A Rye rose is not just any old rose

Jacques Kelly

February 14, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

To the rest of the world, it's the 4200 block of Chapel Road in Perry Hall, but one look tells you why the locals call the road that takes you to Maryland's only cut-rose farm "Sweetheart Lane."

Along the lane, a family of German descent tends 13,000 fragrant red, pink, yellow, salmon and white rose bushes that thrive in five hothouses warmed by a vintage coal furnace.

Each day, these roses bloom and flower and their thorny stems get snipped by hand, thus the cut-rose farm, as opposed to one that simply propagates roses. After the roses are sized and bundled, they are sent off to local flower wholesalers.

With any luck, the Valentine's Day bouquet you bought, or received, today may be the handiwork of the Rye Brothers.

"I guess we're the only ones left," said Howard Rye, the patriarch of the family. "We were once into carnations, but the foreign competition just killed us. I think the big boys with the banana crops in South America came in and started shipping cut flowers. It was hard on us here in Maryland."

About 1875, his ancestors settled in what was then a rural part of Baltimore County. Today, garden apartments, convenience stores and strip shopping centers are spreading perilously close to the Rye property.

"We stay in our old home place," Howard Rye said. "It was my grandfather who settled there. We called it Germantown. Now it's all Perry Hall."

The greenhouse is very much a family business. At work daily are his son, Will; his nephew, George; and sister-in-law, Stella. Howard Rye's brother, George Sr., who co-founded the business, died shortly after the brothers purchased additional land and greenhouses in 1958. Before then, the family had been truck farmers. Besides their wholesale flower business, the Ryes also run a retail flower shop at Belair and Chapel roads.

Come spring, the Ryes will be delivering hundreds of plants to roadside stands and garden shops along Belair and Harford roads.

Rose cultivation remains a demanding business.

These hothouse roses differ from the ones that bloom outdoors in the spring, summer and fall. The Rye bushes are bred for inside greenhouse life and grow to a height of about 7 feet. Their long stems are kept erect on wire grids.

One member of the family is always checking the greenhouses. The buds must be cut twice a day, at precisely the right minute. If the bud is too tight, it will not open properly. If it's too far open, it won't keep well for the trips to the wholesaler and then to florist shops.

If the family's five greenhouses seem as hot as Florida usually is, there's a good reason. There's a huge old coal furnace that keeps the greenhouses as warm as a June afternoon. There's also an equally large oil-fired furnace. Each is used as a backup to the other.

"When the sun starts to go down after 5 at night, those pipes really start clanking," said George Rye, son of George Sr.

The Ryes also grow poinsettias, Easter lilies, football mums, begonias, ivy geraniums and other seasonal flowers.

They are not particularly sentimental about Valentine's Day.

"It gets a little more busy, but our demand is steady," Will Rye said. "I'm working on Mother's Day mums and Easter lilies right now. That's what's on my mind."

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