Corralitos Valley Reports Spring 2007
Serving the residents of the Corralitos Valley, CA
Corralitos Roses Still Smell Sweet! by Rachel Wedeen
The rose is a legend of its own. It is written that the floors of Cleopatra’s palace were carpeted with rose petals and Confucius had, in his vast library, some 600 books about the proper care of this archetypal flower. Believed to have mysterious healing powers, Napoleon provided his officers rose petals to boil in white wine to cure lead poisoning from bullet wounds.
This, the “queen” of flowers, seems ageless yet is simultaneously tied to antiquity. Recently archaeologists discovered the fossilized remains of wild roses over 40 million years old. The Chinese introduced the first true primary red rose, “Slater’s Crimson China” to Europe in 1792. Immediately rose breeders began using it to hybridize red roses for cultivation. Ever since the quest for the “perfect” red rose has been the Holy Grail of rosarians; a fragrant, disease-resistant, long-lasting, long-stemmed, reblooming, perfectly formed flower with clear non-fading vivid red color.
Roses, explains local nursery manager Guinivere Vestal Wiley, fall into in excess of fifteen distinct categories. Old roses and their heirs originate from groups known prior to 1867 when the “La France”, the first Hybrid Tea, made its debut. Voila! Rose breeding was forever changed with the introduction of recurring bloom, she explains. “Modern” roses, as commemorated by The American Rose Society, were varieties such as Floribundas, Hybrid Teas, Polyanthas and Minatures, introduced after 1867. These became commercial favorites. Falling out of favor were “old” rose groups such as Damask, Gallica, Alba and Moss.
Since the 1930’s, however, when Francis Lester first established Roses of Yesterday and Today on Brown’s Valley Road, a certain old rose Renaissance has ensued. With true dedication and hard work, four generations of the Wiley-Stemler family continue to enchant visitors with a vast array of some 230 rose varieties, including many old roses. The mother plants are started and established at the Corralitos nursery and the bud wood is sent to growers in the San Joaquin Valley. The plants are then grown in fields and the bareroot plants are returned to RYT for cold storage. Own root roses are started and grown at the Brown’s Valley Road nursery.
Welcoming more than 1,000 visitors each year, the display rose garden is open daily. Stop by to enjoy a picnic surrounded by roses and redwoods. May and June are the optimal times to enjoy the rose garden. Their Mother’s Day weekend events are renowned. Guinivere acts as greeter with great bravura. She assembles orders and manages the website while her husband Jack provides “ big maintenance “ when not occupied by his day job running a software company. Brother-in-law Andy is responsible for much of the garden work and performs as “rose-wrangler”, tying all of the orders for shipment. Winters are their busiest time of the year.
Bareroot roses are available for order and pick up January through February or shipment January through early May. Residents of the colder states like Montana often cannot plant until May. Potted roses are available year round. The new season’s bareroot roses are potted and available beginning in March of each year. Fragrant old rose potpourri is available year round.
Guinivere, who has been manager since 1998, estimates that approximately seventy-five per cent of their business is from mail order. Many customers purchase in excess of 20 roses in a single order. Their two most popular roses are Just Joey, a Hybrid Tea, and Sombreuil, a Tea Rose, “the finest ivory climber, popular for weddings and a repeat blooming old rose.” New to the catalogue this year is the Hot Cocoa rose.
Ever popular with local rosarians is the Hybrid Musk, available in some twenty varieties, shade tolerant, repeat blooming and fairly disease resistant. The Robin Hood 1912, an heir to the old roses of yesterday, may only consist of five flat red petals but repeatedly bursts into bloom. This rose, says Wiley, is a “show-stopper”.
