A Fall Fragrance

Norma’s bed of roses

Jeff Amberg

Gertrude Stein famously said that a rose is a rose is a rose, but that phrase does not apply at Norma Becker’s home where the back yard is engulfed in velvety canvases of color, texture, and fragrance exuding from more than 75 glorious rose bushes. No two roses are alike.

Take one step onto the front landscape of the downtown Columbia house, and the colors of the roses seemingly jump like polka dots on a terra cotta canvas through the majestic brick enclosure that surrounds the back of the home. Drawn to their beauty and elegance, Norma became interested in roses more than 20 years ago. She looked to her friend and renowned rosarian and India-native Satish Prabhu to teach her everything he knew. Satish quickly became her mentor and introduced her to the timeless art of raising roses. “Satish has taught me so much,” says Norma. “He put me in contact with vendors whom he trusts, showed me his garden throughout the years, and taught me how to prune and root them. He shared many of his secrets and helpful tips.”

Apparently, Satish is a good teacher, as Norma’s roses continue to thrive and blossom each season. Her rose garden consists primarily of tea roses and old English roses, with a few other varieties sprinkled throughout. From these two primary varieties come many distinctive qualities. Tea roses have long stems and are more formal, while old English roses have a softer, less formal look. “Each of my roses has a unique appeal,” says Norma. “From the number of petals to the color and the fragrance, they all are beautiful in their own right. I have no favorites.”

As a busy cardiologist, Norma relies on The Perfect Rose, a professional rose service, to assist her in keeping her beloved plants vibrant and healthy. While she is in the garden every evening and weekend, things can quickly get out of control after even a few days of neglect. The Perfect Rose helps to ensure the roses receive the fertilization and insect and fungal controls needed to stay hearty and abundant.

Once roses are well established and on a scheduled maintenance program, they tend to grow well in Columbia. However, getting the roses to that point takes an unstinting effort. Roses must have abundant air circulation in order to breathe and flourish. Roses also need plenty of sunshine, as well as soil with appropriate drainage. First and foremost, roses need to get their roots set so that they can take in the nourishment of the soil. All soils are different, so it is important to know what kind of soil is present in order to provide the proper nutrients to support it.

The county offices of Clemson Extension Service offer soil testing from samples you provide as a critical first step. Fungal and insect control is also essential in staving off diseases and plant-damaging insects. “At the outset, roses can seem high maintenance,” says Norma. “Once they are established, however, they are easier to manage, but they do require a consistent program and continual attention.”

Fortunately for Columbians, the season for roses is rather long. Generally, a rose first blooms in May around Mother’s Day, and these blooms are the most robust and beautiful. Roses continue to blossom throughout the summer with a second flowering in October. They then go dormant from December to February –– perhaps hinting at the gloomy winter days to come. “It’s important to cut back your roses in their dormant season,” says Norma. “You want to encourage that time of rest.”

In fact, Norma is quite aggressive in cutting back her roses; she de-leafs them to ensure they grow back stronger and more beautiful than the previous season. February is the time to start again with preparing and nurturing the soil and the plants. Norma uses Valentine’s Day as a starting point in preparing her gardens for spring blooms.

Indeed, it is the bloom of the rose that takes the spotlight. While the flowers are magnificent in their beauty, to some they may all appear similar. One close look at the velvety petals proves that could not be further from the truth. Roses are unique down to the very design of their blooms. Some of the flowers may have tight, perfect blooms, while others are round and lush with an abundance of petals. Some are ideal for a beautiful wedding bouquet, while others look best loosely floating in a crystal vase. A rose’s color draws the most attention. From the richest red to the deepest black and every color in between, roses can tell a story, bring a smile, or evoke a memory without speaking a word. This beauty is always on display in Norma’s home.

“I have cut roses in my house all the time,” she says. “That’s the beauty of having a rose garden. You can look outside and enjoy their magnificence or bring them inside and relish their splendor and perfume. It’s so rewarding to see something you have cultivated become such a beautiful addition to your home –– whether inside or out.”

While Norma’s backyard space is replete with roses, she has worked hard to find the ideal complement in the grasses and plants that grow alongside them. Separate beds are framed by lush green, perfectly manicured boxwoods, while others sit deferentially amidst a subtle brick framework. Deep pinks are juxtaposed by lighter, more muted shades of the color, while blazing orange blooms shoot out like flames warming the necks of the dark pink roses they grow beside.

Even the placement of the roses and plants in Norma’s beds is strategically thought out. The roses are the stars of the show in the front of the beds where the sunlight is most abundant. Behind them, large green phlox, hydrangeas, and ferns sit at attention. The beauty and importance of these complementary flowers cannot be overlooked; they only add to the interest and texture of the outside space. During the dormant winter months, these plants keep the backyard space flourishing.

Statement pieces are also placed throughout the landscape. Sitting high above the roses in one bed in the center of the backyard is an old chimney pot from England that Norma found in an antique store. A vibrant green fern spills out over the pot, seemingly reaching down to the roses, whose long stems lean towards the plant. A crisp, elegant white arbor is nestled in the back of the space. Roses drape over the top of the arbor, almost inviting a bride and groom to stand below. Every inch of this space among the blooming roses is fairy-tale-like in its beauty and grandeur. The lawn itself it exquisitely manicured with a grass pathway leading to a lovely bench, ideal for sitting and admiring the surroundings. While the roses are the centerpiece of Norma’s garden, the supporting cast of flowers, plants, and focal pieces creates an unforgettable ensemble.

It is no surprise that Norma spends every night in this space, both with the peace and tranquility as well as the challenges and hard work. “My family says that if I didn’t garden, I would be crazy,” Norma says with a laugh. “It’s what I love to do.”

Clearly, it is a job well done.

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