Saturday, June 20, 2015

Green Onions

Recently, one of favorite recipe sites, All posted this amazing tip about scallions, known as green onions or spring onions.

Steve loves green onions in salads and sandwiches and so I decided to try it.  My biggest frustration is that the bunches of green onions we buy often wilt in the refrigerator (despite storing them in a special container designed for them).

I decided to try the tip and I was pleased by how well they sprouted and grew.  This weekend, we planted them in our herb container.    I often wished that I could just cut them as I need them. .....  Now I can. ;)
Day 3

Day 15

Monday, June 1, 2015

Memorial Day - Honoring the Veterans in American Canyon

Steve and I attended the Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in American Canyon.  The park is located just about a mile from our home along a country road that parallels busy route 29.  Several members of the U.S. Army raised the flag.  A blustery, windy day, Old Glory's stars and stripes rippled and waved in the stiff breeze.

There were the usual speeches and observances that one ordinarily encounters at these events. Some local musicians sang some patriotic songs, and members of the VFW Post #11099 presented flags and flowers that they placed on the granite memorial.

I was pleased to see how well-attended the ceremony was.  The true meaning of Memorial Day often gets lost in the crush of barbecues, swim parties, and beach expeditions.

We arrived early to be able to get seats and while we were waiting, Steve and I reminisced about the Memorial Day ceremonies of our childhood.  I remembered going to Worcester to see the parade in front of City Hall.  Soldiers in uniform marched solemnly, and tanks and large guns separated the battalions.  There were marching bans, boy scouts and girl scouts, and many politicians.

I recalled one particularly unseasonable Memorial Day when it was overcast and chilly, threatening rain.  My mother hustled my sister and me into sweaters and coats and made us drink warm milk "to keep you warm".  Someone gave us little flags and we were chastised every time our arms sagged -- the flag always had to be held upright.  It was impressed on me, and to this day I hold it dear, that the flag is the symbol of our country and should always be treated with the utmost respect.

Below are scenes from the ceremony held this past Memorial Day in American Canyon.

The flags are raised as the Star Spangled Banner is sung.
Members of the VFW present flowers, a flag and a wreath which they placed on the memorial (below).

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

Honoring Black Hawk Tail #517 ~ You Will Never be Forgotten.
Memorial Day has come to have very special meaning for us. Every year we honor the soldiers who died when the Black Hawk helicopter with the tail #517 crashed in Afghanistan carrying solders and Navy Seals that we had been supporting through
Soldiers' Angels.

As members of Soldiers' Angels, we had supported many, many soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with cards, letters, care packages, and holiday gifts since we first joined the group in 2006.   

In 2010, we adopted an entire unit of 35 soldiers who were members of the 101st Airborne Combat Air Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.  This unit was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and had been deployed to Afghanistan where they were stationed at Kandahar Air Base.

In addition to the soldiers of the 101st, we also supported another platoon of 12 soldiers, members of a combined joint special operations task force serving in Tarin Kowt that our CAB unit delivered mail and supplies to.    

Capt. Nick Craig
Our unit of the 101st CAB brought mail, food, and supplies to  groups of soldiers stationed in the mountainous region  near Kandahar and served as the extraction team for any NATO troops in that region who were either in extreme danger or who had been injured or killed.  It was grim, dangerous work.

Our main contact for both units during the deployment was Capt. Nick Craig, one of the Black Hawk pilots in the CAB unit we were supporting.   Nick relayed messages to us, letting us know what kinds of food, clothing, and toiletries the special forces soldiers needed, and what the soldiers in his own unit needed as well.  

We sent cards and letters every week and more than two dozen care packages every month, including complete meals, toiletries, and snacks for the special forces soldiers.   

We also sent each of our soldiers a Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies from their "Wish List". (That was a major production but we pulled it off!)   And we sent each one of them one of the "US Flag" T-shirts we are wearing in the above photograph.

On September 21, 2010, the U.S. suffered one of the most devastating losses of the entire war when one of the unit's Black Hawk helicopters, tail #517, crashed, claiming the lives of 9 soldiers and sailors. 

While we were grateful that Nick was not flying that day, the five soldiers who perished were members of the 101st CAB.   The other four troops who died in the crash were sailors, members of a special forces combined group.  Three were Navy SEALs and the fourth was a Navy cryptologic technician assigned to a Naval Special Warfare unit. 

