown's Valley Road in Corralitos. It's not quite a grand as it was in the olden days, but the massive old roses growing in the ground were magnificent in size and we admired and rated each one on the fragrance scale.

Roses of Yesterday — one of the oldest antique rose nurseries in the U.S. — was established in the 1930's. It has passed through several generations and owners and they still use the honor system to sell their old, selected modern, unusual and rare rose varieties. While we were there, a young father, kids playing in the car, loaded up a collection of potted roses and deposited a check in the cash box before leaving.

Another sign advised that the nursery doesn't spray their roses with fungicides, insecticides, herbicides or other chemicals and the rose petals can be used for salad, jams, spritzers and teas. I did notice some rose slug damage on some of the roses, but it was minimal. We noted the Sally Holmes roses and the rugosa roses had the least pest problems.

The garden contains many huge, old roses. The first mammoth plant we encountered, Newport Fairy, was more than 15 feet tall and nearly as wide. Covered with hundreds of small pink flowers, it provided cover for many songbirds who hopped inside searching for insects. This hybrid multiflora rose was first bred in 1908. Lots of Red Admiral butterflies and Swallowtails found the surroundings to their liking, too.

We walked under a Cecile Brunner-engulfed pergola and then we saw it. Against a fence in filtered light, a spectacular single white rose with stiff, butter-yellow stamens shaded an old wooden bench. We searched for the name tag and found, buried among a groundcover of sweet violets, the name Kathleen. This unusual and unforgettable hybrid musk rose from 1922 blooms repeatedly with blossoms richly perfumed. The catalog states the flowers drop cleanly and orange rose hips form along with the new blooms.

Several English lavender plants grew between the rugosa roses. We especially liked a small double magenta one called Rugosa Magnifica as well as a lovely white variety named Rugosa Blanca. Rugosa roses are very old dating back to before 1799 and bloom repeatedly with a marvelous fragrance. Large orange rose hips will form when the disease and pest resistant foliage drops. These edible hips are very high in Vitamin C and are also relished by wildlife.  I've been told the crinkly foliage of rugosa roses is deer resistant.

Growing nearby, a burnt orange rose got our attention. This amazing rose with two-tone reddish-orange petals and a lighter orange to yellow reverse is similar to Hot Coca. Called Stretch Johnson, the flowers have the classic fragrance of rose petals and the disease-resistant, dark-green glossy foliage of this floribunda was lovely.

The garden contains roses of all types, especially old fashioned single roses as well as ruffly cabbage varieties. One bright-pink single rose was especially beautiful. We thought the name tag read Rosa Wichuraiana but it must have been referring to the white groundcover rose nearby. We also loved a bright pink rose called Marguerite Hillig with its sweet fragrance and graceful arching canes.

The 4-inch dusky pink blossoms of Dainty Bess, a hybrid tea-climbing rose, decorated one of the fences. I learned this is a classic variety among hybrid teas since 1925 from the online catalog. The non-stop blooms are exceptionally long lasting on the plant and in bouquets.

From Ballerina to Climbing New Dawn to a huge Heinrich Munch with double-pink blossoms covering a rose bush 20-feet across with a foot-wide trunk, I enjoyed every inch of this old rose garden and nursery, and it was fun to hear personal anecdotes from Colly about Dorothy Stemler, the rose aficionado who's touch can be still be seen in the gardens of Yesterday and Today.

- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at, or visit to view past columns and pictures.

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