The rose is the ultimate flower, a symbol of love, beauty, friendship and fragrance. It’s also the national flower, just as the eagle is the national bird. Roses even have their own month: June.
But the rose also has a reputation as a needy diva that will only grow for the gifted gardener.
Over the past two decades, rose breeders have quashed that stigma. The’ve introduced roses that bloom nearly continuously, requiring little care other than watering during a dry spell and pruning in early spring. Now, even the novice gardener can grow roses.
The rose varieties making brown thumbs green are known as landscape roses. Perhaps the best known landscape roses — carpet roses, introduced in the early 1990s, and Knock Out roses, introduced in 2000 — have become as common as yews and arborvitae in new neighborhoods.
Landscape roses are typically one-dimensional. They have few petals, like a wild rose. But they produce a mass of blooms and are available in a range of colors.
If they have a problem, it’s that they look good from the street but they’re not the iconic American beauties with long stems and many layers of petals.
But long-stem roses are where beginning rose gardeners often start. That’s where Omahan Jerry Wegiel began a little over 10 years ago.
He started with four long-stemmed hybrid tea roses, ‘Mr. Lincoln,’ and when three of the four plants died after one winter, he started over.
“He’s brand new at this,” said Don Swanson, a master rose gardener and officer in the Omaha Rose Society. “But he’s one of our most enthusiastic members.”
“That’s totally correct. I’m a novice and I’m draggin’ along a couple of newbies,” Wegiel said of his children, Julia, 8, and Jeremy, almost 10.
Wegiel’s rose garden started as a gift to his wife after they bought their new house in 2001. Their home in the Cinnamon Creek subdivision near 180th and Q Streets had no landscaping. They planted one tree, as most bare-canvas homeowners do, but they were essentially looking at a sun-drenched landscape with no trees and no shade.
That’s perfect for roses. They require six to eight hours of sun a day.
Before getting started, Wegiel researched roses online. He wasn’t sure which he might like, but he wanted them to look like the long-stem beauties florists sell for Valentine’s Day — and they should be fragrant.
“I’ve got three or four Knock Outs for the back yard, but I really don’t like them,” Wegiel said, noting that he removed two of them recently. “A hybrid (tea rose) is more robust, more attractive. It has lush, green leaves and a long stem. It looks like a rose should.”
Ultimately, he bought the four ‘Mr. Lincoln’ roses and several Knock Out roses to fill the gaps as he extended the front-yard rose bed to the back yard.
Relying on advice from friends, family and books, Wegiel and other beginners said they learned the importance of preparing the rose plant’s bed, keeping up with watering, fertilizing and spraying for bugs and diseases, and removing dead blooms so that more will appear.
Wegiel also learned that mulch can lead to mold in a rainy season. Mold can take months to overcome and will suffocate roses. He also learned about Japanese beetles that can move in and quickly chew through leaves, buds and blooms. Now he knows to hand-pluck the pests and exterminate them in a bucket of soapy water.
While learning more about rose gardening, he met hard-core rose experts Mike and Anita Eckley of Bellevue. Mike Eckley is president of the Omaha Rose Society and the couple volunteer in various community rose gardens. They also have a garden that has been on past rose society tours.
Wegiel sees that kind of garden in his future. The count so far: 22 rose bushes, including three Knock Outs.
The 44-year-old business development manager for defense contractor Raytheon has already produced some winners. He and his children entered a recent rose show competition at Lauritzen Gardens and placed with 10 of 11 entries. And he’s determined to have a show-worthy rose garden by this time next year.
He said he sees rose-growing as a way for young families to be outdoors together.
As for the evolution of his rose garden, he said he has a trip planned to a rose distributor in St. Joseph, Mo. There, he’ll pick up a few hybrid tea roses that he’s had trouble finding here.
“It’s infectious. When they say you catch the bug, you really do.”
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