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Roses | Advice from Suzy Verrier

Roses | Advice from Suzy Verrier
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Roses | Advice from Suzy Verrier

Yankee Classic from June 1992

“I hate to tell you,” Suzy Verrier said, pausing sympathetically, “but your roses are wimps.”

“Come again?” I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly.

“Wimps,” she repeated. “They’re wimpy commercial roses that are packaged and sold like canned tuna.” Another pause. “They’re fine, I suppose, if you like canned tuna.”

This was discouraging news, I must admit. I’d sunk several hundred dollars into young rose stock, and my first summer as a rose gardener was drawing to a close. Half my roses looked absolutely splendid, pink and healthy. The other half? Spindly, bug-eaten, downright dead in spots. Canned tuna, eh?

When Suzy Verrier speaks, people listen. She is regarded as one of America’s leading authorities on rugosa roses and on growing roses in northern climes, as well as the author of the widely acclaimed rose book, Rosa Rugosa (Capability Books, 1991, $19.95).

She also happened to be my neighbor, so to speak – residing two villages away in North Yarmouth, Maine.

I asked her what the deuce I should do about my peaked roses.

“Well, maybe you should first come visit,” she suggested ever so politely. So I did.

Verrier and her companion, Lloyd Brace, and their cairn terrier dogs inhabit 62 gorgeously cultivated acres hard by the Royal River known as Forevergreen Farm. It’s there she grows something like 8,000 roses encompassing about 170 varieties — old-fashioned as well as uncommon and hardy new species — and ships them to a list of devoted customers.

She has never advertised her expertise or her rose stock, and her annual winter catalog — a plain and simple, nonillustrated, decidedly unglamorous pamphlet featuring English-style descriptions of her stock and a simple message from Suzy herself — is apparently a treasured commodity.

It was a fine September afternoon when I went to call. The hordes who find their way to Forevergreen Farm annually (especially on Rose Day, June 21 this year; call before driving there) had left.

“To be perfectly honest,” Suzy said as we set out on foot to tour the premises with a couple of her wee beasties snug on our heels, “this is a time I rather cherish. It’s a slower time, and you can see the garden so well, and of course, so many of the roses I like best are late-season performers.”

We made our way down pine-needled pathways, pausing to examine roses with names like Quatre Saisons, Martin Frobisher, Sally Holmes, and Prairie Harvest — all gloriously blooming. Suzy kept up a strolling commentary on American rose culture, trends in cultivation, plant characteristics, growing altitudes, and her own distinctive opinions about a variety of rose commandments. Some cultivated highlights:

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