August 01, 2011

Fred’s ‘Sweet Mary’

Fred and Mary Buffham (c. 1903)
In most marriages and committed relationships, love blooms, then fades, then blooms again. If you’re very fortunate and you work at it, the cycle repeats itself several times throughout life.

The same can be said of many plants, which bloom, fade, and then bloom again in the same season. Others go dormant, but bloom again the next season.

With this particular post, I have Roses on my mind. And in particular, a certain Rose cultivar created by my paternal great-grandfather, Fred Buffham, and named for his wife (my great-grandmother), Mary (Ressler) Buffham. I never knew Fred (an Englishman by birth) or Mary (an American of German ancestry), but I have a feeling their love bloomed repeatedly throughout their long marriage.

They settled on a farm in southern Minnesota, and raised a family. One line of the family still manages the farm, and the rest of us haven’t strayed too far—most of us living in the upper Midwest.

Through the years, my family came to call this particular cultivar the ‘Grandpa Buffham’ Rose. But I found out recently Fred’s original name for it was ‘Sweet Mary.’

Fred's ‘Sweet Mary'

We think ‘Sweet Mary’ is a cross between a tea Rose and a wild Rose. We don’t know much more about the science behind its creation, except that it was one of Fred’s many grafting experiments.

But those of us who have cuttings planted in our gardens do know it’s one of the sweetest-scented Roses around. My father recalls that ‘Sweet Mary’ was planted around the wide perimeter of a screen porch on the family farm in Minnesota. The scent must have been incredible, because just one of these Roses fills the air with a sweet tea aroma that makes me swoon.

The blooms aren’t spectacular, but they are pretty—a delicate shade of powder pink. But while “delicate” aptly describes the look of ‘Sweet Mary,’ the plant is anything but. Like all Roses, it’s susceptible to thrips, aphids, and various other minor annoyances, although it doesn’t seem to be bothered too much by fungal diseases—and I don’t use systemics or chemical foliar sprays.

Given the right conditions, ‘Sweet Mary’ thrives and takes minimal care. I deadhead the plants after blooming and trim them back by half in the fall. The main blooming time is in June, but sometimes ‘Sweet Mary’ reblooms in the same season.

Old World Wisconsin's Raspberry School

This past May, ‘Sweet Mary’ was planted at the Old World Wisconsin living history museum in Eagle, Wis.—just outside the “Raspberry School.” All photos shown at Old World were taken by my father, Jim Richards, who volunteers as a living history interpreter there.

Marcia Carmichael, Old World's historical gardener, prepares ‘Sweet Mary’ for planting.

Marcia explains planting techniques to Old World visitors.

‘Sweet Mary’ in her new home near the Raspberry School.

I’m certain Fred and Mary Buffham would be happy to know their legacy lives on at the family farm in Minnesota, in their descendants’ gardens, and at a public historical site that welcomes visitors from around the world.

(‘Sweet Mary’ bloomed in my garden this season from early June through early July. I’ll let you know if it blooms again in August.)


  1. What a wonderful story! I always enjoy learning about roses, and I enjoyed your post a lot. Sweet Mary looks lovely (and it has a lovely name), and I do hope it will thrive in its new home. I am looking forward to seeing pictures of it in bloom next year. What a great legacy your great-grandfather left behind.

  2. What a little beauty. The scent is really what a rose is all about, isn't it?? Sounds like 'Sweet Mary' is a winner in that category and the color is perfect for me.
    It's so wonderful your family has stayed in the same area. I wish mine had ~ we are all scattered across the country and it's sad to not be able to get together very often.

  3. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven. What a great family legacy to have. Romantic too.

  4. I enjoyed how you spun the story and the comparisons you made. Sweet Mary is a pretty rose, and I am guessing gets rather large. I hope to see the second bloom in your garden. Loved all the historical images.

  5. What a beautiful post! I love the analogy of married love blooming and reblooming. And the roses are just gorgeous. How fortunate that you have this piece of history in your family!

  6. What a sweet post. I'm certain your great-grandfather would be very pleased to know "sweet Mary" lives on.

  7. I love a plant with a story, and that is the best I've heard. How wonderfully to be able to grow a piece of family history like that.

  8. Thanks for the beautiful Sweet Mary's story. I expecially loved the flower, the old photo and the old story.

  9. That is so neat! I love that your rose has a story in your family. :)

  10. That is a great spot for your Sweet Mary. It does have a beauty about it.

  11. @Masha: Sweet Mary isn't showy, but the scent is incredible. I'll be sure to get more shots next year.

    @Kathleen: That one side of the family hasn't roamed much, but other branches have. It's amazing when you start to think of all the ancestors and the connections...and the stories!

    @Bridget: Yes, the Rose's name and the circumstances (and other family stories) add to the romance. :)

    @Donna: Thank you. Sweet Mary is a small- to medium-size Rose. I hope she'll bloom again this year, but the heat/lack of rain is making it rough on all the plants. But we're headed for a cool-down!!

  12. @Bumble: Thanks! We're all big fans of Sweet Mary--because of the reliability and ease of care, but also because of the story.

    @Holley: Thank you. I think he'd be happy, too. :)

    @Janet: You are kind. The stories do add to the fun, don't they?!

  13. @Dona: Thank you. It's interesting how the post came together. It was a difficult one to write because my heart was in it a little more than with other posts. :)

    @Hanni: Thanks! Yeah, the family talks about that story every June when Sweet Mary is in bloom.

    @Sage: Yes, it's a great spot! It will be fun to visit in years to come. And of course Sweet Mary is also in several gardens around the Midwest now, too.

  14. you must be really proud..and you should be. a flower named after your great grandmother. i think they're a match made in heaven. i love love your rose's color. roses are my favorite flowers :) thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

  15. What a wonderful history interwoven with family roots, nostalgia and the continuity of 'Sweet Mary' still filling the air with fragrance. I like the simplicity of the rose's looks so scent is a real bonus

  16. What a treasure! I love the delicate pink and fragrance is what roses are all about. The roots of family heirloom plants go very deep!

  17. What a lovely post. Love history and gardening, two of my favorite loves! Love that the garden continues to be nurtured by the family, thanks for sharing =)

  18. What a great story! Thank you for sharing it!

    I love a good romance... and adding in a garden rose makes it perfect!


  19. How wonderful to have a rose with such a legacy in your family! Sweet Mary looks so pretty and delicate. I'm sure your great-grandfather would be proud to know that his creation is living on in so many places.

  20. What a great love story and beautiful rose! You enjoy a lovely legacy and I think it is wonderful that it continues to live on.

  21. How incredible that your rose has such a personal history! I love that it's planted at the old school. How perfect! Great post!!

  22. @Angel: Thanks. Yeah, it's great to know family stories and to be able to document them.

    @Laura: Yeah, the Roses are really something special, and then to have family story entwined with the Rose's story is especially sweet.

    @Ed: Yeah, I agree about the roots of family heirloom plants! And there are stories like this around the world. I love the stories!

  23. @Julia: Thanks! It's a fun story to recount, and it especially comes alive when the Roses bloom. :)

    @Julie: The interesting thing about it is that what I've listed here is fact and recollection. But the name of the Rose and the photo gives us a glimpse into their relationship. :)

    @Rose: Thank you. Yes, I bet he would be proud and happy, too. Sounds like he was a true gardener/experimenter on top of being a busy farmer!

  24. @Karin: Thanks. It's always been a special story -- especially for those of us who have cuttings and love to garden.

    @TS: Yes, it's nifty that it's planted at a historical museum celebrating similar times and stories. Thanks!