For thousands of years writers and poets have been beguiled by roses, from William Shakespeare to the ancient scribes of the Bible and the Koran.
Palo Altan rose grower Jerry Georgette says that picking one's favorite rose is like choosing your favorite child. He admits that one of his favorites is a yellow gold "Golden Celebration," an English shrub rose.
"I just love the rich golden yellow color, sweet fruity scent, and proliferation of blooms repeating throughout the growing season."
The thousands of rose varieties fall into a dizzying multitude of classifications, generally either "Old Garden Roses" -- known before 1867, and Modern Roses, which are hybrids such as hybrid teas, floribundas and miniatures.
For rose enthusiasts, new roses are anticipated as hotly as the Oscar nominations, and so are their names: Mustard & Ketchup, Julia Child (a golden butter) or Jude-The-Obscure. Hybrids are created to highlight specific characteristics, from fragrance to color, and to breed hardier strains that fight the pests and blight that can take the romance out of rose growing.
Dozens of varieties populate the Memorial Rose Garden at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Palo Alto. The garden was planted to commemorate those lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and hundreds of plants are cared for by the army of volunteers Georgette leads. The garden has become a place of reflection and congregation, and even the location of a marriage proposal and wedding. With many plants named for veterans, visiting families and VA clients often speak to the plants as if they embodied the departed.
To grow your own roses, find Golden Celebration and other varieties at local nurseries or order from online specialists. Winter is the prime time to plant bare-root roses, which most local nurseries will put into pots last month. If you buy potted roses that have begun growing, you can plant them any time in the spring through fall. Roses generally should receive six hours of sun, and gardeners should follow recommended planting, fertilizing and feeding programs. Georgette suggests a soil-moisture meter, akin to a meat thermometer, which is available for a few dollars at a hardware store, to help determine when to water. He adds that heavy leather gloves and garden sleeve "gauntlets" are essential for keeping what rosarians call "pricklies" at bay -- and likely the less-charming words uttered when a thorn snags a finger.
And yes, these beauties can be a bit high maintenance, as diseases such as powdery mildew, rust and black spot often affect the plants. Some growers use Neem oil or stronger fungicides to fight disease. Non-chemical solutions such as ladybugs and soft hosing can also fight pests.
Roses will first bloom in April and May, and many will re-bloom several times throughout the year. Clipping spent blooms, or "deadheading," spurs bloom production.
Georgette suggests dormant pruning after the flowering season, cutting out dead wood, crossing branches and opening up the center of the plant to allow air circulation.
The California drought has contributed to a decline in the rose industry, as gardeners choose native plants that require less water. Happily, you can still follow your nose to a number of rose gardens close by and find a favorite bloom: The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden (which boasts more than 3,500 plants and 189 varieties, such as Bon Bon and Voo Doo), The Rose Garden in Central Park in San Mateo and the Filoli Estate in Woodside.
For more information about roses, visit peninsularosesociety.org
This article appeared in print in the Spring Home + Garden Design 2016 publication.