The Chinese were thought to have first cultivated rose gardens over 5000 years ago, and for centuries since, the beauty and fragrance of the “Queen of flowers” has been admired the world over.
Roses are striking additions to gardens, but not all types of plants will do well in our tropical climate, said Ken Mayberger, co-owner of Roseglen Gardens. Mayberger, who’s lived in southwest Florida for 30 years, grows approximately 200 varieties at his nursery in Naples.
Early roses were first imported from the semi-tropical region of China and were accustomed to year around mild weather, he said. In order for those varieties to survive planting in colder northern climates, hybridizers bred out the warm weather traits. Eventually relatives of those plants were imported to tropical climates like Florida. “So we had to start all over,” said Mayberger, and in some ways our Florida varieties are closer to the original Chinese imports.
Amidst the countless number of blooms on his ten acre property, he said each rose has its own unique scent and the fragrance is strongest in the early morning hours.
“The sun boils off the molecules that give you the scent of the rose, but it revives during the night.”
A quarter of all roses have no scent, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t beautiful. From deep crimson to a pure milky white, each color holds a special meaning. A single red rose means “I love you.” White is for innocence and purity, while yellow signifies friendship and joy. Pink roses denote gratitude or appreciation. Every color of the rainbow is represented with two exceptions — blue and black. The closest hybridizers have come to developing a blue pigment is lavender. True black rose bushes haven’t been successfully bred, but some varieties produce a very deep, dark maroon flower that appears almost black.
To distinguish each of the varieties, roses must have names. But before a hybridizer can name a rose, he or she must breed one successfully. Mary Maud Sharpe, a Master Rosarian in Tallahassee, said breeding a rose is a lengthy process and only one in 10,000 qualifies as an outstanding new variety. Depending on what characteristics the breeder is hoping to produce — color, size or hardiness — the roses are cross-pollinated. Once the hips (seed pods) of the fertilized bloom mature the seeds are planted, and the waiting begins.
“It’s a little like having children,” said Sharpe. “There are no guarantees as to what you’ll get.”
All this experimenting takes time — sometimes up to seven years to develop and grow an outstanding new rose — but if successful, the breeder will have the opportunity to name and register his creation with the American Rose Society.
The significance of some names, like Butterscotch, Plum Crazy or Alpine Sunset is easily distinguishable, but names such as Racy Lady, High Five and Smoky Joe are mysteries only understood by the hybridizer.
Some name new roses after themselves, their loved ones or famous people. If the rose is named after a living person, then he or she must give written permission. Dolly Parton, Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Bush all have varieties named after them. Oprah Winfrey will soon unveil a new red variety with large black-tipped ruffled petals, named The Legends as a tribute to 18 African American women.
Mary Maud Sharpe is partial to a fragrant medium-pink miniature rose and not for its beauty alone. A friend, Diann Giles, hybridized and named the rose Mary Maud in her honor.
Rose legends and myths abound. Rose water was claimed to cure drunkenness and insomnia. Napoleon advised his officers to boil rose petals in white wine to cure lead poisoning caused by bullet wounds. The rose hip is touted to be high in vitamin C. For those seeking aromatherapy, the fragrance of the rose could reduce stress levels.
Ancient Romans and Egyptians revered the rose; Cleopatra was said to have welcomed Mark Anthony while knee-deep in rose petals. French Empress Josephine designed an extensive rose garden with over 250 varieties, and many modern varieties are descendants of her plants.
Regardless of whether one believes in the mystical or medicinal qualities, most will agree that the gift of a rose speaks the language of love.
Jerry Koutroulis, general manager of Gene’s Fifth Ave. Florist can attest to that. “Valentine’s Day is the biggest rose holiday,” he said. For that one day alone, his Marco Town Center store sells over 3000 red roses and an additional 1000 stems in assorted colors.
“Red is love,” he said. “The red rose has always been the favorite, but yellow is growing very fast.”
Customers do often order their roses according to color and meaning, he said. He remembers a time when a person sent a yellow rose to someone they were breaking up with, but now people send a yellow bouquet as vow of friendship.
The finest quality cut roses are flown in from Ecuador, said Koutroulis.
“They’re cut one day, put on a plane and we receive them the next.”
During transit, the stems are kept in very low temperature and humidity — a form of hibernation — he said.
Once in the store, the roses need to be hydrated in a bucket of water, said Omar Juarez, floral designer. When the flowers arrive, Juarez works quickly, stripping the lower leaves and thorns from the stems, then gently removing the guard petals from the outer edge of the bloom.
“The most popular colors are red, yellow, white in that order,” he said, as he arranged long-stemmed red roses in a vase. He doesn’t believe the rose will ever fade from popularity. “Because roses are beautiful,” he said with a smile.
Sharpe agrees that popularity of the rose is here to stay. “Roses put a smile on most people’s faces,” she said. “You can see other flowers and like them, but a rose really makes a person smile.”