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SALISBURY — Ask those who went to the 54th annual Rowan Rose Show on Saturday how their gardens grow, and you’ll probably get a variety of answers.
Gary Whitt, of Mount Holly, said a common answer to the question is, “Larger every year.”
That is, every year he gets rid of a little more of his lawn and plants a few more rose bushes.
The Rowan Rose Society’s show at Salisbury Mall has turned a large, vacant storefront into a temporary earthly paradise.
Though the judging is completed, the competitors remain on display today from 1 to 5 p.m.
They include roses of every color, shape and size — some cloyingly sweet, others with hardly a fragrance.
Roses stand singly in glass bottles and in complex arrangements in vases. Others float in bowls of water.
Wesley Seamon, co-chair of this year’s show, said there were over 400 entries this year.
Clyde Harriss, president of the Rowan Rose Society, said the local organization was founded in 1956, and has 40 members today.
“Everybody loves roses, whether he grows them or not,” Harriss said. “There is that attraction from people who are not gardeners.”
The members of the group, as well as the attendees at Saturday’s show, are a diverse group of men and women, young and older adults alike.
“We have people from their twenties to up in their eighties. They all have this love of roses in common,” Harriss said.
The Rowan Rose Society is an affiliate of the American Rose Society.
Harriss said the show contains entries from throughout the Carolina District, which includes North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Many of the roses that you see here are not grown in Rowan County,” Harriss said.
Locally, he said, members’ gardens may range from a few bushes to hundreds.
“We appeal to people who garden on a small scale, not just huge gardeners,” Harriss said.
He said that many who have never been to a rose show are simply amazed by the beauty of the flowers.
A moment later, the greeter at the door encourages passers-by to “come in and smell the roses!”
Once inside, Harriss said, “It’s interesting to find out what a huge variety of roses there are.”
For novices, rose shows may be an encouragement to come to one of the society’s meetings, and perhaps to grow their own roses.
“The biggest thing is, we try not to get too complicated with it,” Seamon said.
Unlike some of the competitors at the show, Seamon said, most roses don’t need continual maintenance.
Those who want to exhibit, however, “have to put a lot more time and effort into it.
Seamon said he’s been involved in the Rowan Rose Society since 1999, but used to come to meetings with his grandmother before that.
“I never realized then I would be doing what I’m doing now,” Seamon said.
They’re among the seasoned competitors, the ones who find the right time to cut flowers and then refrigerate them so they’re opened perfectly on the day of the show.
They’re the ones, Seamon said, who use tweezers to carefully arrange the petals of a rose before judging — plucking the petals isn’t allowed.
Don Myers, of Wake Forest, said he started growing roses 50 years ago.
“Well, I was a bored teenager,” he said — but he lived next door to a gardener.
“She gave me a few bulbs, the next year she gave me a few roses, and there it goes,” Myers said.
Today, Myers has a doctorate degree in plant pathology.
And, he adds, about 500 rose bushes.
Nearby, Mary Myers points to four cardboard boxes on a table, out of which spring armloads of roses in bloom.
“Those are the ones we didn’t enter,” she said.
Don and Mary said they had won in a number of categories, and while they sat relaxing after refreshments, they talked with other growers about the nuances of judging and the differences between varieties.
But in the end, “the main purpose of a rose show is to share roses with others and with fellow rosearians,” Don Myers said.
Nearby, Wesley’s son John Seamon, 12, finishes his lunch. He’s learning how to compete.
“Well, I help with the roses,” John said.
One of his favorites is a hybrid variety called “Doris Morgan,” named for a member of the Rose Society.
He chose a Doris Morgan bloom for a rose in a bowl entry — just the bloom, no foliage, floating atop a small bowl of water.
Another of his favorites is a variety called “Rock and Roll,” with a variegated pattern of lighter pinks and deep blood red, with a heavy fragrance.
“People don’t have big rose gardens anymore,” Wesley Seamon said — not like many did in the old days.
But for those who do, there are more options today. Harriss said many new varieties of “earthkind” roses are meant to require less water and specialized care.
They may not be as picture-perfect as the roses that win blue ribbons, but they can bring beauty to a yard.
But for those who’ve been bitten by the rose-growing bug — or, perhaps, pricked by the thorn — the sky’s the limit in competition.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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