Introduction to Sue & John Zwar for Heritage Roses NZ

Sue Zwar was born in Renmark, home of David Ruston, when David was 15 years old.

However, for the first thirty years of her life roses were something with prickles, pretty flowers but uninteresting bushes.

It was when visiting a friend’s garden in Coonawarra in the early 1990s and she saw old roses growing in all their glorious abundance that the light dawned and she has been an avid admirer ever since.

John grew up in marginal mallee country on a farm north of the Barossa Valley where his mother could only grow one rose, a highly fragrant pink climber growing outside the back door which she watered with the washing up water – water was a very precious commodity. Since Sue has known John all fragrant roses have his mother’s rose as their measuring stick – “just like my mother’s rose!” or, “not as good as my mother’s rose!”

Sue & John met at Teachers College, married and lived firstly in Adelaide and then in Coonawarra where John bought a small farm in 1976 and retired from teaching in 1993 to take up full time farming. The farm was bare acres in big redgum country and so they could put their own mark on it with no impediments.

The local trees were all Eucalyptus camaldulensis, the River Red Gum, and the initial area fenced off for house and garden consisted of about 5 acres with about 20 majestic gum trees included in the area. Since then, as with so many avid gardeners, the area has doubled in size! With 350 acres of farmland to choose from, this was easy to do.

John is not a rose grower, but has supported Sue with whatever she wanted to achieve, building her many supports over which to grow her roses, wielding the chainsaw whenever trees or shrubs passed their ‘used by’ date and had to be removed, mowing the vast areas of grass and doing whatever else cropped up. He has also accompanied her on the many rose conference they attended, from within Australia, to China, Japan, Europe and twice to Dunedin. John is indispensable, both as photographer and as tour guide as Sue’s sense of direction is nil!

As well as growing over 1000 roses in her own garden, Sue, with John’s help, has planted and maintains rose gardens around the Coonawarra Hall, Penola War Memorial Park and Penola Hospital.

These are all modern roses donated by Brian Wagner, a wholesale rose grower living in Penola. The latest project, funded by Heritage Roses in Australia, is a heritage rose garden in an area owned by Penola’s National Trust. So far Sue & John have planted up two areas, the first of old and significant hybrid teas and the second of Chinas. More rose beds are planned.

One reason for Sue extending her vision and planting roses in town is the problem with pests when planting in a rural situation. The major one is red lorikeets, beautiful red & blue birds but an absolute menace in that they chew through every new succulent shoot on many varieties of rose especially the Introduction to Sue & John Zwar for Heritage Roses NZ modern varieties. (Another reason for growing the oldies!). Then there are rabbits, wallabies and possums all of which help decimate roses at Camawald but are not prevalent in the town.

In 2008 Sue was asked to put together a booklet showing David Ruston’s flower arrangements. This grew like topsy to become eventually the story of David’s life and loves as well as excerpts from articles he’d written in the past and descriptions of all Australian Rose Conferences, both modern and heritage.

Additionally, David gave comments on all international rose conferences both WFRS and Heritage. Putting together the book took two years of Sue’s life, a time when she and John got to know David very well indeed and they became very good friends. They were very chuffed when the book, “A Life with Roses”, got an award from the WFRS in Lyon in 2015.

Sue loves all roses and finds it impossible to choose a favourite. There are so many exquisite blooms. The simple charm of the singles – ‘Complicata’ and ‘Dupontii’ come to mind. The magical quartered blooms of roses such as ‘Jacques Cartier’ and ‘Celine Forestier’. The ethereal fragrance of ‘Mme Hardy’ and ‘Ispahan’ – Sue has tried growing ‘Ispahan’ several times and given up, having to be content with seeing it growing to perfection in Tasmania and NZ. And then there are the species and the ramblers – where does one stop!

They are both looking forward to meeting up with NZ friends, old and new, and marvelling at what grows in NZ, so different from South Australia.