It's a thorny quest, a search for forgotten beauty armed with secateurs and a packed lunch.

The Hawke's Bay Rose Hunters recently visited three historic gardens in search of blooms from yesteryear.

"We love going on rose hunts, to work out where roses have been grown in the past, see if we can rescue some of them and name some of them for the owners," organiser Georgina Campbell said.

First stop was the old Te Aute Store garden which was established in the 1900s, says owner Tracey Kearney.

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It harbours sweet-smelling treasures, which have been popular with light-fingered green thumbs.

"When we first moved in, we found about 50 I think," Kearney said. "Some had died - two or three - but more than 90 have been recorded by a past owner of the place."

"It was empty for a while and there were lots of holes when we arrived, so I think people just came in and they helped themselves to some of the roses."

Next stop was Waipawa, where a transplanted garden proudly displays mysterious blooms from the Ruataniwha Plains.

Professional Gardener Ian Mason liked the blooms so much he brought them home.

"I made contact with Georgina through an article in New Zealand Gardener and I said these roses had come from a very old established garden on the Ruataniwha Plains.

"She was quite keen so I took some cuttings and dropped them off at her place.

"Recently she was in contact with me to bring a group down and see what they are."

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Lunch for the Rose Hunters was in a colonial Ōtāne garden, reclaimed from a stand of macrocarpa tree at Chawton House.

The owners restored the garden after clearing trees that forced some rose vines to grow up to 30m long around their 1886 house.

"It was designed as a pub and then became a gentleman's rest home," owner Evan Wright said.

"I believe we have some heritage roses because of the age of the house.

"I thought it would be of interest to the rose hunters to come and have a look and let us know if there are any here. And if we could help them, that would be great."

Campbell said it was important to keep New Zealand's gardening history.

"Roses have come over from Europe in particular and are quite old and ancient.

"Sometimes those roses have disappeared from where they came from originally, so we can provide the material back again.

"Occasionally it is quite good for rose breeders to have this old material that they can use for their breeding, or just to look at it and think what was done in the past."

If you have a garden you think may be hiding a piece of history, you can get in touch with the Hawke's Bay Rose Hunters through their Facebook page.

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