Stephen Scanniello chose a prickly pursuit to start the new year.
“I’m pruning across America,” he said with a laugh from his New Jersey home.
Scanniello, one of the nation’s top rose authorities, will spend most of January visiting famous rose gardens with shears in hand. Besides stops in Florida and Louisiana, that road trip includes a swing through Sacramento. He’ll conduct two pruning workshops next Saturday, Jan. 16, at Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery. He’ll also make a presentation indoors Thursday, Jan. 14, at McKinley Park’s Shepard Garden and Arts Center.
“I love to prune,” he said. “I love to train a plant and make it do what I want it to do. I love to be in control.”
Scanniello “is a real rock star of roses,” said Anita Clevenger, curator of the City Cemetery rose garden. “It’s always a thrill to see him and to learn from him. This is a rare opportunity that anybody who is interested in roses should not miss.”
This marks a return visit to Sacramento for Scanniello; he also helped prune the cemetery’s rare rose collection last year and fell in love with the place.
“In the cemetery, I’ll be working specifically with the beautiful climbers,” he said. “They have the most amazing collection. It just blows me away. They have climbers that go all the way to the top of 60-foot evergreen trees! It’s a delight to see, but a challenge to prune.”
President of the Heritage Rose Foundation, Scanniello is best known as curator past and present of two of New York’s most beloved rose gardens: the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Cranford Rose Garden and currently the New York Botanical Garden’s Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. He’s also created dozens of other gardens, both public and private, across the nation.
“When I go to a public rose garden, I admit usually I feel that they’re boring,” he said. “Only a few make me want to stay. It’s those that use climbers. It brings a strong visual element to the landscape.”
He cheerfully plans to spend all day at the City Cemetery rose garden, recognized by the Great Rosarians of the World as one of the best anywhere.
“Over the years, they’ve created one of the most interesting collections of roses, particularly unusual climbers,” noted Scanniello, who got some rarities from the cemetery for the Rockefeller Garden. “I love the way they display them; it’s very French with arbors, pillars and tripods made of rebar. It’s simple but really perfect.”
Pruning is an important part of rose care, but climbers intimidate many gardeners, said Clevenger.
They have the most amazing collection. (Sacramento’s City Cemetery) just blows me away. They have climbers that go all the way to the top of 60-foot evergreen trees! It’s a delight to see, but a challenge to prune.
Rose expert Stephen Scanniello
“Proper pruning and training of climbing roses is a mystery and challenge for many people,” she said. “Last year’s attendees said that after they applied Stephen’s techniques ... their climbing roses had never performed better. That’s what we saw in the roses in the cemetery as well. There were many more blossoms and tidier growth throughout the year.
“But perhaps most of all, people enjoyed themselves as they learned,” she added. “They laughed out loud as he regaled them with tales of rose gardens and gardeners he has known.”
Author of six books, Scanniello is well known for his rosy storytelling. He’ll share several of his favorite anecdotes during Thursday’s presentation, hosted by the Sacramento Rose Society, and pull tales from his book, “A Rose by Any Name: The Little-Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names” (Algonquin Books, 352 pages, $19.95).
Scanniello loves the tales behind rose names. They tell a lot about pop culture as well as floral breeding.
“For example, Greer Garson had three roses named for her (during the 1940s),” he said. “She’s the only actress with a rose trifecta. There’s a Greer Garson rose, of course, but the Madame Marie Curie rose was not named for the scientist but Garson’s portrayal of Curie (in the movie ‘Madame Curie’). Mrs. Miniver was appropriate; that movie (of the same name) is partly about a rose show. A bouquet of Mrs. Miniver roses was presented to Garson when she received her Oscar.”
Actresses and celebrities still are honored with namesake roses, he noted. “Barbra Streisand ‘auditioned’ three roses in her garden before choosing one for herself. One of the rejects was named (for) Rosie O’Donnell.
“I really like the bad names for roses,” he added. Some examples: Tupperware, Aspirin and Happy Butt.
Scanniello sees a renewed interest in classic roses, particularly older varieties.
“I’m seeing a resurgence,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of people interested in rose history and historic gardens.”
In recent years, the nursery industry was oversaturated with easy-care landscape roses such as the popular Knockout series, he noted.
“That pushed other roses (such as many hybrid teas) right out of the market. But people are tiring of ‘instant gratification’ roses. They want ‘real’ roses again.”
Learn about roses from a master
Author and rose expert Stephen Scanniello will visit the Sacramento area next week with these public presentations:
What: “A Rose by Any Name,” hosted by the Sacramento Rose Society, features the stories behind famous flowers as well as other anecdotes from Scanniello’s career as a public garden curator and creator.
Where: Sacramento Rose Society, Shepard Garden and Arts Center, 3330 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14
Details: 916-799-6199, www.sactorose.org
What: Climbing rose pruning workshops; Scanniello demonstrates his techniques to control these prickly giants.
Where: Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento
When: 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. next Saturday, Jan. 16
Admission: Free; donations welcome