Friday, April 15, 2011

Read All About It!

A writer and a photographer from the local newspaper visited here last week.  They wanted to do a story about me and my nursery, to help shake the winter doldrums off of their readers.  I'm not shy, so I gladly agreed.  The story is in today's Free Lance-Star.

The three of us walked the gardens, which are still looking pretty awful after this winter, and we chatted for over an hour ... discussing things like how I decided to start the nursery, why I chose roses, and (my most dreaded question) which roses are my favorites.  I even let the photographer take my picture, though I was dressed in work clothes and my hair was pulled back in a really unflattering ponytail.  (Two friends have already told me that it doesn't really look like me.)

Since there are no roses blooming in the garden now, the photographer asked if he could fill in the story with some of MY photos.  He browsed the blog, choosing photos that he liked, and I sent him high-resolution files without my watermark.  It's so cool to have a mosaic of my photos published like this!

clockwise:  Mutabilis, Leontine Gervais, Mr. Lincoln, Leontine Gervais wide shot.

I was very pleased to see that the writer accurately captured my motivation behind building my gardens and starting this nursery.  I want to show people that it doesn't take superhuman effort to have a rose garden you love and are proud of.  There ARE roses that require more work than others ... and you don't have to grow these unless you choose to.

The newspaper article on their web site is HERE.  I have also reprinted it below, so you don't have to click back and forth.


Her Business is Blooming
Stafford woman building her heirloom rose nursery business
Date published: 4/15/2011


It's a busy time of year at Hartwood Roses, but the pruning, propagating, potting and planting going on now will pay off in the coming months. The grounds of the property will explode with the colorful blooms of hundreds of heirloom and historic varieties of roses, while many others will find homes in gardens near and far.

Connie Hilker has run this one-woman operation at 335 Hartwood Road, with some help from her husband, Steve, for three years now. They bought the property known as Hartwood Manor, a rare Southern example of Gothic Revival architecture, in 2002, and promptly took on a five-year renovation of the house.

"The rose garden was always part of the plan," she said. "How could you not with all this space and sun?"

She said this area's weather is perfect for roses, and the property is right next door to Hartwood Winery.

"Grapes and roses like the same conditions of weather and water," she said, and they can suffer from the same diseases, such as the dreaded black spot.

In fact, vintners often place rosebushes at the end of rows in the vineyard because the roses will indicate ahead of time if there could be an issue with the grapes. "Sort of like the canary in the coal mine," she said. "Roses blend with any plant that likes the same conditions, and they'll need at least six hours of good light during the growing season."

Hilker said areas with clay soil like ours often need infusions of organic materials such as compost for best rose-garden results.

She pointed to a tiny bush she planted in the fall, confident that it would survive the winter.

"There's an old adage that you only plant roses in the spring," she said. "But you can plant in the fall, or any time of year, and they'll do fine."

An exception would be bare-root roses.


Hilker provides a wealth of information through her website and blog. Pay a visit to, whether you're looking to learn or shop. She also offers presentations for novices and veterans on rose gardening and propagating.

In her garden, Hilker has 600 plants of many varieties, with 200 more ready to go into the ground.

For people who are looking for an easy rose to care for that will look pretty in a landscape, the Knockout varieties found in area home-improvement stores are good choices. They might even turn you into a rose lover in search of more interesting varieties.

"Heirloom roses are the kinds that your grandmother and great-grandmother grew," she said.

These "old garden roses" date to between 1867 and 1949, the ones that have large, voluptuous blooms and thinner, less rigid stems. There are many other classic and unique varieties that have come along since then that are referred to as "florist roses," with straight stems and tighter blooms, the sort that are delivered by the millions to sweethearts on Valentine's Day.

"There have been changes in fashion in roses over time like there is with everything else," she said.


Asking Hilker to name a favorite rose is like asking a parent to name a favorite child. Pressed on the issue, she comes up with a few:

Mutabilis is a simple, five-petal, single-layer rose. A variety of China rose, it is among the garden's first bloomers, and the bush can grow to "about the size of a Volkswagen Bug." It is a "changeable" variety, in that it initially blooms white, then turns a peach color, then pink and deep pink.

