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Sweet rose

Blake Robinson, 74, spent years in pursuit of mastering the art of growing roses. He cultivates dozens of varieties at the River Hills community garden and at his home in the lakeside development.
Blake Robinson, 74, spent years in pursuit of mastering the art of growing roses. He cultivates dozens of varieties at the River Hills community garden and at his home in the lakeside development.

What does it take to grow lovely roses? More than sunshine and water, more than fertilizer and plant food. It takes time, patience and persistence. Yes, lots of that.

For 30 years, Blake Robinson tried to grow the fragrant beauties. But he mostly failed. "I killed roses in Chicago and in Kansas and in White Plains, N.Y.," chuckled Robinson, 74.

"I had the same problem everyone else had," confesses the River Hills man, now retired from his job as a sales manager with IBM. "I didn't have time."

Now that he does have time, Robinson spends much of it doting over his prized garden of roses -- the creamy yellow Marilyn Monroe, the fragrant Double Delight, flaming pink Sexy Rexy and brilliant cherry Perfectly Red.

Robinson trained as a York County master gardener, skilled in many different aspects of gardening. Oh, tulips are nice. But he much prefers the delicate beauty of roses -- the blooms that have inspired legions of poets and lovers.

"They last longer," said Robinson. And he enjoys pleasing the recipients of his roses. "They're always delighted. And you know they'll have them for a week, maybe longer."

One of the advantages of growing roses is that, in the Carolinas, they offer blooms for almost nine months of the year, from April through December. "Most other flowers, you can't get that. It'll be a spring flower or a fall flower," he said.

But that doesn't come without quite a bit of effort. Robinson, who grows dozens of varieties of roses, both at his home and in the larger community garden in River Hills, labors over them for as much as four days a week, six hours a day.

"To take care of the roses properly, I have to spray them about every two weeks for black spot, and you can see that they still get some," he said, inspecting the soft petals.

Roses need full sunshine and plenty of water. They need to receive plant food about once a month and must be fertilized regularly -- the frequency depends on what product is used.

Robinson checks his blooms for spider mites and other common pests, such as Japanese beetles. And fresh rosebuds must be cut and promptly delivered for others' enjoyment, while the dried, spent blooms need to be deadheaded.

"When people are in a situation where they both have to be breadwinners, they can't find the time to do all that needs to be done," he said.

Robinson said he didn't have much success with roses until he got serious about 18 years ago. He joined the Charlotte Rose Society and began to study rose care in earnest.

He began competing in rose exhibitions, too, which are usually held in the spring and fall. Several years ago, he won Queen of Show for a miniature rose at an American Rose Society event in North Augusta. He also served for two terms as Carolinas district director for the rose society.

He now grows four major varieties: traditional hybrid tea roses; miniature roses; florabunda, characterized by clusters of smaller blooms; and knockout roses.

Robinson also has given numerous public talks about cultivating roses for area garden clubs, libraries, churches and rose society members.

For those who like roses, but can't invest the time to take care of them, Robinson recommends the knockout rose, a low-maintenance variety that doesn't require spraying.

Julie Fox, manager at Wilson's Nursery in Rock Hill, said the knockouts have become quite popular among local gardeners, even more so than traditional roses.

"We sell tons of them every day," Fox said. "People are starting to catch on. They'll ride by and see them in people's yard and want to know what they are. They see how easy they are and they love them. They come back and get more."

The traditional planting season for roses is during the cool spring months, February through April, when they're sold in nurseries and garden centers. But Fox said knockouts are available year-round and can be planted most anytime.

John Dunn, president of the Charlotte Rose Society, said the knockout isn't really a rose. "It's a shrub. It has a little single bloom. But it's not the type that you cut and bring into the house. It's barely a rose."

Dunn said the traditional roses do demand a lot of regular maintenance; he recommends spraying them to prevent fungus once every week, from April through October.

"But they don't take as much time as dogs or cats, you gotta feed those every day," Dunn quipped. "And you can leave roses for the weekend."

Robinson said it's important for rose growers to keep records of their maintenance, so they know when they've sprayed their roses and when they've fertilized and fed them.

"What happens is that people don't keep records," he said. "If you don't write it all down, it doesn't get cared for properly. It's a matter of attention."

But gardeners who invest the time and effort will reap a fragrant reward. "They're very satisfying," Robinson said. "And your wife loves you when you bring her roses."

MORE INFORMATION

• Charlotte Rose Society Web site: www.carolinadistrict.org/CharlotteRS/

• American Rose Society Web site: www.ars.org.

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