Nicole Juday grew up on a small farm in Illinois that grew no roses, just corn and soybeans, soybeans and corn. Roses remained off the radar as she studied art in college and graduate school, got married and settled in Germantown, raising two kids and running her own landscaping business.
In early 2008, Juday became the horticulturist at Wyck, the historic house in Germantown that's known for its antique roses. Soon after, she picked up The Fragrant Year, by the late Leonie Bell, a rosarian from Conshohocken.
And that spring, it happened: Wyck's roses began to cast their spell.
"I was enchanted," Juday says.
She began noticing how soft and sweet-smelling the roses were, how papery the pinks and how creamy the whites, how light and wind played with their colors and forms.
"If you're busy and always rushing around, as I am, the whole thing is lost on you," Juday says. "You have to stop and focus. You have to literally smell the roses and look at them as if through a microscope."
No better place to look than in this storied rose garden, which measures about 125 feet by 150 feet and is set on 21/2 acres near Germantown Avenue and Walnut Lane. Named for a Scottish castle, Wyck also includes a Colonial-style house, an unheated greenhouse, large vegetable and perennial beds, a pawpaw grove, a two-centuries-old magnolia tree, and structures once used to smoke meats and to store ice and carriages.
Wyck was home to nine generations descended from Quaker Hans Milan - from 1690, when Germantown was but a village and "Wyck" a log cabin, to 1973. After being designated a National Historic Landmark that year, the house museum and its garden were opened to the public.
The rose garden was established in the 1820s by newlywed Jane Bowne Haines, wife of Reuben, on the site of an 18th-century kitchen garden. Their niece, also named Jane Bowne Haines, founded the first horticulture school for women, now known as Temple University Ambler, in 1911.
"When I walk through here, even though it may be loud out there," Juday says, pointing to Germantown Avenue, "there's just a feeling that it's very old and sort of redolent of a lot of people having been on this property for a long time."
For the families who lived here, the garden was "an extension of the living room, a place to socialize and entertain in," according to the Rev. Douglas Seidel, a rose expert and pastor of Jesus Force Ministry in Southampton, who'll speak at an Old Rose Symposium at Wyck tomorrow.
In 1825, a VIP by the name of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier - Marquis de Lafayette, for short - was feted by more than 1,000 guests in the Wyck garden, which still has the purple-striped Lafayette rose planted for the occasion.
In 1972, as a recent college graduate, Seidel - a rose collector since his Easton childhood - accompanied Bell, his mentor, to Wyck to help identify the roses there.
"The place was all overgrown, with wild morning glories and dewberries that had suckered all over, but it was still possible to see a really wonderful garden underneath all the weeds," he recalls, "and that's the most interesting thing about Wyck. The garden's always been there."
Unlike, for example, Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Va. "All of that's a restoration," says Seidel, a consultant to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello.
Pretty good stuff to contemplate as you stroll the boxwood-lined beds at Wyck. The beds comprise about 25 varieties and several hundred roses, mostly European and once-blooming, with clusters of smallish pink or white blossoms, and dating to the 1850s or earlier.
They'll be flowering until late June, but are at their peak now.
Here's a sampling: Champneys' Pink Cluster, the first noisette-class rose and an American native; Pompon de Bourgogne, a miniature gallica with teeny button blooms; and silvery-pink La Reine, a hybrid perpetual with a scent like wine. Or is it cherry?
But it's Rosa damascena Celsiana, known locally as Germantown damask, that will make you swoon. Its ruffly petals unfurl like crinkled chiffon, blushing pink, fading to white, with a lilting, eye-closing perfume.
"Perfection," says Juday, who encourages visitors to "stop and stare at every rose, smell every one, get up close and count the petals or look at leaves or thorns."
Despite all this, Stephen Scanniello, president of the Heritage Rose Foundation, says these treasures are "the stepchildren of the rose world. They're old - and it's hard for homeowners to walk into a nursery and see them. They just aren't being sold there."
Since 1867, when La France, the first hybrid tea rose, was introduced, gardeners have clamored for bigger buds, stronger stems, more colors and bloom time - qualities that often come at the expense of disease resistance and fragrance.
Over time, the hybrid tea became known as a high-maintenance fusspot. Though not universally true, Scanniello says, the rap is bad enough to prompt some marketers to label hybrid-tea types as "shrub roses."
Nothing wrong with new, bigger, better. "But I find myself going back to the older, reliable roses that I've enjoyed for so long," says Scanniello, another panelist at tomorrow's rose symposium, who grows more than 400 old roses in his Barnegat Light garden.
It'll be his first visit to Wyck. Chances are, he'll feel right at home.
Panelists are Judith C. McKeon, author of The Encyclopedia of Roses and former chief horticulturist and rosarian at Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill; Stephen Scanniello, Heritage Rose Foundation president and coauthor of this year's A Rose by Any Name; the Rev. Douglas Seidel, consultant to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello; Arthur O. Tucker, codirector of the Delaware State University Herbarium and coauthor of The Big Book of Herbs; and Dennis Whetzel, Monticello horticulturist and rose-propagation expert.
Participants are encouraged to bring cuttings of their "mystery roses" for experts to identify. A tea in the garden will conclude the day.