Peggy Martin is a thornless variety, something many people like. It's also quite hardy, with plants found in New Orleans that survived Katrina despite having been underwater--in salt water.

The polyantha class of roses are low-maintenance varieties that grow relatively low to the ground and have clusters of beautiful blooms continuously throughout the season.

The gallica roses are known for their fragrance and many colors, including a deep purple.

The list goes on and on, of course, with varieties that do whatever gardeners want them to do. There are climbers--repeat bloomers that are great for a wall or trellis--and ramblers, usually single-bloomers that are ideal for running horizontally along a fence. Plus there are many kinds of tea roses, known for their array of colors and fragrances, and their "definition of rose" blooms.


Still in the throes of designing new rose gardens, Hilker is planning areas with particular themes. One will be called the Cemetery Garden, with the many varieties she has found in cemeteries.

"Cemeteries are a great place to find heirloom roses because they were planted long ago," she said.

Another garden will feature famed David Austin roses from Great Britain, and there will be cottage rose varieties in another.

She designs the gardens on paper, then lays down plastic that will become the pathways. Landscape timbers define the beds and walkways and help block weeds. The pathway plastic is then covered with gravel.

Hilker knows that the rose garden will eventually stop expanding. What won't stop expanding is her love for roses of every sort.


For The Love of Roses
Connie Hilker has always loved roses, a pursuit encouraged by her grandmother, who tended a year-round rose garden in Southern California. She tells the story in her blog, 

"My grandmother grew roses. She grew Hybrid Tea roses with Hall of Fame names 'Peace,' 'Mr. Lincoln,' and 'Mirandy' were some of her favorites that come to mind. Her southern California garden was an ideal place to grow these roses to perfection. When I was a newlywed in our first house in the early 1980s, I wanted to grow roses my grandmother's kind of roses."

Hilker recalled her mixed success in growing roses at every home she and her husband have shared since then. It wasn't until they settled into their house in Hartwood that she had the perfect combination of time, sun and fertile soil to get serious about growing roses, and then to get really serious about opening Hartwood Roses, her heirloom and old-garden rose nursery.

The key piece of sage advice given her by a Master Gardener was all the encouragement she needed: "If you think you can't grow roses, you are probably trying to grow the wrong ones."


  1. Wonderful article and also the photo mosaic of your photos is so pretty.

  2. What a fabulous feature Connie! congratulations.

  3. Fantastic Connie! Interesting to see your planning a garden of David Austin roses. I absolutely love their Pat Austin rose.

  4. You go Connie! That's such a wonderful opportunity to share your story, your love of roses and your garden with people in your area! Enjoyed the reading!

  5. Connie, This is a wonderful article and really tells your love of roses. Congrats!

  6. This is a wonderful article! They took the time to really capture the Connie we have come to know and love!

    Watch out for paparazzi!

  7. Congratulations! They couldn't have found a better person for such an article. Your roses look wonderful, and so do you:).

  8. I hope you get lots of calls and sell a lot of heritage roses. I think you deserve the attention having seen through photos the very beginning.


  9. Connie, Nice article, glad to see you made the headlines!! Now get ready to sell, sell, sell!!! What's up with the stink bug article next to yours?

  10. Congratulations! Such a wonderful story.

  11. What a great and great-for-you article. You can not buy publicity like this, and I hope it benenfits you greatly.

  12. That's a wonderful article. I wouldn't be surprised to see it reprinted widely.

  13. Way to go Connie. It is so great someone is writing about your accomplishments.
    You have some lovely old roses to offer.

  14. Nice article. It is especially good because YOU feel know the reporter was listening and understood your message. That doesn't always happen. ♥♫

  15. great article!! congratulations on the press. the photo of you was wonderful! it sets such a happy tone to your business, I bet you have tons new customers!


  16. Connie- you're famous!! I love the article- ( that guy did a great job with the writing--). Love the rose photos- it is all wonderful and you should just be so darn proud!!

    --- can I have your autograph?


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