No flower has more symbolic meaning than the rose. Throughout time, roses have been treasured by kings and queens, revered by poets, esteemed by gardeners, and have epitomized love in all its forms.
Nothing quite equals the rambling, untrammeled sensuality of a garden engulfed by the form and fragrance of roses rising onto trellises, sprawling along the grounds or festooning arches and fences with nodding blooms. In these settings, the magnificent range and depth of color, the tissue-like texture, and the impossible petal configurations of the rose become startlingly apparent; and the heady perfumes of old and new roses, the singular scent of tea rose, and memorable notes of myrrh, sweetness, spice, and fruit mingle into an intoxicating bouquet.
If you dream of such a garden but have refrained from incorporating roses into your landscape because of their reputation as a labor-intensive plant, Linda and Dick Dickinson’s storybook rose garden may dispel any lingering reservations.
When Linda, a realtor with Michael Saunders & Company, and Dick, a commercial photographer, married, he presented her with a rose garden complete with a picket fence. "We were married on the lawn of our Siesta Key home," Linda recalls. "Dick’s gift was such a romantic gesture. It symbolized our new love, our new life together." Sixteen years later, like the couple’s ongoing romance, the roses continue to thrive and bloom.
"I do have some favorites," Linda says, "like Abraham Darby, an English rose studded with generous, deeply cupped blossoms in shades of pink, apricot and yellow. They can also be almost pure candy pink, but they are always fragrant. Paul Neyron is one of the hybrid perpetuals (some of the best of the old roses); it has enormous, well-scented blooms of rich purplish pink. I also love Granada because its color evolves from coral to gold to peach." For Linda the garden is a constant source of pleasure. "I enjoy every moment I spend in it. I love sharing the roses with our family and friends, and I always put some on Dick’s desk."
As for the secret to sustaining the garden’s lavishness, Linda says, "It’s easily accomplished if you follow these few simple rules: Buy Florida roses grown specifically for our sandy soil and climate-roses that thrive in more Northern climates don’t always respond well to our extreme heat and humidity- make sure they get plenty of sunshine, at least six hours per day, preferably in the morning; feed, spray and water regularly. That’s it."
According to the American Rose Society, one of the most important ingredients in a South Florida garden is rootstock, specifically the Rosa fortuniana. The long, fine root system of Fortuniana is an ideal rootstock for sandy soils. The extensive fine roots enable the plant to absorb the nutrients and water it needs to produce food for growth. As an added bonus, the roots of Fortuniana are very resistant to the many varieties of nematodes found in our sandy soils.
So resist temptation and choose only those plants that will prosper in our local conditions. Rely on specialized growers such as Carefree Roses. Inc., a wholesale rose nursery in Bradenton that specializes in antique and heritage roses suitable for growth in Florida’s specific conditions. Antique roses are hardy, easy to care for, and are prolific bloomers. Grown on their own rootstock, they have been known to thrive for decades unattended in old cemeteries and gardens.
Linda also recommends Farm and Garden and is quick to give credit to Wayne Hibbs, owner of the long-established downtown Sarasota nursery, who was instrumental in setting up her initial garden and has remained a source of help and knowledge to this day.
Rose garden enthusiasts also will want to visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s third annual Ringling Rose Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 3. Horticulturist Ron Mallory and the volunteers who maintain Mable Ringling’s traditional wagon wheel-motif rose garden will be on hand to answer your questions.
Planting your rose garden
When: November, December or January
Where: Roses should be planted where they will receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight, preferably the morning sun as it will dry the dew on the leaves and lessen the chance of black spot.
How: Roses should be planted in rich, well-drained soil. Since sand drains quickly and does not hold nutrients, it needs to be enriched with a mixture of peat, composted cow manure and compost. Add as much as four to six inches of any or all of these to improve your soil. Dig a hole larger than the rose root ball and add the organic matter and about one-quarter cup of bone meal mixed in with the soil for a three-gallon rose. Plant the rose and add mulch, such as leaf mulch, pine, straw or pine bark.
Care and feeding: Roses are heavy feeders and a wide variety of fertilizers are recommended. Once a month, apply a good quality, sulphur-coated fertilizer with a composite such as 12-8-8. Additionally from April through October, an application of a good organic fertilizer such as Fertrell® is highly recommended. Avoid fertilizing newly planted roses until new growth emerges.
Watering: For new plantings, water daily the first week, and every other day the following week. Unless it rains, water your established roses well once a week. Water in the morning so the leaves are not wet during the night. Avoid watering leaves; wet leaves can host foliage diseases.
Pruning: Maintain good air movement by carefully cutting back deadwood and shaping bushes in late winter. Deadhead faded blooms regularly.