Martha and the Old Gay Hill

I’m guessing that the title captured your attention?  As well it should, because  Martha Gonzales rose and Old Gay Hill China rose are both rose shrubs worth noticing and growing, and both are stellar performers during a (so far) mild, drippy winter here in Central Texas.

I’m not a huge rose fan.  I like them just fine; I sniff the blooms and enjoy the results.  I think they’re pretty, when they’re pretty.  In general though, I prefer other plants in my gardens like grasses, perennials, and wildflowers. But I do like Martha and Old Gay Hill.  Both are antique roses, meaning that folks brought them to the New World, probably before the late 1800s, and planted them in small towns and on family farms. Due to hardy Rosa genetics, the roses flourished without much care and here in Texas, that’s the ONLY kind of rose that you want!

I accidentally purchased my Old Gay Hill rose shrubs some years ago.  I’d read about the rose, but was hankering for a Martha Gonzales, which the nursery didn’t have in stock at the particular point in time that I was hot to buy. But I had money to burn and energy to spare, so the Old Gay Hills came home with me.  I’ve never regretted that trip home as the roses have provided bursts of color, couple with an evergreen presence, excepting during the deep heat of summers and post-freezes of winters.

I’m charmed by the bride-of-Frankenstein stripes of white that each rose displays amid shouts of scarlet petals.

The shrub boasts good size (mine are currently nearly 4 feet tall), with handsome green foliage and pops of red.  This winter, Old Gay Hill has bloomed steadily.

New foliage is bronzy, held aloft by maroon-tinged stems, topped with sweet buds which open to generous, fragrant blooms.  Mature leaves are green, with a border of bronze.

The Old Gay Hill was discovered in Washington County, Texas, near a town called Gay Hill.  It’s listed as a “native” rose in the link above, but many rose species were brought to Texas by European immigrants during the 1800s.  Like most immigrants to North America, the rose varieties settled in, accepted their new home–heat, drought, and everything else–and did what immigrants always do:  they made Texas a better, more beautiful place.


Apparently, I like red roses.  Unsatisfied with growing only Old Gay Hill, I eventually planted the desired Martha Gonzales roses.  The Marthas grow a smaller bloom, but rival Old Gay Hill’s in brilliance and beauty.  The petite roses are deeply fragrant, a delight to the nose. In my experience, the Marthas are better over-all bloomers than the Old Gay Hills, but they’re also located in sunnier spots.  The shrubs are foliage-dense, though haven’t grown particularly tall for me. I’ve seen Marthas grow quite large in both height and width, some in my own neighborhood.  Those are the ones growing with ample, year-round sun.

I’m especially fond of the foliage on this rose shrub.  The leaves are deep green, flushed with a tinge of burgundy, each leaf edged in wine red.   Though smaller than the green leaves of Old Gay Hill, Martha’s leaves are richly colored.  The pairing of carmine blooms with the vivid leaves is stunning.

The Martha Gonzales was discovered in 1984 in the Navasota, Texas garden of–you guessed it–Martha Gonzales!

Both rose varieties are disease free, nearly thornless, and are frequented by many of the pollinators who visit my garden, though right now, there’s not much pollinator action, excepting honeybees on warmer days.  During this mild winter, my roses have been stalwart bloomers and I’m enjoying the flowering.  A hard freeze is predicted in the few next days which may end the the show the immediate future.  If that happens, I have only to wait until  March or April for the crimson tide to return.

Winter red blooms are chasing away the winter blues for me.  Do you have winter blooms cheering your garden?


33 thoughts on “Martha and the Old Gay Hill

  1. A lovely rose! Thank you for telling more about it. We are enjoying many winter blooms here in Houston TX but this weekend an arctic blast may put an end to it for a while.


  2. How pretty! It must be heavenly to stick your nose in those blossoms in the middle of January. Thanks for brightening my morning :-).


  3. Actually, the title did not get my attention because I never heard of those cultivars. However, it is gratifying that others express an appreciation for roses that are not the current fads. Fads gets tiresome after a while. Local traditions and common sense (in regard to what performs locally) are more important.


      • I’ve found that the plants that do the best in my garden are the ones that neighbors gave me. Plants that were doing very well in a neighbor’s yard (and needed to be divided) tend to also be well-suited for my yard.


  4. Old Gay Hill is one of my favorite roses! I too notice a lot of honeybees in the blooms, which makes me so happy. Its blooms are so striking but not so fluffy that the bees can’t get to them.


    • That’s the thing about antique or heirloom roses–they’re not so overcultivated for human needs (to look at something pretty, or to smell something nice). The flowers tend to be simpler and more inviting to pollinators. To me, that’s what makes a garden!


  5. Great info and lovely pictures. I’m going to the garden store this weekend! I’ve always wanted roses, but have been too intimidated by their prettiness to believe they belong in Central Texas. Now I know better. Thanks!


    • Antique/heirloom roses are the way to go and here in Texas, our local nurseries are usually good about stocking them. There are quite a few really gorgeous old roses. Let me know what you find!


  6. I like roses, but it took me a long, long time to learn that there are antique and heirloom roses: much prettier, in my view. My mother favored some of the yellow and orange roses, but I’m sure they were cultivars. These two are lovely — they remind me of prairie roses in some ways. I think it’s probably the openness, and their fewer petals.

    I’ve never been to the rose gardens in Tyler, but I hear they’re really something. Apparently they have a one acre Heritage Rose Garden, which has over thirty varieties of antique roses dating to 1867.


    • Yes, I really prefer the antiques over the cultivars. I wish I could have more in my garden, but I don’t quite have the room or sun. My two varieties are super easy to grow, I really don’t do anything much with them.

      Wow! I’ve never been to Tyler–I’ll be it’s something. I have been to the rose test garden in Portland, Oregon. For someone who claims to not care that much about roses, I like to go there anytime I visit.


  7. I do have some fab red flowers right now – a Yuletide Camellia! Ask me again in 3 months or so – I bet it will still be pushing out blooms. Martha is gorgeous with that dark foliage! I have a huge red climbing rose in my garden you might like. It’s fragrance is so special it had its own perfume created from it, the petals are edible, and it blooms until frost puts an end to it. Its thorns are vicious and red, and it has large orange hips in winter. I eventually learned it’s an Etoile de Hollande. Last year, I gave cuttings of it to the good folks at Joy Creek Nursery, so now they have them for sale!


  8. No blooms here–obviously, I guess. LOL. But I just drove my parents down to Florida last weekend, and I noticed some lovely roses just outside of Atlanta–at a restaurant we patronized. It would be wonderful to have roses year-round. And I can see why you’re partial to these particular roses. I love the deep shades of red and the impressive foliage!


    • I’m glad you were able to enjoy some roses in winter. Ours are really nice in a mild winter, though mine do go somewhat dormant during our hot months. I could water more and get more blooms, but I don’t. I have plenty of other things blooming that like the heat. Well, maybe “like” is not the right word. 🙂


  9. No roses or other blooms here – right now we’re at the tail end of a snowstorm that should leave over a foot by the end of tomorrow. I think my favorite roses are either white or orange, but I can appreciate a red rose.


    • Yes, you’re socked into snow and cold. There’s a orangy-tangerine colored rose that grows well here, ‘Livin’ Easy’, which I would love to grow, if only there was room…. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Winter(?) Blooms | My Gardener Says…

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