My Struggle with Rose Addiction

 John Shelly

My name is John S. and this is my tale of woe. I am a recovering rose addict. Yes, a roseaholic. Very sad. Today, when people ask me about buying and caring for roses, I usually tell them to go to a 5 & 10 cent store and buy any rose, preferably the cheapest one, or just pick one with a pretty picture on it, for about 3 dollars. Chances are it will have a couple of heavily waxed canes, surrounded by a cardboard box. I tell them to buy this rose, take it home, dig a shallow hole in any type of soil, plant it anywhere in the yard, even under a tree, give it a little food if they want, water and forget about it. If it lives, it lives. If it dies, it dies. That's the attitude! It may or may not bloom in the late spring. It will most likely be attacked by every insect within miles. Cane borers, aphids, thrips, and then spider mites when the weather gets hot. Finally, all the Japanese beetles that live in your state will find your best rose blooms. They will eat pretty little round holes through the center of the buds. At this point in your rose garden, you may bring the local Junior High kids over for an insect identification lesson. After the insects have had their spring feast, the top leaves of your rose bushes will turn a dull white powdery color, and the leaves on the bottom of the bushes will turn a pretty shade of green and yellow with beautiful little black spots. Some of the leaves may also have gorgeous purple spots, too. At this point, the bush is at its most spectacular. The beautiful colors are enhanced by the lovely, dry, brown leaves. There probably won't be any blooms to speak of, but who cares with the kaleidoscope of leaf colors! These beautiful colored leaves, however, will not last long and will soon fall to the ground. Don't feel sad when the leaves fall off because there is still more color to come. The green canes will turn pretty shades of brown, black and purple. By late fall or soon after your rose bushes will be dead. At this time, you can replace the rose identification markers with little rest in peace signs (RIP). This is my best advice for buying and growing roses. Many people do this, the lucky ones, and then go on with their normal lives. The best part, is next spring you can go buy more roses and start over again!

Now, if you don't do it that way, you may take the other path in the road. First, join a local rose society. Research the best roses for the particular area where you live. Do a little reading on some articles or books about the proper planting and caring needed to grow good, healthy, roses. Yes, that's right you buy the horse before the saddle. Go buy good, healthy, grade one roses from a respectable nursery or dealer. Plant them with the proper soil and amendments. Feed and water them regularly. Spray with the proper fungicides and insecticides on a weekly basis, or when necessary. If you do this the right way, I feel very sorry for you. Chances are that your roses will be healthy, grow vigorously and believe it or not, will produce the most beautiful flowers on the face of the earth, the Rose! Once that happens, the hook is set! Odds are that within a few years you will be sitting next to me at a Roses Anonymous meeting trying to figure out why every open space in, around, under, and over your house, is filled with rose bushes.

This is the beginning of the signpost to rose addiction. Once you figure out that you can grow a few healthy roses and successfully winter them over in your area, you may find yourself thinking, "Well, I grew a half a dozen, why not more?" That is how I started. Our house sits on a 50x100 foot lot. I now have 350 roses growing around my house. We no longer live in a house with a rose garden outside, we now live in a rose garden with a house attached . The shed in the backyard looks like the inside of a commercial rose nursery supply house. Oh don't mind that smell. It's just my 55-gallon drum of fresh sea herring (fish) decomposing with a good supply of alfalfa on top. Great aroma! The neighbors love it! You should see them run when I open my 55-gallon drum of sand crabs that have been rotting in the barrel since last fall! My second job other than taking care of roses is a lobster fisherman in Rhode Island. Easy access to good, cheap fertilizer.

Even if you have successfully grown a few good roses, it may not be too late to back out and save yourself from a life of growing roses. Whatever you do, don't join the American Rose Society, probably the very worst roseaholics around, or a local rose society. Once you do this, you may be sucked into going to monthly meetings where you will probably meet some very nice people who share their experience, strength, and hope in growing roses and life itself! They do all kinds of crazy stuff. Pot Luck dinners, garden parties, charter trips to some of the USA's most beautiful gardens, etc. A few people in these rose societies also know a little bit about growing roses. Oh, did I mention they also put on rose shows. Is this the dagger I see before me? Yes, it is! Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances, go to or participate in a rose show. If you do, this will be your downfall. Or if by chance you should go to a rose show and win a couple of ribbons, there will be no turning back.

