The Shakespeare drama Richard III is being presented this weekend at SummerFest in the amphitheater at The Arboretum. The play's action culminates in 1485 with the bloody final blow of England's War of the Roses, a civil war in which the Houses of York and Lancaster, bearing contrasting emblems of white and red roses, vied for the right to rule. Ultimately, they merged after Richard's death under the combined colors of the Tudor rose.
The powerful symbolism of roses has a long history, enhanced by their enchanting yet fleeting blooms, prickly thorns, seductive fragrance and romantic imagery.
That makes the site of the play appropriate. Just a few hundred yards away, The Arboretum's rose garden is a staging ground for a different sort of rose battle. Last year, the garden was named one of 10 All-America Rose Selections trial gardens, where a variety of new hybrids are grown and evaluated for not only bloom production but disease resistance, form and novelty.
The 2012 winner, Sunshine Daydream, is a cheery yellow grandiflora with repeat blooms from spring until frost. It's also resistant to black spot.
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"We had tried for about 10 years to get The Arboretum into one of the AARS programs," coordinator Tim Phillips, a professor in the plant and soil science department in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and rose garden advocate, said. "Since Knock Out's release in 2000, the commercial rose world has changed dramatically, with many fewer hybrid teas being sold. The AARS program recently changed its focus from traditional hybrid teas and floribundas to any type of rose that can be grown with little or no pest control needed."
Beyond the trials, there have been tribulations.
Roses, and many other garden plants, were faced with unusual weather patterns this past spring, including heavy rainfall in April, followed by hot and dry weather.
The weather brought on early maturation, black spot, insect-infested stems. and buds that appeared to be steam-cooked. The problems were so widespread that the 57th Huntington, W.Va., Rose Show, scheduled for last month, was called off. Event co-chairman Gary Rankin said local rose exhibitors were polled shortly before the event, and show-quality roses were in short supply.
The rose show at the Kentucky State Fair, set to start Aug. 20, is a go. Exhibitors are required to grow the roses they enter for judging. The wet and hot spring weather affected blooms that came out in June, but many of the bushes will rebloom by August.
Local exhibitor Hattie Slone suggests that beginning rose gardeners visit shows such as the one at the Kentucky State Fair to become familiar with rose varieties, quality standards and presentation preparations.
Rose-grooming techniques for a show presentation — turning down sepals before a contest, covering blooms to keep them unblemished — take time to master. Cultivating roses and keeping them in good shape takes organization and planning.
Helena Taulbee of Lexington, whose yard is filled with healthy rose bushes, offers some hints for beginners.
■ Maintain a log of the treatments you've planned, including fertilizers, and insect and disease control.
■ Replace mulch under plants in spring to help remove any black-spot spores that might have overwintered, to prevent the spores from splashing onto new leaves.
■ Prune branches to allow for good air flow.
■ Remove about the lowest 8 inches of leaves from the bush, because many infestations crawl up from below.
Also, Slone recommends being on the lookout for spider mites attacking from below when temperatures rise to about 80 degrees. And be ready to shake Japanese beetles into a bucket of soapy water, squashing and discarding them in a plastic bag, when they start munching the sweet petals from the top down.
For most dedicated rose growers, the beauty of the plant far outweighs the maintenance required, and that's why rosarians often seek new roses. Slone found the recently released pink Rosé from Jackson & Perkins appealing, with its lovely form and long-lasting flower. It remains to be seen how winter-hardy it is, but she said she'll plant it deep so the graft between the roots and stem is 2 inches below ground level.
An old favorite of hers is Black Magic, a sturdy bush with dark-red petals that last for almost two weeks.
Rosarian Janis Buford, who has been growing roses 50 years, finds the larger, exhibition-size bloom of Over the Moon interesting.
"Everybody wants an apricot rose," she says. Dolly Parton is another favorite because, she said, "She is big, very fragrant and a beautiful reddish-orange." Her first rose was the classic orange Tropicana.