Debbie Arrington

Take time to smell the roses, even during drought

Mariyah Waters of Natomas enjoys the roses’ fragrance during her first visit to the memorial rose garden at McKinley Park in 2014. The roses are again in bloom; garden admission is free.
Mariyah Waters of Natomas enjoys the roses’ fragrance during her first visit to the memorial rose garden at McKinley Park in 2014. The roses are again in bloom; garden admission is free. Sacramento Bee file

The “Queen of Flowers” has a reputation as a royal pain (and not just from its thorny prickles).

Roses may be romantic, nostalgic and undoubtedly beautiful, but easy? That’s not what most gardeners think.

Today’s modern roses are changing their family’s fussy image. Through thoughtful plant breeding, they’ve been retooled to thrive without spraying fungicides. They’ve become more resistant to such diseases as mildew, rust and black spot. They need a lot less care – and water – than you might realize.

“Roses are making a resurgence,” said Greg Gayton of Green Acres Nursery and Supply, which sells many of the new varieties. “People still love roses and want them in their gardens.”

True survivors, roses can withstand drought better than many other flowering shrubs. If well established (and deep rooted) in the ground, they can go weeks without water – and still bloom in spring.

Look around the greater Sacramento area. You’ll see thousands of rose bushes, some that have survived many droughts before this one. Instead of withering away, they keep pumping out flowers as if in defiance of hard times (and dry soil).

Of course, there are ways to make these beloved plants a little more comfortable during less-than-ideal growing conditions. Any effort will be rewarded with bouquets.

Start with mulch to keep their roots cool on hot days and maintain moisture. Roses prefer bark or other organic material, but not rocks; they absorb too much heat. Irrigate deeply – slowly letting the water soak in – once a week if possible (although most roses will still flower abundantly with only twice-monthly irrigation). Prune less so canes have to grow less (and use less water) to produce more flowers.

This is prime rose time with several local events showcasing this popular flower. It’s an opportunity to learn while enjoying all roses have to offer.

▪ For a spring break to reinvigorate your gardening spirit, visit one of our local public rose gardens. Despite water cutbacks, the World Peace Rose Garden at Capitol Park looks magnificent. McKinley Park’s memorial rose garden overflows with a rainbow of blooms. Next to South Natomas Library, the Natomas Rose Garden offers a flower-filled oasis to visitors. Admission to these gardens is free.

▪ See the best of the best local blooms Saturday afternoon at the 67th annual Sacramento Rose Society Show at Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park. “Birds ’n’ Roses,” this year’s theme, is a rosy salute to Sacramento’s many feathered friends, with flower arrangements inspired by sandhill cranes, woodpeckers, quail and other birds.

Open from 1 to 5 p.m., this beautiful display always features hundreds of roses at their peak of bloom, picture-perfect examples of all that this fabled flower can be. And because they grew here in local gardens under current water restrictions, they’re also models of drought tolerance.

Yes, flowers may seem a little smaller than in past years; they are. More water does help produce bigger blooms. But restricting water doesn’t lessen roses’ overall beauty – or their scent. At this free show, the public always picks the most fragrant rose.

In addition, dozens of volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about rose care and varieties to grow. If you’ve got rose issues, this is the place to help solve them.

▪ On Saturday evening, take a stroll through the Historic City Cemetery during its “Romance and Roses” tour. In a setting filled with hundreds of roses dating back to the 1800s, learn local rose lore and much more as characters share love stories of early Sacramento.

“We costumed docents and a few actors will tell stories of roses brought across the prairies on wagon train (as well as) love found and love lost,” explained Anita Clevenger of the cemetery’s Heritage Rose group. “We’ll talk about roses in legend and tradition and wander under the rose-covered arbors. This is our second annual tour. Last year was a sellout and people had such a good time that we are doing it again.”

Starting at 6:30 p.m., this twilight tour is limited to 50 patrons, so arrive early. Admission is a $10 donation.

▪ On Sunday, patrons can see roses aplenty growing in gardens in historic Woodland during the 24th annual Woodland Library Rose Club’s garden tour. From noon to 5 p.m., patrons may tour seven private gardens plus the Woodland Library’s own impressive rose collection. This tour takes a farm-to-fork twist with locally grown produce – and wines – showcased at garden stops, accompanied by live music.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for youths under age 18, and available online at For more details, call (530) 661-3577.

▪ On May 2 and 3, UC Davis hosts its eighth annual Rose Days. This year’s free event will focus on “Your Sustainable Backyard” and easy-care roses for water-wise landscapes.

Sponsored by UCD’s California Center for Urban Horticulture and Foundation Plant Services, this popular event includes bus tours of 8 acres of roses grown to test disease resistance and performance under hot, dry Central Valley conditions. (Most do very well.) Several tested roses will be offered for sale, including such new varieties as Neil Diamond, Smokin’ Hot and the “Downton Abbey” rose Anna’s Promise. Also find several varieties of heat- and drought-tolerant Earth Kind roses.

At 10 a.m. May 2, get expert advice from consulting rosarians Linda Knowles and Charlotte Owendyk as they present “Easy-Care Roses in the Landscape.” That’s followed at 11 a.m. by another must-see workshop: Baldo Villegas, who has thousands of bushes in his private garden, will share “Baldo’s Rose Growing Secrets.”

UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners will answer questions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. All attendees can take home a free miniature rose plant, while supply lasts. The action will be at the Urban Horticulture headquarters, 455 Hopkins Road, on the UC Davis campus.

▪ For something totally different, take a rose perfume tour at the Russian River Rose Co. This destination rose farm –1685 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg – opens to visitors each spring as it harvests roses to make perfume. Patrons take part in the harvest, picking baskets of Bulgarian, French and Persian roses. They then take part in distilling rose water and rose oil from the fragrant petals. The tours are held Thursdays ($10.95) and Sundays ($14.95) through May 21. Call (707) 433-7455 for reservations or click on

In addition, this rose garden is open for tours ($2) on Mothers’ Day, May 10, and tea among the roses ($4) Memorial Weekend, May 23-25.

It just shows there’s many places to still smell and enjoy the roses, even during drought.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington. Read her Seeds columns at


Where: Shepard Garden and Arts Center, 3330 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento

When: Entries, 6-10 a.m. Saturday; show, 1-5 p.m. Saturday

Admission: Free

Details: (916) 799-6199,

See (and smell) hundreds of beautiful roses at their peak of bloom. Members of the public may enter their roses, too, in six special categories for novice exhibitors. First-time rose showers should arrive before 9 a.m.