The Rose Show is the final straw! You go there and see 400-1000 beautiful roses of all different varieties and colors exhibited in their peak of ultimate elegance. This is the place (at the rose show) where you start your G.H.L. list. That's right. G.H.L. list! It is the Gotta Have List. It won't be long before you have 100 roses on your G.H.L. list. The only list worst than the G.H.L. list is the G.H.B.N.O.T.M.Y.L. list! I won't talk too much about this list but I will explain what it stands for. It stands for Gotta Have But Not On The Market Yet List. Don't even ask! They are roses with numbers, not with names.

Enough about the warning. The fact is that if you are reading this article, you probably already have a problem. But it is a disease of denial (not the river Nile in Egypt). The saddest part of the disease (being a rose aholic) is that it's a family disease. It affects everyone! My 13-year-old daughter can be seen hybridizing roses in the back yard after the spring bloom. Her Perfect Moments look like they have paper bags growing on them. Pretty sad huh! My poor wife asked for a new set of Felco pruners for Christmas! Poor thing! She's been asking for them ever since she crawled into her English rose garden and wasn't seen for three days. We finally found her with the help of bloodhounds from the local police station. On the plus side, my daughter has been getting better grades in school since she started bringing her teachers bouquets of fresh roses. She said she is studying harder, but I never see her doing any homework, only cutting more roses to bring to her teachers.

As I said before, I am a roseaholic and I was at the weekly Roses Anonymous meeting here in R.I. where I am a member of the Rhode Island society (my home group). I'm also a member of the New England rose society and of course the American Rose Society (the big boss). The ARS told me that if I didn't join their group, I couldn't vote in the next U.S. presidential election. I'm not sure if it's true but I joined anyway. I was chosen to share my experience, strength, and hope at the meeting. I stood up at the podium and started to speak. First I started by saying "My name is John S. and I am a recovering roseaholic, and it has been 30 days since I bought my last rose." As I gazed down from the podium and looked around the room, I noticed a lot of familiar faces, and some new ones too. The public image, or stereotype of the roseaholic, is usually that of an elderly woman of the high society type, dressed in fine clothes and high heels, sipping tea from a fine china cup with a somewhat snobbish attitude. The public image couldn't be further from the truth. The fact is today's roseaholics are both men and women, of all ages, that come from all walks of life, rich or poor stricken by the same disease, their love of roses. Our numbers are increasing but we try to blend into normal society. Sometimes we do things like planting a few annuals such as marigolds and petunias to hide our disease from the neighbors. But if you look carefully out on the floor, you probably can pick out a few obvious roseaholics. First there was Mike C. talking to his pretty wife Angie C. explaining that it was a mere coincidence that there was a rose show or rose convention in every town where they took their last 10 vacations. Yeah, right Mike. Next to him was my sponsor, Joe K., an ARS judge with 20 years of rose addiction. He was walking around, a bunch of rubber bands hanging from his back pocket, asking if anybody had any extra multiflora root stock. He said he would take Dr. Huey if they didn't have multiflora root stock for him. Sitting in the back of the room at a table was a man who they said was a national figure. His name was John M. and he was sitting at a table with a woman who I believe was his wife, I'm not sure. He had gathered all the red napkins in the room, and was meticulously forming the red napkins into roses. He would form and groom the napkin folds, using his two fingers and thumbs, carefully examining each rose napkin and then when he was satisfied, he would give it to his wife who would place it on the table and guard it with her life. He kept mumbling something about Dublin. Maybe that is where he is from. In the other corner of the room was Manny M. with his wife Betty who was trying to pull a cell phone away from him. I think he said he was talking to some gal named Super Dorothy. You could always pick Manny M. out in a crowd. He always wears his felco pruners strapped to his side, wherever he goes. Rumor has it that he sleeps with them on. Somebody else told me that his Felco pruners were surgically implanted into his side. I don't believe that it is true but, I don't know, maybe. You just never know. I don't believe anybody in the room was dealing with a full deck of cards, including myself.

