By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — Early in the morning just as the sun is rising, one might find Curren “Buzz” Craft, parishioner of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Columbia, walking or working in one of the rose gardens entrusted to his care. The church gardener and altar server has been interested in roses for more than 40 years, and in that time he has become one of the local experts on old roses, creating his own rose hybrids as a hobby.
Currently a rose consultant for the Botanical Gardens at the Riverbanks Zoo where he volunteers his time, Buzz is a walking reference book on roses for the staff. When the zoo added the old rose section of the gardens, they came to Buzz for help, remembering his expertise when he worked as a horticulturist at the zoo. Buzz generously gave several cuttings and plants from his gardens to Riverbanks, and today one cannot help but stumble upon one of the many roses Buzz has shared with the zoo’s garden. He also continues to assist the staff in determining the names of roses donated to the zoo, which is an ongoing challenge.
Craft’s interest in roses began early in life.
“I always had a love for growing things, especially flowers and roses,” he recalled.
There were two roses, however, that turned his fondness for the flower into a passion. As a youth he remembered a fragrant rose named Jeanne d’ Arc Noisette on Elmwood Ave. in Columbia. Years later, as a young man, he rescued that very bush when he saw that the developers were leveling the property for a gas station.
The second rose he found holds an even more special place in Craft’s heart, the Good Shepherd Noisette. This rose he discovered at the Elmwood Cemetery while visiting his grandparent’s grave as a young man.
“The scent of this rose is carried by wind unlike that of most roses, and it gave something pleasant to the cemetery visitors,” Craft recalled.
After some research, he found that this hybrid had not yet been named. Since it was one of the roses the zoo desired for the old garden, the Riverbanks’ staff suggested it be identified as the Craft Noisette. Buzz opted instead to have it named after the garden from which it was taken, Good Shepherd Catholic Church, located on Calhoun Street. This church had its own interesting history. In 1984, his pastors and a majority of the parishioners converted to Catholicism from their Episcopalian denomination.
Developed in Charleston in the early 1800s, the Noisette is the first class of rose to be developed in America. The original Noisette known as the Champneys’ Pink Cluster is a cross between Rosa moschata (Musk rose) and the Pink China Rose (Old Blush). A Charleston rice planter named John Champneys accomplished this fragrant cross. But it was when his friend and Catholic gardener Philippe Noisette derived an improved variety from Champneys’ rose, known as the Blush Noisette, and sent his seedlings to his brother Louis in France that it gained its international notoriety. In fact it was a part of Josephine Bonaparte’s (Napoleon’s wife) world-renowned garden at Malmaison. From the Blush Noisette, many French rosarians at this time started crossing it with their tea rose and other varieties.
Because Philippe Noisette was probably a parishioner at St. Mary Catholic Church in Charleston, according to Joseph Noisette Sr., a parishioner and descendant of Philippe, Craft offered the rose to the church a few years ago, and it is now a part of their garden.
The Noisette today is characterized as a good climber, containing clusters of flowers in pale colors such as cream, yellow, or pink. Most Noisettes are ” repeat bloomers” and can be enjoyed from spring until late summer with its distinct musk-like fragrance. Craft continues to try to improve the Noisette making crosses in his gardens. Currently he uses the pollen of the Good Shepherd with other colorful fragrant roses. He also is working on improving the scent of miniature roses with the Noisettes.
After recently making his final profession as a secular Discalced Carmelite, Buzz continues to grow in his own Catholic faith through the nurturing of the Supreme Gardener and continues to be an active member of Good Shepherd. He considers his job as an altar server as his most important, because he “assists the priest during the sacrifice of the Mass where heaven and earth met.” In his past he has had other occupations besides gardening. He taught English and Spanish at Richland I district schools in Columbia and worked in the New York and Charleston public libraries for a time. Because of his lifelong study of the Noisette rose, Buzz hopes to be a part of the International Heritage Rose Conference being held Oct. 14-18 in Charleston. The biennial gathering of professional and amateur rose gardeners from around the world will be in Charleston because its theme this year is the Noisette rose.
For some, recording history is done in the pages of a book, but for Buzz Craft, a Southern gentleman, the history of the Noisette rose has been written on the beautiful fragrant petals of the roses in his tender care. As the Noisette, often found on church properties, continues to intersect with the Catholic Church, often bearing the name of famous Catholics, so does the life of Buzz, a dedicated steward of God’s beautiful world, remain entwined in his faith.