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A little old-fashioned, but exquisite

If it's old-fashioned, it seems to be in fashion now. Lacy tablecloths, tea rooms, folk art and old-fashioned roses are just some of the items modern Americans are embracing from their past.

In keeping with this phenomenon, the Pinellas Rose Society focuses on old-fashioned garden roses during this weekend's show. Roses of all colors and descriptions are shown, but heirloom varieties hold a place of honor.

Rose grower and aficionado Trish Montesano, owner of Sweet Annie's Antique Roses, understands why these old garden roses are so popular. "There's an interest in everything old now, in history, and these are plants with quite a history that we can grow in our yards," she said.

Montesano became interested in old-fashioned roses when she wanted to include roses in her butterfly garden. Cultural requirements for modern roses were not the same as those for the annuals and perennials in her garden, and she found that old-fashioned roses would blend well with the plants she used to attract and feed her butterfly visitors.

"I wanted just one space for the butterfly garden and the roses, and the old-fashioned roses blended perfectly," she said.

Gardeners have become enthusiastic about the English garden look. "Mixing annuals, perennials, herbs and antique roses works great," Montesano said.

Switching to organic gardening about three years ago also heightened the appeal of the vintage roses. "I haven't used any chemicals in my yard for three years, and the (antique) roses are doing beautifully," she said.

Pests and diseases are minimal. "I use Ivory soap and water to spray my roses and get rid of aphids and thrips," she said. "I've never treated any of my old-fashioned roses with anything stronger."

Some of the diseases that plague modern roses can attack vintage roses, but Montesano said the antique roses seem to shed the diseased leaves. "They do get yellow leaves and will be attacked by blackspot, but it seems like the affected leaves fall off and new foliage grows. Some of my customers follow the same chemical routine with their old-fashioned and modern roses, but I've found no need to use the chemicals."

Antique roses grow as both small and large bushes and as climbers. Their blossoms are in the pink range, with some reds, quite a few whites and peaches and a few yellows. Not every antique rose is suitable for our climate, and Montesano encourages novices to speak with rose growers and to read extensively before planting.

As with the modern rose, old-fashioned roses come in a number of classifications. Recommendations for novices include the large teas, including the mauve Mrs. B.R. Cant, and the creamy pink Duchesse de Brabant. "Chinas do excellent in this area, and the cherry rose-colored Louis Phillippe is a beautiful choice.

"For a climbing variety, try Old Blush, which is a wonderful dusty dark pink."

Aside from choosing the appropriate classification and bloom color for your garden, length of bloom may also be important.

"Some antiques bloom just once in the spring, and others are what are called repeat bloomers," Montesano said. "The repeat bloomers will bloom for about six weeks, take a week or so rest and then follow that with another flush of bloom."

Two schools of thought govern growing old-fashioned roses in Florida. Some growers graft old-fashioned roses onto the modern Fortuniana root stock, while others do not. "I don't use the grafted plants," Montesano said. "I've had excellent luck without grafting, but I know other growers prefer to graft."

With 50 antique rose bushes in her yard, Montesano finds she spends less time tending her roses than other landscape plants she has cultivated.

"It's the easiest gardening I've ever done," she said. "If you've shied away from roses because of the labor and chemicals involved, I encourage you to try the old-fashioned. You'll love the results."

Trish Montesano's tips

PLANTING: Amend soil with organic matter before planting. Dig the hole twice as big as the root ball and place the shrub at the same depth as in the pot. Water in thoroughly and water daily for about two weeks until established.

FERTILIZE: Trish Montesano uses Mill's Magic but says it is expensive. "You can use any organic or water-soluble fertilizer." Fertilize in spring and fall. In addition, twice a year pull the mulch back from the bush and sprinkle 1 to 1{ cups of alfalfa pellets around the bush. You can find these at feed stores. "Some rose growers have their own recipes for fertilizer. A grower I know buries banana peels by her plant and has beautiful roses."

MULCH: Heavily mulch at least 2 to 3 inches with any organic matter. It keeps down weeds, holds in moisture and insulates the plant in winter and summer.

PRUNING: Prune lightly twice a year, early fall and in spring. Just cut out dead wood and trim a little. Never trim more than one-third of the bush away.

LIGHT: Old-fashioned roses need four to five hours of sun each day.

WATER: Established roses get 40 minutes of water every 10 days at Trish's house if there hasn't been any rain.