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Ringling Estate Rose Garden Still Going Strong

When John Ringling's wife, Mable, planted a rose garden in the picturesque grounds of the Ringling Estate in Sarasota in the early 1900s, she probably didn't realize that her lovely rose garden would still be enjoyed by visitors today.

This 27,225-square-foot rose garden is patterned after a traditional Italian circular garden design, so one can enjoy the nearly 1,200 roses while walking in large circles. As you stroll, you will note the many varieties of colors, shapes and showiness.

There are yellows, pinks and reds that range from climbing to bush to ground cover. Some are tall and elegant, while others are smaller and charming. In the very center of the garden lies a gazebo where you can sit and enjoy the fresh scents of the many roses — which are in bloom nearly all year.

According to Deborah Walk, museum curator, Mable Ringling was in Florida during the cooler months, usually from October through March/April when she enjoyed strolling in and tending her gardens. Other gardens on the grounds are: Mable's Secret Garden, the Dwarf Garden and the Millennium Tree Trail. Although none of the original rose bushes planted by Mable survived, many of today's roses in the garden are of the same types.

"There are old garden roses such as Hybrid Perpetuals, China Tea Roses and Hybrid Musk," said Loretta Bestpitch, horticulturist and curator of Mable's Rose Garden for The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

With this many roses to care for, they must be attended to on a daily basis. The estate horticulturists supervise the five to 15 volunteers who are asked to remove the spent blooms or deadhead the roses.

"At times, our volunteers will help with other projects such as planting new roses, cutting the roses back, mulching or cleaning the paths and beds," said Bestpitch, who explained that it is important to remove the spent blooms in order to encourage the growth of new blooms. "We prune for shape and try to cut to an outward facing bud and the thickness of a pencil so there is enough strength to support the new blooms," added Bestpitch.

Rose lovers who want to grow their own should keep in mind that roses require sun exposure of six to eight hours per day. They also like to have 3 to 5 inches of mulch to keep them weed-free. Good nutrient-rich soil that is the proper pH (5.8-6.8) is also important. Furthermore, although they like to have plenty of water, roses do not like to stand in water.

Bestpitch explained that it's also important to choose the right rootstock for your area.

"Make sure you choose a rose that performs good in Florida or the area where you reside. Florida roses do best when grafted onto Fortuniana rootstock; other parts of the country prefer Dr. Huey." Garden and miniature roses do well on their own roots.

Typically, the roses in Florida are cut back hard (hard pruning) during the first week in February. "After a hard cut, it takes approximately 45 to 60 days (depending on variety) for them to display a dazzling show of new blooms," explained Bestpitch. However, newer cutting techniques currently being employed by the estate are in hope of keeping the roses blooming all year long.

Details of all our roses are available on our web site. Over 1000 varieties to choose from.

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