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Plant your roses, save water too

Horticulturalists at Descanso Gardens demonstrate sustainable rose gardening.

June 24, 2010|By Megan O’Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Tim Berger/Valley…)

As California's drought continues to drive up the price of water, property owners and landscape designers are increasingly populating yards with drought-tolerant plants.

But despite their expensive, water-sucking reputation, roses remain a great gardening option, according to Descanso Gardens officials.

"I think that roses are always going to be valuable," said rose horticulturalist Amanda Everett. "And there are lots of cultivars of roses that are very hardy under water stress."

Descanso Gardens celebrated National Rose Day on Wednesday with a lecture and guided tour of its rose garden, led by Everett. A second lecture is scheduled for July 31.

While roses may seem at odds with ever-intensifying water conservation requirements, Everett said, careful selection and planting techniques can significantly reduce water consumption. And their social and historic value remains stronger than ever.

"It is the queen of flowers," Everett said. "When you think of all the different fads that have come and gone in the horticulture industry, roses have been there since the 13th century. There are references to roses in the Bible."

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Among the varieties of roses that require minimal amounts of water are the Flower Carpet rose, the Sea Foam rose and Knock Out rose, Everett said. Digging a basin around the base of the rose bush, adding a thick layer of commercial mulch and watering deeply also helps to keep the water bill at a minimum, she said.

These techniques have already been implemented in Descanso's 5 1/2-acre rose garden, which serves as both the laboratory and classroom for its educational efforts about sustainable rose cultivation.

Garden officials recently installed a computerized watering system in the rose garden that adjusts according to temperature and precipitation. And the roses are cared for organically — they are fed an organic fertilizer and a compost tea cultivated on site.

"That is a really important aspect of our rose garden because it is the backbone of our sustainable care program," Everett said.

Another distinguishing trait is the garden's companion flowers, spokesperson Jamie Bray said. Most rose gardens are home exclusively to roses. But the Descanso rose garden includes numerous other species that serve various purposes, including providing homes, nectar and pollen for beneficial insects. The companion flowers also serve to fill out the garden during the winter when the roses are not in bloom.

"It is not just something that is beautiful in the spring and summer," Everett said. "It is a place to come year-round and see all the different types of flowers."

Between the reduced water consumption, organic fertilizer and compost tea, the Descanso rose garden is setting the pace for sustainability in rose cultivation, Everett said.

"I think we are blazing a path for sustainability in rose gardens and rose care," Everett said. "I think that a lot of rose gardens don't necessarily do that."

Experienced gardeners can use Descanso's rose garden as a resource for how to sustainably, and attractively, cultivate roses, Everett said. And with the garden's extended summer hours, pleasure seekers can enjoy the roses when they are most fragrant, at twilight.

"There is really something in the rose garden for everyone, whether it is just the opportunity to stroll around and appreciate beauty, the opportunity to get new garden ideas or the opportunity to learn," Everett said.

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