Debbie Arrington

UC Davis opens its rosy ‘hidden treasure’

See UC Davis rose farm in bloom

UC Davis grows more than 8 acres of roses to provide California's nursery industry with virus-free stock. See the farm in spring bloom.
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UC Davis grows more than 8 acres of roses to provide California's nursery industry with virus-free stock. See the farm in spring bloom.

On a parcel of Davis farmland west of the main university campus grow acres of roses. Row after rainbow row, thousands of bushes bloom in private, sharing their spectacle with the public just once a year.

Otherwise, they’re kept under lock and key, protected from visitors and viruses.

This colorful site is a UC Davis gem: the Foundation Plant Services’ rose fields. They’ll be open for tours May 6 during the university’s 10th annual Rose Days.

“When you see so many together, it’s amazing,” said Dave Fujino, executive director of the California Center for Urban Horticulture, which co-hosts Rose Days with Foundation Plant Services. “You won’t find another place that has this many varieties. It’s UC Davis’ hidden treasure.”

Grown in farm rows and drip irrigated, these bushes are special. They’re all mother plants, the source of infinite new clones that look and grow just like their parent. Assuring that their kind will survive, they represent a gene bank where commercial rose growers can buy disease-free cuttings to produce new bushes.

They also form the largest public collection of virus-tested roses in the United States, Fujino noted.

“It’s a farm, not a rose garden,” he explained. “These bushes provide virus-free material for the nursery industry. They’re all tested and screened.”

UC Davis’ rose program dates back to the 1960s. Many of the fields’ 538 (and counting) varieties were introduced decades ago and have become hard to find at retail nurseries. A walk down the rows of gnarly bushes reveals one variety after another that have faded from commerce but not memory.

During the public tours, rose lovers rediscover old favorites as well as find new ones, Fujino said.

“I like to come out here and stand downwind,” he said. “Then, I let my nose lead me.”

Also on Rose Days, the public can take some roses home – but not from the fields. All visitors get a free miniature rose bush, while supplies last.

Planted and blooming in 5-gallon pots, full-size bushes in 28 current varieties will be offered for $25 each. The selection includes three “Downton Abbey” varieties as well as such popular recent introductions as Miss Congeniality and Mercury Rising. (A full catalog with photos is available online.)

Volunteers from the Woodland Library Rose Club will demonstrate pruning techniques. Master gardeners will offer advice on rose care.

But it’s those fragrant rose fields that really draw a crowd. Nearly 2,500 bushes fill the main block of 8 acres. Another nearby 6-acre block features newer varieties and allows for expansion. Climbing roses cover the chain-link fence.

“The interesting thing? It’s still early,” Fujino said. “This is just the start (of bloom season). You’re not going to see 8 acres of roses all in bloom very often. It’s a pretty amazing sight.”

UC Davis Rose Days

Where: Foundation Plant Services, 455 Hopkins Road (off Straloch Road), Davis

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 6 and 7; tours of rose fields, 12:30-3:30 p.m. May 6 only

Admission: Free

Details: ccuh.ucdavis.edu

More: Check out the Foundation Plant Services Rose Encyclopedia identifying hundreds of rose varieties at fps.ucdavis.edu/roses.

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