Their catalogue offers roses whose origins derive from many parts of the globe. Some “purebred” and others of “mixed blood”. Pat Wiley, owner of RYT from 1976-96, writes by way of an introduction, “Some varieties are tough and hardy with a natural ability to stay dormant through alternating freezing and growing temperatures, allowing them to survive more severe climates; some are soft and tender from mild climates where living is not a challenge; others a mixture of both.” She explains that there are as many types of roses “as there are races of people and breeds of dogs”. Their catalogue instructs that the Rugosas (are the hardiest) and that, for instance, all roses directly descending from the Rosa Gallica are extremely hardy and have one annual flowering (the Autumn Damasks being an exception). Apparently the more China or Tea there is in the ancestry of a rose, the less hardy it is. The most tender of roses, Noisette, Tea, China and Hybrid China, she recommends, be grown only in very mild climates or in a temperature controlled greenhouse.
What accounts for the renewed popularity of old roses? Perhaps an interest in things historic ? art, furniture, heirlooms. Customers restoring Victorian houses may shop for roses that are in keeping with the period architecture, the gingerbread trim, and the lace curtains. There must be magic in growing roses so steeped in history such as The Musk rose, immortalized by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These old charmers evoke the fragrances of ripe apples, the spiciness of cloves. Their blooms are often big, loose cabbages, short powder puffs or single-petaled starbursts. Their colors range from creamy white to bright orange and pink.
Smiling, Wiley explains that first-time purchasers often are taken aback when they see the bareroot rose for the first time. “What people often don’t realize is that the plant will grow approximately six inches in the first month and by the end of the second month blooms will appear.” The Corralitos Valley climate, she claims, is ideal for growing. Roses, she emphasizes, like to go dormant in winter. “They need the cold temperatures. Residents of Florida, in contrast, do not have success with old rose varieties that require cold temperatures.”
Care for old roses could not be easier, she maintains. Water deeply, fertilize with a complete fertilizer monthly and prune to shape after blooming. The Wiley’s extensive research suggests that a rose plant should be pruned exactly 65 days before you wish your plant to bloom. Keep this in mind when planning your next garden party.
Wiley, her husband, Jack, and brother-in-law Andy are available to offer advice on planting, winterizing and pruning. “Don’t be timid with pruning”, she opines. ”As a general rule, prune roses that bloom repeatedly in the late winter or early spring before new growth starts. Prune the once annual flowering roses only after they have bloomed in the spring.”
They suggest planting in an aviary basket to protect from gophers and are happy to share their own recipe for deer repellant. Black spot or mildew may appear in the mid-summer months. The Wiley’s recommend that gardeners spray their roses once a week for 3 weeks with a recommended solution, remove infected leaves and clear away any fallen leaves to prevent the spores from being splashed up onto the plant.
A local nemesis and pest is the curculios bug. Rose growers sometimes find this black, needle-nosed insect that pokes holes in blooms, implanting its eggs. Guinivere picks these off the plant and does them in. (No benign spray is effective, she believes).
The art and science of rose growing is constantly evolving. The practice of burying the bud union (the point of grafting) below the ground has been followed on the East Coast for some time. Recently West Coast growers have adopted this planting method hoping that it will result in the grafted rose establishing its own roots over time.
There is ongoing debate about the pros and cons of grafting. Grafting, Wiley explains, often amplifies growth of an (sometimes slower growing) old rose.
But fear not rose purists. Precious varieties of old roses abound at RYT and many of the original old antique roses planted by the late Francis Lester, including a rose in his name, still bloom in the garden of his old house on the corner of Redwood and Brown’s Valley Road, the location of the original RYT.
RYT remedy for blackspot or mildew:
Make a solution of:
1 Tablespoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
(or 1/4 teaspoon of horticultural oil from the garden store) to
1 gallon of water.
(Spray as directed)
RYT formula to be used to discourage deer:
Blend two eggs (in blender) with ? cup of water for at least 2-3 minutes, at high speed.
Add 2 cups water and 2 Tablespoons Tabasco sauce. Blend. Pour into plastic bottles,
add water to top off and refrigerate.
Pour contents into a plastic cosmetic bottle with fine spray trigger handle. Spray plants thoroughly.
Repeat after rain.
(Guinivere suggests garlic be added to this mixture for extra measure and
that this will help with aphid and beetle problems as well).