By JOYCE COMINGORE
Special to The Breeze
Yes we can! Yes, we can grow a rose garden in Cape Coral. Last Saturday at the Herb Conference, the Year of the Rose, we heard about the challenges of growing roses in Southwest Florida, and saw slides that explained how to and where to grow roses, here. It gave us hope and assurances that a rose garden is possible, when we've all heard the myth that roses don't do well in Southwest Florida.
We listened to the history of roses; according to fossil evidence, they are 35 million years old. Their beauty, fragrance and medicinal benefits have given us pleasures for many years. During the 15th century, the rose was the symbol for the warring sides in the fight to control England, the white rose symbolized the York faction and the red rose symbolized the Lancaster faction. This series of civil wars became known as the "War of the Roses."
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, botanists explored the world to find new varieties for breeding with this popularly rising flower. Cultivated roses were introduced into Europe in the late 18th century from China. Most modern day roses can be traced back to this ancestry. Officially, the era of modern day roses began in 1867 with the introduction of the first hybrid tea rose. Breeding and hybridizing roses from the ancient roses started then. Tea roses need to be grafted in Southwest Florida, onto Fortuniana rootstock.
With the desire to have easier roses to maintain, people started searching for the old-time garden roses found at abandoned homesteads and cemeteries where plants have endured despite neglect. These are the basis for Old Garden Roses, on their own rootstock. Many rose gardeners grew these roses; then, Texas A&M University with the Houston Rose Society researched easier care roses in southern gardens. Even though roses do best in a slightly acid ph, for 5 years they studied roses in extreme conditions-high alkaline, 8 to 8.4 ph, never fertilized or sprayed with fungicides or insecticides, no water after the first year, no pruning except for dead wood. Only 19 survived the tests and became known as Earth-kind roses, not a new breed of roses, but old-timers that survived.
The University of Florida was inspired by Texas A&M, to develop low maintenance shrub roses that were pest and disease resistant for all three zones of Florida. Starting with 6 Earth-kind roses and 6 OGRs, they presented their 3-year findings at April 2011 master gardening trainings. The best performers in flowering and plant quality are- Knock Out (a variety), Spice and Home Run (not an Earth-kind rose).
Independently, rose breeder Bill Radler started the family of the Knock-Out roses. These are the hottest plants to hit the flower market, because they bloom profusely and have low maintenance, are drought tolerant, self cleaning, cold tolerant and most importantly, black spot and powdery mildew resistant. The drawback is their lack of fragrance and they don't last long as cut flowers. They grow to about 3 to 5 feet tall and wide and even though they are cold tolerant to zone 5, they have good heat and humidity tolerance through zone 9.
Planting and care of roses is at least 4 hours of sun, early morning best and afternoon shade, water in the morning to keep moisture off the leaves, water mature plants as needed during dry spells, twice a week for new plants and once a week in the winter. Drip irrigation is best. ARS recommends 1/2 cup of slow release fertilizer every 2 weeks for teas and young plants monthly, with mature plants, in February, May and October . none December through February. Mulch 3 to 4 inches deep and pull weeds or use Round-Up. Companion plantings of garlic, ground covers, herbs and alyssum help keep insects at bay. Never plant roses in tree root areas (they compete for food and water) and not around citrus (bugs).
Cape Coral is blessed to have its city-owned Rose Garden on Cultural Boulevard in front of the Historical Museum. In the early days of Cape Coral's development, the Rosen brothers developed our city's first tourist attraction, the Rose Garden, in 1964 with Waltzing Waters, in what is now south Cape Coral. At one time, they had over 40,000 rose bushes. This was the first thing the prospective buyers saw and a movie was filmed there.
Cliff Herdman, our rose master, developed that small patch of 60 plants in 12 beds surrounded by a white picket fence, to commemorate our history. He worked alone for many years, then, as he aged, he asked the Garden Club of Cape Coral to help. Eventually, member Barbara Salafia, who worked in it for 7 years, took over managing it about 4 or 5 years ago, with the help of Linda Keirstead and four volunteers; they deadhead, water and pull weeds. They devote 2 hours a day, 2 days a week. She has a schedule that depends on consistency. They spray for black spot every 10 days and fertilize once a month. Thankfully, the city is installing a drip system in the next couple of weeks. No more over head watering that brings black spot.
A memorial bench was donated to honor Cliff, who has died, and his favorite rose, the climbing Don Juan, is on the trellis and fence behind it. Just smell it! When Barbara needs a calming place to reflect, she brings her coffee and sits on the bench to relax and enjoy the beauty there.
They give tours and welcome any and all who would like to come, reflect and enjoy the beauty. Just tour the gardens independently, if you want to enjoy the beauty and not do the work.
Take time to smell the roses, and thank a tree for our oxygen and depleting the carbon dioxide.
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, FM/LC Garden Council board member, District IX tree chairman and a member of Garden Club of Cape Coral.