Roses in Iowa

Friday, Oct. 24, 2003 – 6:13 p.m.

2003-10-24 6:13

My father grew up in Iowa and went to college at Cornell College, a small liberal arts college in Mt. Vernon, Iowa (about 30 minutes east of Cedar Rapids. He graduated in 1958 and went on to get a masters and PhD from Purdue University in Indiana. On Thursday, Oct 16, his Alma Mater honored him by conveying on him an honorary Doctorate of Science. I flew out on Wednesday to be there with my mother, and several other members of the family to celebrate with him.

In the rose world, Iowa is famous for Doctor Griffin Buck, a professor at Iowa State University in Ames. He worked to hybridize roses with good large blooms, good disease resistance and exceptional winter hardiness. According to some reports, the university did not value his work after his death and “plowed under all his work”. However, some places (like Roses Unlimited) had cuttings of much of his work. Iowa State now had the Reiman gardens, established in the early 90’s, where they have a collection of a his roses along with being an ARS test garden.

I decided that I would take the opportunity of traveling to Iowa to go to Ames and see the collection of Buck roses. When I planned the trip, I checked the costs of flying into several different airports in the area including Cedar Rapids (closest to Dad’s shindig) and Des Moines (closes to Ames). However, it quickly became evident that the least expensive flights into the area were into Moline, IL/Quad Cities area. This is about 90 minutes from Cedar Rapids and 3 hours from Ames. However, I had the time and cheaper by more than $100 is pretty significant.

the flight into Moline from RDU took me through Cincinnati where, either by design or by chance, was where my parents were also changing planes on Wed morning. This meant that I got to spend a little time talking with them before we went out on our separate flights (they flew into Cedar Rapids). Both flights were uneventful so at about 11 am, I was on the road to Ames. The weather was bright and sunny when I left Moline but as I drove west, it got steadily cloudier. By the time I got to Ames, it was actually spitting rain.

Reinman Gardens basically have 4 rose gardens:

  • The Buck Roses. there were about 4 large beds dedicated to these roses. All the bushes were fairly small, maybe 3ft or so. While there were some old blooms, it was obvious that mid Oct was not the time to be looking at roses in Central Iowa. I later found out that there had been a hard frost several weeks earlier, which had taken out anything that was blooming at the end of the season. However, all the bushes looked very healthy and were pretty well labeled.
  • The ARS exhibition and test garden. I actually visited this section last. The plants, all of which were AARS winners, were larger and all looked very gold with dark green leaves. I did notice that there was spray residue and later learned that they had not been sprayed in several weeks. However, they had not had a significant rain since the last spraying. The test are had a number of the numerically labeled bushes but without anything in bloom, it was kinds of hard to judge these bushes. It did look like they had plenty of room for growth. In fact, there were several people out preparing beds in a section of the garden but whether these were for more roses or for other plants I could not tell.
  • The Helen Latch Jones rose garden: This section a number of beds with roses and other plants mixed in (there were peonies in the ends of the beds, at least that’s what the labels said.) In this section there was a mixture of some climbers (to go over the pergola on each side of the garden) and standard bush varieties like HT (Hybrid Teas), floribunda, and polyanthas. Again, these bushes were relatively small, maybe 2.5-30 ft on a side. Some of the plants had bloomed recently but it was obvious that recent cold weather had done a job on what blooms there were.
  • the Old Garden Roses: I didn’t realize it when I got there but they actually have a pretty good selection of old garden/species roses. This was where I spent most of my time. My biggest problem was that most of the roses didn’t have display tags but did have stem tags. Therefore I had to scramble around under the bushes to try to see what they were. Even without blooms, it was still pretty interesting and I got some pictures the growth habit of Albas and Gallicas as well as some species that I had not seen before.

    One thing I did notice was that one of bushes in one place appeared to have some abnormal growth.. . it may have been nothing (spray damage or frost damage) but it also could have been rose rosette. When I left, I asked to talk with someone who tended the roses and mention it to them.

After leaving Ames, my route took me east on US 30, also called Lincoln Highway. One of the significant aspects about this is that this highway went through Marshalltown, the place my dad grew up and where my grandfather coached high school track. Dad had given me the location of a place that I should try to eat a fried pork tenderloin sandwich… but that is relayed in a different entry….

