Gloria Jepson's yard is downright presidential. Ronald Reagan stands tall along a wooden fence, and Nancy Reagan is tucked in behind an apple tree. John F. Kennedy appears along the front walkway and Mister Lincoln sways in the wind near a wooden gate.
Each of them is a patented rose Jepson has carefully selected for its stately color and appearance.
Jepson says Ronald Reagan is among her favorites, as far as roses go. “It starts out red, and as it opens you can see white in the middle.”
When Jepson moved to Redmond from Springfield, she got an earful about the struggle she'd face if she wanted to re-create the lush rose garden she had in the Willamette Valley. She had 30 roses there. Here she has 98.
She grows other flowers, too, like iris and daffodils, but long-stemmed tea roses are Jepson's delight. “I grow things that I like. But the roses are my favorite of all. I started growing roses as soon as I had a place to grow them. Probably about 35 years ago.”
Tricks of the trade
Roses are picky. They like water, but not on their stems and flowers; they don't like their soil to be too alkaline or too acidic; they love sun, in fact, the more the better.
And they don't like to head for winter without a blanket, which is mulch piled up around their roots. “If it doesn't have exactly what it wants, it doesn't do as well,” said Jepson.
Because the soil here is volcanic, Jepson first focuses on neutralizing the pH level of the soil before planting. “The soil here is very volcanic, and roses don't like that, so I had to dig out where I was going to put them and put in rock and really good soil,” said Jepson.
Jepson buys grade A, patented roses in the bare root form. “(Patented) means they have gone through a lot of testing and they have a name.” She says bare root roses are the best form of rose to plant because they more easily acclimate to the new soil. When roses are sold in pots of soil, the change can shock the plant.
Jepson watches the weather in the spring and plants only when she's sure there won't be any more heavy freezes at night. “Probably in May here you can plant them.”
Jepson digs a hole that is wider than the plant's roots and at least 36 inches deep. She puts rocks or pebbles in the base of the hole to promote drainage, then adds soil that has been amended with steer manure and Miracle-Gro. “Put the rose in there and spread out its roots.~ Then you tamp it down so that it's packed down so the roots can get a good hold on that new dirt,” said Jepson.
After the rose is planted, Jepson keeps a careful eye on bugs, watering and feeding. “I give them a gallon of water every other day ~ (and) feed (them) about every six weeks. You feed them in the spring, middle of summer and right now with a winterizing fertilizer with less nitrogen because that signals them to grow.” Jepson sprays for aphids in the spring and adds granules of a systemic fertilizer and bug killer around the base of the plant.
As the tea roses bloom throughout the summer, Jepson cuts some of them to make bouquets for the house. “You can cut enough to make a bouquet off a single bush or go through the garden and get a yellow one, a red one, a pink one.” Of her 98 rose bushes, Jepson says the peace rose is one of her favorites. It's a variegated pink and yellow and “every rose tends to be different. That characteristic is great.”
She also deadheads the roses throughout the growing season. As they bloom and wither, Jepson cuts the rose off so that the plant will produce another rose. And at the end of the season, she just lets them be. “It's when the leaves fall off and the rose hips come on ~ it signals to the plant that 'OK I'm done doing my job this year.'”
As the weather gets chillier, Jepson prepares the roots for winter by mounding mulch or other insulating material like shredded paper around the roses. “Mulch them good around them, and just pray that we don't have sub-zero weather.”
Jepson waits until April when warmer temperatures emerge before she gets to work pruning the rose bushes. “It's like pruning an apple tree. (The rose) says 'Oh my god I'm losing something, I've got to grow. If it's freezing out, you don't want them growing.” Jepson prunes to achieve a uniform shape and to open up the plant so that all the branches will get ample sun exposure. And with the warmer temperatures, Jepson begins to pull the mulch away from the base of the plant and starts the watering and fertilizing process all over again.
“Roses are work, but I would consider them, obviously because I have so many, the most beautiful plant you can put in the ground.”