This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on April 7, 2019.
When Mike Shoup first began his search for native Texas plants to add to his growing nursery business, roses were the furthest from his mind.
Mike Shoup, like most people, believed that roses were hard to grow, fussy, required regular spraying and pruning, and were short-lived. However, in 1976, a simple rose called Mermaid forever changed this perception leading to a lifelong fascination and appreciation for this misunderstood flower. Mermaid is an antique or heirloom rose that existed prior to 1867 when the first hybrid tea-roses were introduced, ushering in a new era of ‘modern roses.’ Today, over 80% of roses grown are cross-pollinated leaving little room for the powerful fragrance and big, full blooms of the old garden roses.
As a Master Horticulturist, garden enthusiast Shoup quickly discovered the Mermaid flower could survive and look spectacular even when neglected. For all the brown-thumbed gardeners known for killing cactus, these relatively low-maintenance roses are the ultimate garden plant.
In 1983, Shoup opened The Antique Rose Emporium on eight acres in Brenham with award-winning display gardens, including roses, perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs. Mermaid and other ‘survivor’ roses became the foundation of the products Shoup sells today.
Having started out with two employees, The Antique Rose Emporium now consists of historic buildings, rental venues, retail spaces and growing fields. One of those buildings, the McKnight-Hairston House, has stood on the property for over a century. It was home to both the McKnight and Hairston families who were early residents of Brenham, Texas and has been rebuilt and restored to its original glory.
Adjacent to the McKnight-Hairston house sits the Champneys’ green Victorian home. Built in 1904 this house now hosts intimate and romantic private wedding events year-round. An outdoor pavilion blanketed in signature roses connects directly to Champneys’. The promenades to Champneys’ include massive Rocket Junipers, multiple-tier trellis pathways and a gazebo, all flanked in cascading roses and plant varietals, and immaculately groomed period gardens.
The numbers at this Central Texas gem are impressive: The display gardens and retail shops bring more than 50,000 visitors a year. The growing fields, just down the road from the display gardens, raise 350 varieties of roses, totaling 100,000 perennials and rose plants annually.
With a reputation that stretches far beyond Texas, The Antique Rose Emporium has been featured in The New York Times, National Geographic, Southern Living, and Victoria Magazine, while the display garden was designated a Hall of Fame Garden by the Great Rosarians of the World in 2012.
From tried-and-true perennials to tiny succulents, drought-tolerant offerings, bulbs, garden supplies and a gift shop, there are so many colors to see and sweet scents to smell. This is a destination for all, whether you’re a garden enthusiast or simply appreciate discovering another corner of our great state. And, this is the perfect time to visit, as the entire display garden is flooded with both new Spring blooms and repeat-blooming roses.