A Rose Book

Thursday, Aug. 02, 2007 – 6:04 p.m.

2007-08-02 6:04

So I was listening to NPR a couple of weeks ago and they had a piece on a book about roses. The book is titled Otherwise Normal People: Inside the Thorny World of Competitive Rose Gardening by Aurelia C. Scott (ISBN-13: 9781565124646). I should have just ordered it from Amazon.com and gotten it over with (because I need to get a copy anyway) but I thought I could get it quicker via Inter-Library Loan. (I found copies at both Duke and UNC-CH but not here at NCSU). Turns out it took a little longer and they got the copy from Elon College (which is about an hour away so still fairly close). Anyway, I picked it up from the library and started reading it as I walked across campus. Folk must have thought I was crazy because I was laughing out loud. It was describing ME (or at least folk I know). Here is an excerpt from the Prologue:

With Clarence as my guide, I met collectors who strive to possess every class of rose and specialists infatuated with a single variety. I watched exhibitors enter prize specimens in national competitions and toured greenhouses with breeders who dream of an elusively perfect bloom. I listened to historians argue about the provenance of America’s first roses. And I nodded as one seemingly rational person after another explained how their collection of three or five or nine roses had grown to three hundred, six hundred, even one thousand plants.

“Rose people are crazy,” explained Clarence as he devised a long-handled spray wand with which to douse his two hundred hybrid teas.

This book is about such impassioned gardeners. They bury their tender roses in deep pits in autumn and dig them up in the spring. They warn underperforming roses of impending doom by leaving a sharp shovel lying about. They lose marriages because of roses. They find love through roses. They collect roses as omnivorously as they once collected dolls and baseball cards.

These are gardeners who grow tender roses in the frigid North and disease-prone roses in the humid South simply for the challenge. They decorate otherwise lovely yards with paper bags and panty hose to isolate their choicest specimens. They traipse through overgrown fields in the worst weather to save antiques roses from extinction. Twice a year, the most competitive rose people cut the prettiest blossoms off their best plants, take them to a national convention, and groom them for seven hours in order to contend for the highest honor.

America’s roseaholics own more pruners, snippers, short sharp knives, and long leather gloves than most people. And, just like Clarence, they squish Japanese beetles between their fingers for the sheer pleasure of killing the enemy.

It was the last line that really got me. I found myself laughing and saying “Well… Yeah! Of course!” I definitely need to add this book to my library.

I found the book fascinating. I need to add two gardens to my list of “I need to visit…”. One is the Heritage Rose Garden in San Jose, CA. It is associated with the Heritage Rose Foundation (I think). The other is a lot closer and I WILL visit it soon, and maybe even see if I can meet the person mentioned in the book (Ruth Knopf). The garden is the Noisette Study Garden in Charleston, SC (about a 5 hour drive) in Hampton Park. It has been YEARS since I have been to that park but I did live in Charleston for several years in the mid 80s so I am quite familiar with where it is. I do seem to recall that there was a rose garden there but I never paid attention to it.

Anyway, having read the book, I find that I am not so driven as some of the folk in it, and I do know some of the folk. I see them at the Winter regional meeting and one has come and given a talk at my local rose society meeting. I am not driven to exhibit, which seems to be the focus of a lot of the book (what a surprise, given the subtitle…) but I do see a lot of the traits described in the book, in myself, though in lesser intensity (in most cases). So, if you want to get an inkling of my passion, read the book!

The Garden

Ok, I really haven’t done much with the garden in the past couple of weeks. The beetles are pretty much gone and I did pick a bunch to take to Lara in mid-July, but it needs to be weeded and sprayed and dead-headed. Maybe I can get some of that done before heading for Pennsic…. However, mowing the yard is higher on the list since it will be a true JUNGLE if I don’t do it before leaving. I am taking several bushes to the war, including some new minis I ordered from Bridges because they have orange (or near orange) blooms (Lara’s favorite color). Oh, yesterday I noticed that Dainty Bess had a nice bloom! Of course, we are in the true heat of summer so there are not as many blossoms right now. All the single-blooming bushes are done (so I guess I need to do the pruning of those….) and a lot of the others are resting between flushes. Right now, the most prolific bloomers in the garden are the noisettes. I should also feed things. We will see if I can get that done before I leave (but I suspect I have too many things on my list already… oh well).


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