Sitting down in the front of the room, the recommended place to sit for the real sick and suffering roseaholics, was a charming lady named Patsy C. She was typing and fiddling with a laptop computer. Apparently building rose web sites and recording all the information down for the meeting. Next to Patsy, sat Nancy E. who was explaining to her husband Foster that the new 50x50 patch of ground that she had him rotatill was all for a vegetable garden. Sure, Nancy! Someone told me they saw Nancy, who is an avid animal lover, sitting outside at about ten at night dressed in a camoflouge suit. She had a 44 magnum rifle in her hands after the local deer population visited her Kordes Perfecta and Gemini rose bushes and did a nice flat top hair cut on them. Probably just gossip but, why was she wearing an NRA (National Rifle Association) patch on her shirt? Tony S. (a lawyer) and his wife Elsie, were there trying to explain to Nancy that machine guns and hand grenades were illegal, even if he could find these weapons of war. Tony said there was much simpler way to deal with marauding deer. He suggested that she do what he had done. He said his method was very successful. He constructed a 2 mile, 10 ft. high fence electrified with 50,000 volts, and then imported 30 Siberian timber wolves which he placed in the enclosure. He said he hadn't had a problem since, but he really had to keep his eyes open when caring for his garden. Tony wanted to know if anyone had seen his cat, Fluffy, who wandered into the rose garden several days before.

There were some people from out of town, too. The fellowship is open to all. There was Phil and Kathy E. from Oregon. They were with Richard B. also from Oregon. Richard B.'s addiction was totally out of hand. He not only worked for Phil and Kathy at their rose nursery, but also grew 700-800

roses of his own. To boot, he spends most of his spare time photographing roses. A real sick guy. Good luck Richard! Then, there was this guy from Shreveport, Louisiana, walking around in a kilt (skirt) mumbling something about winning the election. I told him that Bush won and he gave me a very strange look. I heard there were a lot of roseaholics in Shreveport because of the longer growing season.

There were a couple of guys in the front row. Nobody was sure of their first names. I think one was a man named Jackson and the other guy was Perkins. One man had a mason jar full of Japanese beetles. He would pluck one out and smile, then hand it to the guy next to him whose name, I think, was Igor. He seemed to have a hump on his back and walked with a limp. The two of them, laughing hideously, would place each Japanese beetle in a miniature torture rack. Strange fellows! I asked them to control themselves. Last time I looked at them, they were plucking the wings off the beetles and smiling. I wondered if they were at the right meeting, or if I should call someone to wrap them up in a white suit and take them to the cracker jack factory. I thought about asking a man sitting in the front row, supposedly a doctor, to check on them. His name was Dr. Tommy C. He was wearing a sweatshirt that said magnum grow on it. I refrained from asking him to check on the other two good fellows when he and another man by the name of Ralph M. broke out in a duet singing the song, "It's a Small, Small World". Their problem seemed miniature in comparison to the rest of the crowd. Well, enough about the people at the meeting. This is my story.

If I had to pinpoint the beginning of my addiction it would have to be on a foggy spring morning in New England a few years ago. My wife and I had just bought a house and she casually mentioned how she loved roses. She thought it would be nice to plant a few roses around the house. Thinking I would surprise her, I ordered a dozen roses from a mail order catalog. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. If I were to describe my gardening skills previous to this point, I would say they were non-existent. I couldn't even grow weeds if I wanted to. Everything I tried to grow, died. I had always loved flowers and other plants but never had much success growing them. The roses finally arrived in April. I was shocked to find a bunch of thorny sticks with no soil around the roots. My wife was a pretty good gardener. Thank God! She explained to me that I had to dig enormous holes and put the proper soil amendments in them.

