Every spring, members of the Ventura County Rose Society quietly huddle by their prized rosebushes and await the onset of an ancient biological ritual.
For this is the time when their prized roses enter their peak blooming season and explode with color and fragrance--something the plants do simply to perpetuate their species, but something that society members see as cause for celebration.
“We’re at the peak of the season--I’ve already had one very good bloom in my garden,” said Bob Livesay, 69, of Westlake, a retired petroleum engineer and the society’s treasurer. “It’s this time of year that makes it all worthwhile. I like the fact that I can get up in the morning and look out my window and see such beauty. It makes my day.”
The 150-member society has members spread the length and breadth of Ventura County and into Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, said Ojai resident Tee Bower, the society’s president.
An affiliate of the American Rose Society, the society is home to a diverse group from all walks of life and economic strata. The group holds monthly meetings, pruning demonstrations and at least one field trip or other activity.
The society also produces a monthly newsletter, “The Ventura Rose,” a deftly written eight-page tome that many in the society say is what binds the group together.
“I think the newsletter has been instrumental in our growth as an organization,” Bower said. “Many of our members say they joined to receive the advice that you can find in the newsletter.”
The newsletter offers advice and care columns--including ever-critical pruning tips. Other stories address garden pests and upcoming trips to gardens across Southern California. One recent issue carried an article titled “Zen of Disbudding.”
Society members say they are drawn to the thorny, flowering bushes for different reasons.
Some are intrigued by the thousands of different species. Some are fascinated by the challenges of rose propagation. Others say it was the intensity of one rose’s particular shade of red, or their nostalgia for a favorite grandmother who maintained a rose garden, that drew them into the hobby.
Still others say they like the challenge of growing the “perfect” rose and then competing with other gardeners in local and regional competitions.
Growing quality roses takes time, dedication and technical knowledge, society members say. Some growers spend hours every day to maintain quality gardens.
Knowing the precise time to prune and then how much to cut off are probably the most critical skills to acquire, but also knowing when to fertilize the plants is important. Society members say that keeping a sharp eye for the onset of bud and leaf-eating pest infestations and knowing what kind of pesticides to use and when to apply them are key to raising the best roses.
Jeri Collari, 50, of Camarillo said that when she stops to breathe in the lush fragrance of a freshly picked rose, or touches one of its soft, colorful petals, she’s doing far more than simply taking in the aesthetics of a pretty flower.
She says she is touching history itself.
Collari said some of the roses that line her yard are direct descendants of roses that once pleased Egyptian kings, decorated the Appomattox battlefield, and graced the royal gardens at Buckingham Palace for hundreds of years.
“Because all varieties of roses come from a cutting of the original bush, it really isn’t too much of a stretch to say that I have a little bit of history growing in my garden,” Collari said.
Collari, who edits the society’s newsletter, said the group is structured so the average gardener can gain basic information on back-yard rose-growing.
“We try to make the society and the newsletter user-friendly,” Collari said. “We want to make it accessible to people who are just interested in keeping beautiful, healthy roses and who don’t really care too much for the science.”
The society’s most recent project, finished in January, was planting a public rose garden at Camarillo’s Constitution Park, next to City Hall. Society members planted more than 142 rosebushes donated by a local flower wholesaler.
The Constitution Park project follows a smaller-scale effort in January, 1993, at the Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park, where society members planted a 43-bush rose garden.
Barbara Harms, a Newbury Park resident and society member, said the Stagecoach garden, which will be formally dedicated next month, features roses known for their Western historical significance.
“All the roses planted there are known to be in existence prior to 1867,” said Harms, who is also a docent at the museum. “Planting this particular kind of garden is in keeping with the history of that facility. The earliest we have can be traced back to 1752.”
For Harms, 40, the fragrance of her own tea roses and hybrid perpetuals is one reason she is an enthusiast. Another is her admiration for the plant’s sheer pluckiness and survival instincts.
“I have a real respect for them,” Harms said. “People have come across roses planted at barns and ranch houses abandoned decades ago and they’re still growing, still producing beautiful flowers.”
Clay Jennings, a civilian engineer at the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme, started his back-yard rose garden with longtime companion Collari in 1988. They now have more than 300 rosebushes on their terraced Camarillo property.
The 52-year-old Jennings said that before they started the garden, he didn’t think he had a true green thumb.
“Before, I thought that my four cacti were all that I needed,” said Jennings, now the society’s vice president. “Since then, I have come to really love working with roses. I find getting out into the garden is a great stress-reducer. At the end of a long day, it’s one of the things that I really look forward to.”
The Ventura County Rose Society meets the fourth Thursday of every month at the Oxnard Community Center, 800 Hobson Way. Meetings start at 7:30 p.m. and are open to the public. For information, call Jeri Collari at 482-2066.