- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. | Merry Stinson calls herself a rose rustler, and she is always on the hunt.

Every spring, for the past 25 years, Mrs. Stinson has driven around towns and alleys in Washington County looking for roses. She seeks the older, heritage varieties that have lost favor with gardeners who now prefer the bigger, fancier, modern hybrids.

When Mrs. Stinson finds a variety she likes, she gets out the pruners or the shovel she carries in her car. She makes a little snip or digs a little root to plant in the garden around her Leitersburg home.

If the rosebush is in someone’s yard, she’ll get permission first.

Among Mrs. Stinson’s best finds is the Hiawatha rose she found in the weeds by Long Meadow Shopping Center. She took home a cutting, hoping to grow a little bush. Today, it’s a climber that stretches more than 40 feet, through the clematis by her barn and onto the roof.

Another is the Marie Louise, named for Napoleon Bonaparte’s second wife, that Mrs. Stinson found behind an abandoned house in Ohio. Then there’s the May Queen, a pink rose she found along U.S. 11 near the Pennsylvania state line.

“I’d driven up and back there maybe 20 years, [but] never been there at the right time,” Mrs. Stinson said. A year after taking the cutting, she said, the original rosebush was gone.

Mrs. Stinson’s favorite is the Rosa Mundi because it looks as if each pink-and-white rose has been hand-painted. The variety was first described in about 1580.

Mrs. Stinson, 58, thinks she got her love for heritage roses from two of her other passions: gardening and architectural history, which allows her to see old roses at old houses.

Mrs. Stinson works part time at Washington County Free Library and does consulting work, such as researching the history of a house for homeowners. She also has started making and selling greeting cards with images of her photography of roses and sites in Scotland.

Mrs. Stinson said she enjoys the history, fragrance and form of heritage roses.

She and her husband, Don Brinser, also grow a wide variety of plants, shrubs and trees.

Mrs. Stinson has lost some rosebushes to rose rosette disease, which is transmitted by mites. Although her roses are older varieties, they are usually disease-resistant, she said.

The potential for disease kept her from bringing rose clippings back from a recent trip to Scotland.

“It’s very frustrating, very, very frustrating because they have fantastic stuff, and you can’t bring it home,” Mrs. Stinson said.

She takes a low-maintenance approach with her roses, mowing around them, keeping the worst weeds out and pruning dead branches. Some of the climbing roses are so high and thick that birds make nests within the bushes while bees buzz around them.

Many of the rosebushes from which Mrs. Stinson took clippings no longer exist because houses were torn down and new developments were built. Her cuttings help preserve older varieties.

“That was an important part to me because of my work in history,” Mrs. Stinson. “If you see one unusual [rose] at an abandoned house, you know it’s going to be gone.”

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