Sheree Gare has a collection of more than 600 rose bushes in her garden

Exploring the rose

by Ann van Engelen

Roses have a significant place in New Zealand history with many people now specialising in growing the blooms in their home garden.

“I have personally been growing roses for many years and have more than 600 bushes in my garden. A couple are more than 35 years old and still going strong,” says rose grower Sheree Gare.

“Roses began to play a role with our early settlers coming from England in the early 19th century when ‘garden cemeteries’ were popular.

Grave plots were fashionably planted with evergreen trees in England to symbolise eternal life. In New Zealand the Sweet Briar rose was planted amongst our dead, commencing as early as 1830 and now the rose, as we know it today, is gaining back popularity in home gardens. The benefits of gardening are becoming widespread, and it gives me such pleasure to see everyday people gaining happiness from their roses. We get a sense of responsibility from tending plants, and we learn to look after and respect other living things.

“Gardening allows us to be nurturers as plants don’t mind who is caring for them. Gardening can improve our mental health by boosting our self-esteem. Some people use gardening as a stress release while others like to socialise at gardening clubs, which are hugely popular today.”

Sheree says roses like to be pampered and will respond well to regular feeding and watering throughout the growing season.

“Rose season starts around the middle of winter, and they start flowering at the end of October and can continue through to April/May. They are resilient plants and can survive for years, the more you pamper, the more they provide beautiful flowers.

“Taking care of roses can be as big a task as you want it to be. I believe that growing roses can be compared to raising children. Many people will strongly advise you on how to raise them, but not all ideas suit each family.

There are many differing ideas on what to do, how to do it, and when, but these are only guidelines and if you find a way that suits you, then follow it.”

Roses are pruned in the winter, generally in July/August, and Sheree suggests ‘DDO’ — Dead, Diseased and Old canes, in that order.

“I look at the bush and determine which canes I want to cut first. Any dead canes need to be removed trimming as close to the crown as possible, then the diseased ones. Once I have removed these, I reassess the bush for what is left. As a general rule, I prune about two-thirds off, but if there are not too many newer canes, then I leave some older ones.

“A guideline for applying the first application of fertiliser is when the weather is warmer, and the soil temperatures have increased. Usually mid-September and then after the first flush of flowers and again late January to give the bush a boost to continue flowering. There are many different fertilisers on the market today that are usually differentiated by the NPK status. That means the availability of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.

It will usually be written on the bag. The higher the number — the higher the concentration of the nutrient. Mulching with compost or natural animal manure can also be applied to rose beds.

“I believe spraying is a personal choice, and today modern roses are being bred for higher health. Building up the soil’s health and providing good nutrients and humus in the soil helps eliminate spraying needs.

“I deadhead the spent flowers once roses have had their first flush by cutting off the flower at a five leafed set of leaves. It encourages growth and produces further blooms.

“This practice can continue until mid-March, and then I let the bush rest over winter, before commencing the growing cycle again. Beware of rabbits and possums as they can annihilate the roses and eat the new shoots and chew the tops off the roses. To combat them find a pest control system that suits your situation.

“Internet today gives us so much information and a particularly good web page Helpmefind gives vast information on different rose varieties available including breeders, genetics and growing habits.

“Rosarians across the country like to show their blooms and each year in November there are many rose shows held across the country. At these events many growers present their best blooms and enter into floral art classes such as baskets of roses and other novelty classes. New Zealand has a great climate and we are lucky to grow some of the best roses in the world.”