When Sue Sanchez suggested to her husband, Eddie, that they buy a rose for the backyard of their new home in Metairie 40 years ago, he hesitated.
“They’re too much trouble to take care of,” he told her. “And besides, I know you and I know you won’t stop at just one. Before long, the whole back yard will be filled with them.”
Eddie eventually relented, but he was right. Sue’s “Climbing Don Juan” became the first rose in a collection that today numbers 175.
The Sanchezes will talk about their roses, specifically their David Austin varieties, at the April 5 meeting of the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society, beginning at 7 p.m. Meetings are held at 4201 Transcontinental Drive (John Calvin Presbyterian Church), Metairie, and admission is $5.
Developed by English breeder and hybridizer David Austin, the roses combine the lush form and strong fragrance of old roses with the repeat blooming characteristic of modern roses. They come in both climbing and shrub forms and in colors including white, yellow, pink, peach and magenta.
“For a long time we were growing hybrid tea roses in our garden, but then we fell in love with the fragrance and form of the Austin roses. We ended up changing out our back yard completely,” Sue said. “Of all the roses we grow today, only a very few are hybrid teas.”
Introduced on a blind date when they were 16, Eddie and Sue attended CYO dances in high school — he at Warren Easton, she at Sacred Heart of Jesus on Canal Street. Over the years, their love of dancing has remained strong and takes them to Rock ‘n’ Bowl on Wednesday nights for the swing music of the Creole String Beans.
Another pastime that has bound them together is antiquing, whether at estate sales or vintage goods shops. The covered patio at their North Cumberland Street home is lined with pieces of weathered cast and wrought iron, as well as stone statuary and wall plaques picked up on antiquing adventures.
But nothing compares with their shared passion for roses.
“When Eddie said he knew me, he was right. I couldn’t stop at just one rose. Today, if I can’t make room for new roses in beds, I grow them in pots,” Sue said.
Never has a rose garden appeared healthier than this one, thanks to the black-spot-free green foliage on the plants, as well as the large number of buds and blooms on the bushes.
“It starts with the right pH of the soil, about 6.5 to 6.8,” said Eddie, who likes to help gardeners with care of their roses. “Every February, I cut them back to about 30 to 36 inches and then remove every leaf — that’s to help prevent overwintering of diseases. I feed them regularly — something like the alfalfa tea we are brewing in a big barrel right now and other organic fertilizers. In September, I cut them back again, but less severely — maybe by about one-third.”
The Sanchezes also spray their roses with fungicides to prevent black spot, a common issue in the area’s warm, wet climate.
“The blooms get their nutrition from the leaves, so if you have sick leaves, you won’t have good blooms. I try to grow healthy leaves instead of roses because the leaves are food for the roses,” said Eddie. “I use a mixture of systemic and contact fungicides and an oil (Saf-T-Cide).”
Sue added: “It isn’t that the Austin roses in particular are prone to black spot. In my experience, every rose is prone to black spot in our area because of the climate. It’s hard for the leaves to dry out.”
A standout in the Sanchez garden is David Austin’s Abraham Darby rose, trained by Eddie to climb on the rear fence. It covers an 8- or 10-foot-wide section of the fence, all the way up to the top, and displays a bounty of blooms and buds.
For Sue, a favorite isn’t an Austin rose at all, but Bolero, a “Romantica” rose offered by Star Roses and Plants.
“Sue tries to hide how many of them she has by tucking the pots in with the bed roses, but every now and then I go on a hunt to count them,” Eddie said. “I think at last count, it was 11.”
Gardening was not always Sue’s forte. She recalls that when she and Eddie were first married 51 years ago, her garden consisted of a window box overflowing with plastic flowers.
“I was so proud of that — I even have a picture of it somewhere!” she laughed. “But what did I know back then? I was so young. We got married when I was just 19.”