Three thousand years ago their perfume drenched Nebuchadnezzar’s hanging gardens of Babylon, in what is now Iraq, and their petrified wreaths have been unearthed in ancient Egyptian tombs, so roses are certainly hardy enough to survive a Sonoran Desert summer.
But they need a little help to thrive: A rigorous winter pruning helps ensure healthy spring growth and a bounty of blooms. January is the ideal time for pruning roses; it’s the closest our climate comes to experiencing the dormant period that lasts for months elsewhere in the nation.
And if your rose garden is larger than a football field, you could use some extra pairs of hands, which is why members of the Mesa-East Valley Rose Society will demonstrate pruning techniques 8 a.m. today at the public rose garden on the north side of Mesa Community College.
"We show them how to prune so they can practice on ours, then do theirs at home correctly," said LeRoy Brady, chief landscape architect for the Arizona Department of Transportation and the man who designed the Mesa garden in 1996. The largest public rose garden in the desert Southwest (MCC estimates there are 500 varieties on 5,000 bushes) also contains an All-America Rose Selections test garden. New varieties are graded for two years to determine if they’ll be sold worldwide.
The newest section of the garden, dedicated in November 2003 and only partially completed, honors U.S. veterans: Five circles represent the branches of military service, and the names of each variety planted are associated with military and patriotism, like Memorial Day and Purple Heart.
While the city provides the water and some custodial assistance, it’s up to volunteers to maintain the plants — everything from fertilizing and spraying to "deadheading" and pruning. Volunteers are often rose society members; churches, schools and service groups sometimes offer up once-amonth assistance as community service work.
"We’ve also had six or seven Eagle Scout merit badges earned from work at the gardens," Brady said.
Marylou Coffman of Gilbert tends to roses at both MCC and Scottsdale’s public rose garden, which was created in 1992 when the city demolished buildings at Fifth Avenue and Goldwater Boulevard. Miniature roses at the block-long garden’s entrance ensure signs aren’t obscured, but there are about 600 plants total, with five or six of each variety.
Volunteers are mostly members of the Scottsdale Rose Society, which will give its own pruning demonstration 1p.m. today before unleashing volunteers on the bushes. While the word "society" hints at a membership that’s unduly proud of being "certified rosarians" or "master gardeners," Casey Ricci of Scottsdale said that’s not the case.
"It sounds so ‘society’ — you think, ‘Oh, my God, do I have to have the gloves and the hat and the whole nine yards?’ " said Ricci, who contacted the group after she had moved from Buffalo, N.Y., into a house with roses in poor shape.
"I didn’t know anybody — no neighbors, anybody — and I thought, ‘What the heck?’ But I felt comfortable right away — and if anyone needed a rose society, I did. I knew nothing."
Think she’s joking? Ricci admitted that before she joined the society, she once received a bare-root rose bush as a gift for her birthday in May, but since the package said it was best to plant roses in December she closed the box back up and kept it under the sink for six months, where it eventually withered and died.
Now she’s the society’s membership chairwoman, even though she’s not allowed to plant roses at her new house, a DC Ranch-area condominium, because neighborhood bylaws permit only desert plants. (She makes do with a few miniature roses in pots.)
Lynn Milner of Gilbert doesn’t grow roses at her Gilbert home, either — she said it’s partly because she’s been spoiled by working in the huge gardens at MCC.
"I don’t have the room at home for a nice garden," she said. "But I like working with living things and I like being active. After a couple of hours out here, I go home and just feel good. It’s cathartic."
Public pruning demonstrations
Members of the Scottsdale and Mesa-East Valley rose societies will demonstrate how to prune roses (and hope some volunteers stick around to help whittle down the bushes) Saturday at their respective public gardens:
• 8 a.m. at the rose garden at Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Ave. (480) 857-3090.
• 1 p.m. at the Scottsdale public rose garden, Fifth Avenue and Goldwater Boulevard. (602) 206-9885.
Volunteers who plan to help prune bushes should wear long sleeves and pants, and bring gloves and clippers if they own them. And even though rose society members will make sure you know what you’re doing before they let you strike out on your own, don’t worry too much about wreaking havoc on the garden.
"Roses are pretty hardy and can survive people," said Scottsdale Rose Society member Janey Schoneberger.
A rose is a rose is a rose . . . unless it’s Rosie O’Donnell
Nowadays, it’s not enough to be a mere celebrity: You’re nobody until you’re a rose. Lynn Anderson, who sang "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," has a rose named after her. So does Rosie O’Donnell. Some other categories of people so honored:
Actors: Bob Hope, Cary Grant, George Burns
Actresses: Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe
At the movies: Barbarella, Ben-Hur, National Velvet, Singin’ in the Rain
Authors: Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Sappho
Country singers: Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee, Reba McEntire
First ladies: Barbara Bush, Lady Bird Johnson, Nancy Reagan, Pat Nixon
Flower name or porn star name?
Amber Sands, Big Daddy, Emmanuelle, Natasha Monet, Sierra Lynn
Go, diva: Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Edith Piaf, Maria Callas
How did they earn a rose? Billy Graham, Charles Kuralt, Eva Gabor, Jane Pauley, Nana Mouskouri
Literary characters: Jane Eyre, Charlie Brown, James Bond 007
Pure product placement: Air France, Chrysler Imperial, Ladies Home Journal, Weight Watchers Success
Songs: Blueberry Hill, Candle in the Wind, Delta Dawn, Love Me Tender
U.S. presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Abraham Lincoln
Who approved these names?
Arthritis Rose, Buddhist Clothing Fragrance, Gay Crusader, Wiener Charme