Everything's Coming Up Roses

04 May 2024

Wilmington Cape Fear Rose Society on growing roses in our region 

By Vera Wilson

Is there any flower more captivating than a rose? Its grace and beauty, along with its intoxicating fragrance, make it America's favorite flower by far. Ralph Waldo Emerson described the rose as “perfect in every moment of its existence.”

If they just weren't so darn hard to grow here in Wilmington!

Well, Denise Miller, along with the other members of the Wilmington Cape Fear Rose Society (WCFRS), wants to debunk that myth and let local gardeners know that yes, you can successfully grow roses in your Southeastern North Carolina garden.

Miller, president of the WCFRS, says, “Our number one thing is education. We are here to teach people how to grow roses. A lot of people say you can't grow roses in the South because of the humidity, but you can grow beautiful roses here. However, there are tricks to the trade.”

Those tricks and other tips are often the topic of discussion at their monthly meetings, held on Saturdays. They talk about which roses to buy and how to plant them, as well as fertilize, spray, and trim them. 

“Rose gardening is not difficult, but it has to be deliberate,” explains Miller. “You have to do things within certain timeframes, or you get yourself in trouble.” 

Guest speakers advise the group on various aspects of rose culture and maintenance. They may be experts in the field of cultivating roses, known as rosarians, or knowledgeable members of the society, or both. For example, one member routinely educates the group on growing roses from cuttings. 

But these presentations often go beyond just caring for your roses. Miller and the group's Vice President, Mary Barwick, are both physical therapists, so they'll share tips about the proper ergonomics of gardening so you can take care of your body, too. 

A recent guest spoke about the process of registering your garden as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, and an upcoming guest, a florist, will show the group how to beautifully feature roses in
flower arrangements. 

If you're not convinced you can grow beautiful roses, the WCFRS's annual rose tour will certainly change your mind. Every May, you're invited to see firsthand how local gardeners have turned their yards into stunning showcases of roses. Typically, there are about eight gardens on the tour. What sets this tour apart from most garden tours is that it's free, and most of the host gardeners will be on hand to answer any questions you have. This year, the tour will be held on May 4th.

As a nonprofit organization, the society believes in giving back.

“Every year, we award a scholarship to someone in the Cape Fear Community College horticultural science program. We also donate to the Ability Garden at the New Hanover County Arboretum,” says Miller. 

To raise money to support their charitable endeavors, they hold an annual auction of gardening-related items. A rose-themed calendar is available for purchase, and this year, they've also started offering notecards. They accept sponsorships for the tour as well. 

The society's final reason for being is socialization. 

“Most gardeners are very social. I always tell people that the nicest people in the world are gardeners,” says Miller. 

Every year, they hold a picnic and a Christmas brunch. Their monthly meetings start at 10:00 am, but everyone shows up early to have coffee and mingle.

The WCFRS is 21 years old and is affiliated with the national organization, the American Rose Society, which was established in 1892. The local group has members ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s. 

Miller points out an interesting fact. “We have a lot of male members,” she says. “There's a lot of gardening men don't do, but they seem to like the challenge of growing roses.”   

All the members get a chance to show off their roses at the group's annual exhibition every October, which is open to the public. Prizes are awarded for different classes of roses like hybrid tea, shrub, and climber.

Another attraction of growing roses is their history. Archaeologists confirm that roses are one of the earliest flowers to bloom on Earth, with fossil evidence proving roses existed 35 million years ago. Cultivation in gardens likely began in China about 5,000 years ago. They also held special significance in ancient Greek mythology. 

When you buy a rose to plant, it comes with its own unique lineage, often detailed on the tag that comes with the rose. 

“When a rose is hybridized [also known as crossbreeding], it's named by the person that hybridized it and then it gets registered,” explains Miller. “An example I always use is the rose Mr. Lincoln which was hybridized in 1961. Each Mr. Lincoln rose you see descends from that first one.”

Miller's final piece of advice? “Get one or two roses. You might be surprised that it's something you really enjoy!”

For further information or to make a donation or purchase, visit wcfrs.org.

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