A white picket fence surrounds the cedar-shingle house sitting among dozens and dozens of rose bushes, maybe more than 150 of them. “People go by every day and are mesmerized,” says Kara Sher, an interior decorator and real estate agent who lives in Fort Lauderdale.
Her roses include about a half dozen purple varieties as well as almost a dozen pinks with names such as perfume delight, ivory tower, Christian Dior, Belinda’s dream and sweet surrender. There are elegant long-stemmed hybrid teas, clusters of grandifloras and floribundas as well as showy cottage roses.
When Sher was asked what she wanted for the garden of her home where she lives with her children and life partner Jim La Vallee, she started sketching. She drew her dream, which grew out of a visit to a friend’s farm on Nantucket Island several summers ago.
“The farm was nothing short of being storybook,” she says. She recalls the yard was filled with nikko blue hydrangeas, pink roses and hot pink peonies.
Today at Sher’s home, there are roses along the street. Inside the fence, the yard is neatly carved into four beds that are bordered with ilex and separated by white pebble paths.
On clear nights, the family including Michael, 9, and Caroline, 12, gather on two handmade white benches to watch the stars and enjoy the perfume of the flowers. “It’s like an oasis. You come out here and you feel like you are on vacation,” she says.
Or she might have her morning coffee in a wicker chair on the front porch overlooking a hedge of small lilac-pink Caldwell roses that grow in eye-catching clusters. You’ll also find these charmers lining the fence along the street.
“In summer these bushes explode with blooms,” says Sher who grew up in Fort Lauderdale. But it wasn’t until she moved to California as a young adult that she planted her first rose garden. “The climate was perfect and I fell in love with them,” she says.
Returning to South Florida, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to grow roses in the hot sun. After all, they aren’t tropical plants.
But she was driving around town with her mother and saw a yard full of roses. They stopped the car and Sher knocked on the front door but no one answered. The next day she returned to find the owner home. “I begged him to tell me his secret,” she says.
It turned out to be Roger Stone whose unique business, Stone’s Rose Gardening in Davie, helps people plant and maintain their rose gardens.
Stone was adamant that the best roses to grow in South Florida have Fortuniana rootstock that is resistant to nematodes. He and Sher went through the lists of what was available. And then they went to work.
First the roses were planted in 24-by-24-by-20-inch holes filled with a good potting mix. “Just buy the most expensive one you can find and that’s the right one,” says Stone, adding that the soil should be light.
Then he placed a layer of pine straw around the newly planted bushes to add acid to the soil that the roses need.
But the work didn’t stop there. To maintain the garden he fertilizes the plants every 21 days by first watering the plant, then applying the fertilizer at the drip line and watering it again so it forces the feeder roots to reach out, the plant grows and you get more roses.
An organic spray such as neem oil is applied a couple times a month to combat Japanese beetles, aphids, scale, spider mites and thrips. Stone suggests applying the spray to the top as well as the underside of the leaves where bugs tend to congregate and rain won’t wash it off. And he uses a fungicide such as copper or diathane M-45 to combat black spot.
Then it’s up to La Vallee to be sure the drip irrigation system gives the bushes a drink about three times a week. The plants like consistent watering that is applied at the bottom of the bush, which is then allowed to dry out. Water should not hit the leaves.
Because a Florida rose garden needs at least six hours of morning sun, this property was the perfect location. It has a few live oaks, a strangler fig and a sea grape but they are along the edges of the property so the front yard receives plenty of sun throughout the day.
In summer, when there’s plenty of daylight, the plants provide more but smaller blooms than this time of year. But now through the end of April, the blooms will double and triple in size and last 1 ½ weeks once cut and taken inside, Stone says.
“If you are willing to cut your roses a little slack, you can have beautiful roses year round,” says Stone.
Today you can enjoy Sher’s favorite rose variety, the Abraham Darby, of which she has 50 bushes. This English rose has petals that open inward creating a dense and fluffy center for these small but lush flowers. Their scent reminds her of orange-lemon sorbet. “It’s hard to describe, but it’s delicious,” she says.
Here too you’ll find the white blooms of the hybrid tea rose pristine that has light pink tips. The moonstone hybrid tea sports flowers with tips that start out hot pink but fade to light pink over time.
The pink blooms on the Tiffany have a little bit of yellow in the center. “Old timers know this one. It’s one of the most popular pinks especially for its fragrance,” says Stone. And then there’s Memorial Day, which is the closest thing to a thornless rose you will find.
From the sidewalk you can’t help but notice the purple hybrid tea roses that cluster at the curb in the corner of this lot, which is over 12,000 square-feet. This area is dedicated to Sher’s daughter, whose favorite color is purple.
You’ll find such purple pleasures as azure sea, hot princess, gentle giant, paradise and ebb tide, perhaps the most deeply purple of them all. They are set off by the contrasting Eugenia trimmed into cone-shaped topiary as well as shrubs of variegated pittosporum and dwarf clusia.
“These roses are probably the best purple performers — they bloom the most,” says Stone who is responsible for watering, spraying, fertilizing and generally encouraging the blooms.
But it’s up to Sher to cut the flowers. She knows that the more she cuts the more they bloom so she gives them to friends, her children’s teachers and even people who pass by her fence and admire the profusion.
“I can’t imagine living in a house that didn’t have roses to share,” she says.
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley is a master gardener who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org