I began reading every book or article I could find about growing roses. Soon, I became overwhelmed. The more I read, the less I knew. I was mystified by it all; grafted roses, own root roses, hybrid tea roses, rootstock, floribunda roses, blackspot, aphids, spider mites! These words were all foreign to me. What had I gotten myself into? I would never be able to grow these damn things. Needless to say the rose bushes I got were planted before I did any research or reading on growing them. I thought you just stuck them in a hole and they grew. I would pay dearly for this lack of knowledge. I probably did everything wrong. As a result, most of the bushes either died or became severely diseased. Some of the roses I loved to death by overfeeding. Surely, if I fed them every day, they would grow twice as fast. By June I had given up on the whole lot of them. There was just no way I would ever learn how to grow roses.

As I said before, I couldn't grow a weed. How was I going to grow a rose? Then one morning I got up to bring out the garbage. Little did I know that June morning was about to change my life forever. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It still brings a fond memory to my mind. I live along the Rhode Island coast. It was one of those quiet June mornings with the early morning fog still lingering in the air. The temperature was warm and the morning dew on the lawn shined like crystal glass. It was a beautiful June morning. The world outside my door was a picture of quiet peace and serenity. As I walked out across the yard, something strange caught my eye. Something was out of place. Something was not right. Over by the corner of the house was a red and white glow. Somehow through it all, somehow against all odds, a rose had survived my onslaught and was in full bloom. I couldn't believe it! There in front of me stood a beautiful rose, a Double Delight. I could not believe my eyes! I remember just standing there in the early morning peace and tranquillity looking at and examining this gorgeous rose. Double Delight, to this day, still remains my favorite rose. I think it will always be my favorite. I grow about 350 roses and if I could only grow one rose, this is the one I would grow. Just an all around, great rose. I was late for work that day because I couldn't take my eyes off this beautiful flower. That was many years ago, but that same warm feeling still overwhelms me every spring, particularly on the first bloom. I can only compare that warm feeling as being similar to looking upon a new born baby.

The rose has magical powers. Magical powers that can not be explained. I can prove this. If you don't believe me, try a little experiment. Give a rose to somebody who may be down on his luck, sick in the hospital, having a bad day, or just sitting around with the weight of the world on his shoulders. A magical thing will happen. I guarantee it every time. The person will immediately smile, smell the rose, and for that moment, their troubles will leave and be replaced by a feeling of peace and serenity. This is the magic possessed by the rose. Nobody knows why; it just happens. I have a theory about this. Modern science has proved that the key to good physical and mental health is for the body to release chemicals called endorphins. When endorphins are released, they lower physical and mental stress levels. This is a real plus for our mental and physical well being. There are a few ways that the body can release endorphins into its system. One is by physical exercise. Another is by having sex. A third way is by laughing and smiling. Therefore my suggestion for a good fitness program goes like this. You should run around the block, smelling roses, while you are telling yourself a joke and having sex at the same time. Let me know how this works out for you. I haven't quite figured out how to do the last part while jogging. If you are laughing now, you are probably releasing these endorphins. Don't you feel better?

What better flower than a rose to have magical powers? The whole plant is very intriguing to me. Most rose seeds, gathered and planted from the same parent plant, will not produce the same flower. Don’t you think that is a little strange? Rose bushes also love to be pruned. They just love it, and it seems like people love to prune them. Roses have been around since the dinosaurs. They must have had some great fertilizer back then. One dino dump must have been good for at least a hundred years. Oh, a hundred years? Yeah. That's right. Some roses live that long or even longer. A good rose bush will out live us all. Just think, some of the rose bushes you plant now may still be enjoyed by your great, great grandchildren. Did you know that a rose went up in a space shuttle a few years ago? This is true. I believe it was a mini rose. I think they were testing for fragrance in space. Wouldn't it be funny if they found a rose fossil on mars? You never know! The rose is the national flower of the United States and the floral symbol of the United Nations. The famous rose Peace was placed in front of each delegate at the signing of the Peace Treaty in World War II. The rose is a symbol of love and peace and has been a focus in many historic events. Some of our greatest poets have immortalized the rose in their works. Shakespeare once said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." One of our famous early poets once said that the wonder of the rose is that it gives its beauty and fragrance to all that pass by. It does not distinguish between white or black, rich or poor, and knows no politics. It is simply there, for all to enjoy.

