Renee Lower is glowing like a dewy rose these days, thanks to several awards she won at the recent Detroit Rose Society competition held at Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy.
Lower won the six categories on what is referred to as the “trophy table.” Her roses captured “Best” in Challenge Class for Stage of Bloom, and “Best” in Hybrid Tea Spray, Climbing Rose, and End of Trail Bouquet. In addition, she won tops in "Best" Fragrant Rose and "Best" Fragrant Bouquet.
The competition includes accredited judges from the American Rose Society, explained the Troy resident, who lives on Emerald Lake and has been cultivating roses for about as long as she’s lived in this serene neighborhood, approximately a decade.
With dozens of rose varieties popping at various turns, climbing atop railings and beckoning amid garden statuary, walking in the Lowers’ gardens is a downright heady experience.
For Lower it’s aromatherapy in its truest form. “I place seats or benches in specific areas so that when I’m just sitting out here, I breathe in certain scents,” said Lower, who noted that each rose type has a different scent, from light and lemony to heavy and rich.
One of her favorite rose varieties is the Stephens’ Big Purple, a hybrid tea rose. “I planted those in memory of my grandfather, whose name was Steve Wisniewski,” she said. "It's deep purple and very fragrant."
Lower also likes an 1825 hybrid tea rose variety called Dainty Bess and a remarkable red and white variety called Grandiflora Rock & Roll. Her Abraham Darby captured "Best Fragrant Rose."
The couple’s back deck and patio are so pretty that they’ve even been featured in catalogs for Arden Companies (a supplier of outdoor cushions, umbrellas and more).
“I love the rose gardens,” said Lower. “I get to play and people get to enjoy them.” She’s referring to neighbors and friends who often drop by to soak up the beauty and to, well, stop and smell the roses.
“People want their prom and homecoming pictures taken here, and I say, sure why not?”
Of course, it’s not always a “bed of roses” for this rosarian. “I get a lot of Japanese beetles and I have to put them in soapy water to get rid of them,” she said. To prevent a lot of beetles, Lower suggests that growers pay attention to grub control. “That’s very important,” she said. “Grubs like blueberries and golf courses,” added Lower, who’s not always pruning and deadheading. As director of corporate services and a director of the “Center of Excellence” at DTE Energy in Detroit, her days are more than full.
When asked if growing roses is difficult, Lower says it depends on what type you grow.
“The Knockout varieties are really easy to grow,” she said. “They rebud on their own.”
Lower and other rose experts offer the following growing tips:
- Don’t prune in the fall, said Lower. “When you prune a rose, it ‘thinks’ it’s supposed to grow,” she said. “And that takes energy from the root system. Let them go to sleep in the fall so they can store their energy.” Pruning is essential in the spring, adds Leslie Cunningham of Bordine’s Nursery in Rochester Hills. “Roses need to be pruned in early spring, at the same time the forsythia is blooming, late April, or early May,” said Cunningham. “Prune all dark-colored canes one inch past where the green, viable cane starts. Many roses do best if pruned after blooming. Prune to the first set of five leaves, and in a short time they will be full of blooms again.”
- Shop around. Lower prefers the plants at Telly’s Greenhouse, Bordine’s Nursery and Ray Wiegand’s in Macomb Township.
- Consider planting times. “You can plant a rose from a nursery any time of the spring, summer and fall,” says Cunningham, an Oakland Township resident. “Spring and fall are the best times due to cooler weather and less stressful conditions.”
- Transplant times crucial. Transplanting an existing rose should only be done in spring or fall, said Cunningham.
- Give them sun. “Roses do best in full sun,” Cunningham added.
- Go easy. If you don’t want a lot of fuss but enjoy the look of roses, the Knockout variety is for you. “It’s an easy shrub to grow and a great introduction to horticulture,” said Scott Pittman, owner of Garden Central in Berkley. “I’m very reserved and skeptical about new introductions,” he said. “And I’m usually conservative until something proves itself over time. The Knockout (in pale pink and hot pink) has proved itself to me.” The plant usually grows to about four feet tall and four feet wide. “We’re finding that people are desiring a hands-off rose that’s drought-tolerant, really hardy in extreme winters,” Pittman said. “We don’t see any Knockouts die.” Pittman even has Knockouts at his own home in Huntington Woods. “They do well June to November.”
- Feed them. Bordine’s Cunningham says to consider fertilizing rose plants a few times over the summer. “Many companies, like Bayer, have great products for roses.” Follow the directions carefully as different brands vary with amounts, etc.
- Check ‘em out. Look around and see what types of roses you like. Visit friends’ gardens, take photos, go on garden tours.
Where to find them
Andrea Sperl of Huntington Woods is constantly on the lookout for pretty blooms.
“The roses by the Rec Center tennis courts (in Huntington Woods) are beautiful now,” she said.
If you’re at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, head over to the new Event Pavilion near the Ford Education Center and Holden Museum of Living Reptiles. There are shrub roses with small blooms growing outside of the facility. (Flower-lovers note: The zoo has about 30 to 40 different types of blooming perennials and hundreds of other varieties of flowers. “We have one of the largest volunteer gardening programs at any zoo in the United States,” said Patricia Mills Janeway, a publicist for the zoo.)
Or just head to a local nursery, which can be the best spot to take in a rose’s ambiance. Berkley’s Garden Central is open seven days a week. “People come in and treat it like a park,” Pittman said.