Driving down US 30, I went through (or near) a town called State Center and there was a big sign on the highway that said “Rose Capital of Iowa” and advertised their rose festival the third weekend in June ( Hmmm… it seems I need to plan a trip through Iowa in June…) At this point, the rain clouds that had been over me in Ames were moving east at about the

same rate I was so It basically stayed over me (though it was obvious that it was clearing to the west.) Figuring that any town touting itself as “Rose Capital” of the state had to have a rose garden. According to the map, the town was just north of the highway so I turned onto what appeared to be the only road into town. Several blocks in, there was a sign for the rose garden pointing right. Several more blocks later, there was the rose garden on the left. It was in the middle of the block and went through to the next street. I stopped and read the description of the garden. Here is a quote from the sign:

Annual Rose Festival

State Center was official and formally dedicated as the “Rose Capital of Iowa: on Saturday June 27, 1959 at 2pm at the State Center Rose Garden,.

The idea of a town in Iowa know as the rose capital of Iowa originated with Mrs. W.A. Norcross of Cedar Falls, Ia, a former president of the Iowa Rose Society. The rose society designated the town as the rose capital because it was in the heart of Iowa, was located on US 30, the town small enough to be “literally covered in roses” and a new park which had not yet been landscaped was ideal for a formal rose garden.

The completed 1.5-acre park now has roses of all colors and varieties.

Even though State Center today my not be “covered with roses”, it still makes a big hoopla about the flower. The rose garden board has given away hundreds of Roses to residents to promote private planting throughout town. To celebrate its status as the Rose Capital, the town holds a festival the third full weekend in June; A rose Queen is crowned and the annual Grand Rose Parade highlights the weekend activities.

The garden was nice but most of the bushes had no blooms and had already been mulched with straw for the winter. What blooms that were there were not very good (no surprise there.) Looking at the tags that could be seen through the mulch, most of the bushes were modern roses (HT and floribundas and the like). They did have some of the new shrub roses and a bed of Buck roses. Ok, so now I need to be in Central Iowa in the middle of June…. too bad my uncle Forrest is moving to Arizona.

Thursday was the day Dad was given the honorary degree. It was a really nice ceremony and my grandmother was there with my father’s younger brother Donnie and his wife Margo. Grandma had difficulty walking so they brought her in a wheelchair. I guess they were glad I was there because the campus is perched on the top of a hill. After the convocation, we had lunch in the campus commons. I didn’t realize that the president of the board of trustees for the college was one of Dad’s classmates. After lunch, we went walking in downtown Mt. Vernon and I finally found a post office to mail the MO for a book I purchased on eBay. There were some nice antique stores along the street and it was a pleasant afternoon.

One of the more interesting shops was a small shop of antique prints in this guy’s garage. He also does custom framing. He had some nice stuff and specialized in botanical prints. I looked through some of his stuff and he did have several prints of roses. Of course, they cost between $95 and $175… out of my price range. Besides, I already have a bunch of stuff that needs to be framed. In fact, I think several of the stuff that is already framed, like the piliated woodpecker that I got from G&G Bright, may need to be re-matted because mom and dad seemed to think that it might not be acid-free matting.

Ok, back to roses…. Heading home on Friday, I went through Davenport and stopped by Vander Veer Park where they have a rose garden and a small conservatory. Like in Ames and State Center, there were basically no blooms. In addition, the garden was almost entirely hybrid teas and floribundas, and common ones at that. Oh well. Still, it was interesting to see the layout of the garden and how the size of the bushes differed from those grown in my area. I also went through the conservatory, which cost me $1. I think I could have gotten in for free because of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden membership but I figured they could use the money.

When I left, I asked the volunteer at the front desk about how long it would take to get to the airport and was told that between the construction on I-74 bridge over the Mississippi and the shift change at the arsenal between 3 and 4, it would be very difficult so she suggested I go downtown and across the Centennial bridge. Ah, another adventure in driving through downtown Davenport. there was also construction on this bridge but the traffic was not bad….however, when I got to the other side, the ramp to the freeway I wanted to get on was closed so then I had to guess where I could pick it up again. Fortunately some of the maps I had printed out showed deals of Moline and the areas around it so I was able to find another entrance to the expressway. From there it was straight forward to get the airport and return the rental car. At this point, I am sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight to Cincinnati and then home!

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