The rose is a true mystery. I am sitting here in February looking out my window at a bunch of ugly, thorny, sticks pertruding out of the snow. It totally amazes me that this drab and dull picture will, in a few months, transform into a beautiful rose garden. When I first started growing roses, I wondered if my love and enthusiasm would dwindle within a few years. It has happened to many of us. New hobbies fall to the wayside after a few years. It's just the way it is. It's sort of like a "been there, done that thing". Being curious about whether my enthusiasm would diminish, I asked a friend of mine who had been growing roses for 20 years if he still had the same spark that he had when he first began. His answer was that he still loved them just as much as he had from the first day. With all the new roses coming out every year there is still a great enthusiasm for both the new ones and old ones. The variety is endless. My garden is ever changing and I wait with great anticipation every spring for the first beautiful blooms to appear.

The peace, serenity and pleasure of your own rose garden can not be measured. Growing roses is a lot of fun and work, but it is a labor of love. The rewards are numerous. When I am having a bad day in this crazy world that we live in, or my game plan for the day is not working out, I simply retreat to my rose garden. I pour myself a cup of coffee, go outside, sit in the middle of my rose garden and gather my thoughts. If there is something in my life that is troubling me, it is there in my rose garden that I find the answers to my problem. The answer is as close as that special rose in your back yard. You know that favorite one that never lets you down, year after year. The one that is always there for you. It never leaves you, or judges you. It accepts you for who and what you are, and gives its fragrance and beauty to you without question. In that rose you will find all your answers.

I hope you got a few laughs out of this article. I guess you could say it was one of my main objectives. We all need a good laugh once in a while. Although life is serious, it should never be taken too seriously. You should enjoy your life just like the roses, a day at a time. Don't dwell on the past, or spend too much time worrying about tomorrow. Enjoy the now, just like the roses do in the spring and the summer. Nobody has a lock on tomorrow. Needless to say the characters in my article, other than myself, are fictitious. If you were offended by anything in this article, you probably read it wrong. You are entitled to your wrong opinion, just like me. But there is another objective to my article. I love growing roses and love to see and help other people do so. I want to see not only the American Rose Society but also the local rose societies flourish and increase their membership. Membership is the key to the future of any rose society. It is important that we attract new members and keep our old members. I believe the only way to do this is by making the rose society a thing of attraction rather than promotion. The way to do this is simple. A rose society should be informative and helpful but also fun. It is a responsibility of the people in the rose society to make new members feel comfortable. It is also the responsibility of the members to make the meetings pleasurable and fun. I believe a lot of potential new members think of rose societies as a bunch of stiff lipped, high society, showboaters. When a new member comes in you should greet him and introduce him to the other members. Start up a conversation with him or her and make them feel at home. Ask them about their rose experiences and offer to give some help on rose growing, rose selection, or whatever. Pamper the new member a little. When giving information, don't give complicated explanations. Keep it simple and basic. Chances are he probably won't understand any of the vocabulary you're using. Rose meetings should be informative and pleasurable. It should be informative about roses because, after all, that is why we come, isn't it? I'm sorry to say I've been at a few meetings where the politics of the society were of more concern than the main purpose. It is important for the American Rose Society as well as the local societies to increase their memberships. Remember it is up to us. We all swim in the same pond. It is our responsibility not to pollute that pond. When we put showboating, politics, personal gain or triumph above our goal, we pollute the water we all swim in. It is imperative that we all have a sense of camaraderie. A quote from the Consulting Rosarian manual says, "That you are a representative and obligated to further its goal to educate the public about roses in order to foster and promote the growing and love of roses." I hope to some extent that I have done this with this article.

Actively participating in rose societies, rose shows and other rose events is both pleasurable and informative. However, one of the greatest pleasures of doing all these things is to be able to go out into your own back yard amidst a beautiful rose garden and enjoy the peace and serenity of what is there. Above all else, in the final synopsis, growing roses is food for the inner soul.

I would like to thank my wife, Lorraine, and my daughter, Crystal, without whose help, this article would not have been possible.

©2001 John Shelly. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.


©Copyright 2009, all rights reserved. Patham