Old-rose champions argue that today's gardeners would love the heirloom classics - if they could only get to know them.

Dennis Whetzel, horticulturist at the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello, grew up with his grandmother's super-fragrant Bella Donna damask in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

"I've grown [old roses] all my life because many are incomparable for fragrance and beauty, and have so much history and lore associated with them," he says.

These pre-1920s beauties are low-maintenance and tough; they seem to last forever. As proof, Whetzel, an expert rose propagator who will speak at tomorrow's old-rose panel, points to the roses at Wyck. But of course!

So where to buy them? Wyck sells some at events, and here are some online sources:

Antique Rose Emporium (Brenham, Texas) www.antiqueroseemporium.com

Ashdown Roses (Landrum, S.C.) www.ashdownroses.com

Heirloom Roses Inc. (St. Paul, Ore.). www.heirloomroses.com

Vintage Gardens (Sebastopol, Calif.) www.vintagegardens.com

Wyck horticulturist Nicole Juday fertilizes with dehydrated chicken manure bought from a local garden center. She adds compost in April and prunes according to rose type, making sure the plants get plenty of sun and aren't crowded.

Although Juday has Japanese beetles in her own yard just six blocks away, Wyck's roses have remarkably few. "Roses have been here for 190 years. I guess they just really like it here," she says.

The Rev. Douglas Seidel, the rose collector who explored Wyck's garden as a young college graduate, has "a zillion old roses" in his garden near Allentown. Instead of chemical sprays, he swears (figuratively speaking) by a "nicotine tea" brewed from (other people's) stale cigarettes. He says it doesn't hurt wildlife.

"When you give them just minimal attention, these roses reward you fabulously," says Seidel, who doesn't care for a lot of modern roses but likes the ubiquitous Knockout. Though fragrance isn't its long suit, Knockout grows like an old rose and even looks like one. "It's the tail-end of 200 years of rose-breeding and I think it's very successful," he says.

- Virginia A. Smith