At Ringling event, they promise you a rose garden

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Shakespearean scholars would probably say yes if the flower in question were called Audrey Hepburn, Honey Bouquet or Love Potion. Experience these voluptuous blooms, along with Ingrid Bergman, Marco Polo, Marilyn Monroe and hundreds more, when the Bradenton-Sarasota Rose Society welcomes visitors to the 49th Annual Rose Show at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art next Saturday.

The day includes a rose lecture, a book signing, guided tours, chats with experts and exhibitors from all over the Southeast, a rose competition with judges from the American Rose Society, and a sale of cut roses and rose bushes. The all-day public event is hosted by Philip Paul, president of the Bradenton-Sarasota Rose Society, and Ron Mallory, vice president of that organization and curator of Mable Ringling's rose garden at the museum.

Admission to the rose show is included in a general admission ticket ($15) to the museum, which includes the rose show, the art museum, the Ringling residence (C d'Zan), the circus museum and all special exhibitions.

The Bradenton-Sarasota Rose Society is a non-profit educational organization that is a local resource for rose growers. The group holds monthly meetings (except in July and August), and organizes rose-growing workshops for members at all levels of expertise.

Mable Ringling's garden boasts 1,200 rose plants, and is the only All-America Rose Selection (AARS), American Rose Society Award of Excellence (AOE), and Mini Rose Test Garden in Florida. It is one of only three AARS public display gardens in Florida.

The rose was Mable Ringling's favorite flower. She planted her garden in 1913 (a dozen years before her marble mansion was built), laying it out in the shape of a wagon wheel. She favored the China, Tea and Polyanthus varieties. None of her bushes survive today, but many of the rose varieties she tended are again in the garden.

Rose expert Ron Mallory is in charge of the 27,225-square-foot garden, which is ornamented with classical statuary, architectural elements, and a picturesque limestone gazebo that is original to the garden. The gazebo is the favorite site for garden weddings of about 50 guests.

Mallory, who has been with the Ringling Museum for 20 years and will retire in June, spent five years experimenting with cross breeding until he came up with a rose he named for Mable Ringling and officially registered with the American Rose Society in 2002. It's a feminine, deep-pink floribunda, whose father (pollen) is the yellow Midas Touch and whose mother (seed) is the red Proud Land.

"I started with hundreds of seeds, and over the years, came to develop this special rose," he said. "It's a short, medium-sized rose that is disease-resistant and has a lovely fragrance. Each rose has 60 petals and the bud is vibrant red. It opens to a magenta color with a dark yellow stamen. It's in bloom now, and visitors to the show will have a chance to see it."

Mallory is working on another original rose named for his grandmother Allison, who taught him about rose growing in the 1950s.

In addition to those special flowers, Mallory oversees the care of eight tree roses, 36 grandifloras, 64 shrubs, 73 old garden roses, 204 floribundas, 246 hybrid teas and 506 miniatures. Most of these roses were planted as part of an extensive restoration project of museum buildings and grounds undertaken in 1991.

Mallory revealed his favorite roses in the Ringling garden. "It depends upon the time of year," he said, "but I'm especially fond of Just Joey, a large, apricot-colored hybrid tea; the red Veteran's Honor; White Success, which has wonderful form and a long stem; and Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is a pink floribunda."

Mallory's tips for successful rose growing? "It's a balance of water, fertilizer and sanitation," he said. "And, in general, roses need six hours of sunshine a day. For the beginner, I suggest Knock Out, a shrub rose that is hardy and lovely. We have a border of these dark pink roses on either side of the path leading into Mable's garden."

Roses in this part of Florida usually bloom from early April through mid-December. Mallory starts pruning the museum bushes in late January.

Just beyond Mable's rose garden are two test rose gardens. Rose entries in a national test garden undergo a rigorous, two-year evaluation period. The roses having the highest scores receive the prestigious AARS award. There are only two-dozen AARS test gardens in the United States.

The Ringling Museum property is 66 acres; recently, as part of a spring spruce-up, staff and volunteers installed 200 new trees, 40,000 new plantings and laid 700 yards of mulch. That translates to more than 6,000, three-cubic-foot bags. About three-dozen community volunteers helped dig the holes, plant the foliage and spread the mulch. Now the public is invited to inspect and enjoy John and Mable Ringling's spectacular back yard.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: April 07. 2007

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