Their unit emblem, sent by Nick, shortly after the crash.
Nick sent us an email about the crash and a couple of days later, when names were officially released, he sent along their names as well as photographs.  He helped in the recovery of the remains of soldiers who he knew and flew with.  We can't imagine how difficult that must have been for him and for the entire unit.   

Despite not having met any of "our" soldiers or knowing them personally, the loss was very personal to us.  We held every one of them very close to our hearts. 

Nick organized a memorial to honor the soldiers who died and single-handedly raised the funds to build it.  The memorial was dedicated at Fort Campbell on my birthday, January 6, 2012.    

We couldn't be there for the dedication, but Nick sent us a certificate commemorating the day and acknowledging that the flag that was raised over the memorial that day was flown in our name by a Black Hawk helicopter over Afghanistan.  We were very touched by the honor.  He also sent us their unit emblem which hangs in our kitchen.  

As we have done each year since this tragedy occurred, today on Memorial Day, we are remembering and honoring the soldiers and sailors who perished in the  crash of Black Hawk #517.  

In 2011, we dedicated the circular rose and cottage garden in front of our home in Newburyport  to the memory of these soldiers.  We called this particular bed the "rose island" since it was planted predominantly with roses.  On Memorial Day, we placed American flags around  the circle, one for each soldier and sailor lost.   We left the flags flying in place until it was time to close the garden for the winter.

In 2012,  in place of the flags, we  erected a memorial in the form of a figure of a soldier bearing a flag on the rose island.  At night, the statue and flag were lit by a solar powered spot light that shined from dusk until dawn.  The soldier was lit year round -- we went during winter storms to make sure that the light was cleared of snow and the flag was protected. 

Last year (2014) we moved to California and this is our first Memorial Day in our new home.  We are in temporary quarters in a lovely apartment in American Canyon.  But our soldiers are in our heart.  The soldier statue is in storage, awaiting a new home in a new garden in California, but to honor our soldiers, we are attending the Memorial Day Celebration in our new city. 

We are grateful for the safe return of the many soldiers we supported over the past nearly 7 years.   For those who gave their lives to this effort, we have pledged to honor their memory.  We will never forget. 

The   Newburyport garden tribute to the soldiers and sailors who died on September 21, 2010 in the crash of Black Hawk Tail #517. The red rose is Veteran's Honor.
Close-up of the statuary.


Remembering the Soldiers and Sailors 
from Black Hawk #517

Chief Warrant Officer Matthew G. Wagstaff
Sgt. Marvin R. Calhoun Jr.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonah D. McClellan
Maj. Robert F. Baldwin
Staff Sgt. Joshua D. Powell
Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam O. Smith
Lt. Brendan J. Looney

Senior Chief Petty Officer David B. McLendon
Petty Officer 3rd Class Denis C. Miranda

Author's Note:  Much of the content of this post is taken from our previous posts about this courageous crew which we originally  posted on Memorial Day, 2011.  You can read the previous post HERE. Photos were sent to us by Capt. Nick Craig shortly after the crash.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Vintage Roses: A Living Museum

Zephirine Drouhin covers a trellis bench in our cottage garden in Newburyport, Massachusetts. 
Many years ago, when I was creating my very first rose garden, I discovered a wonderful nursery where I could indulge my love of old garden roses.  My love affair with Zephirine Drouhin and Cardinal de Richelieu, two of my favorite bourbon and gallica roses respectively, began with my first order of roses more than two decades ago from Vintage Gardens in Sebastopol, California.

My first rose garden was small and I could only fit a few of the vintage beauties in the narrow area where roses thrived in that garden. 

A decade later, when Steve and I married and planted our first rose garden in Newburyport, once again I looked to Vintage Gardens for the beautiful old garden roses that were well-represented among the more than 280 roses we eventually cultivated there.

Roses growing in the shade, under pine trees, behind our waterfall in our Massachusetts garden.
In our New England Garden, roses thrived in some of the most difficult conditions roses can experience on the planet:  scorching, humid summers, frigid winters, the floods of early springs, and then of course, only someone who truly "loved" roses would even try to grow them in the shade, under evergreens!   Yet, the hill behind our water garden and koi pond was covered with double red and pink Knock-out Roses, Jacob's Coat, and The Fairy (not visible in this photo).
 New Dawn and Peggy Martin  at the entrance to our formal rose garden in Massachusetts
Fast forward another decade and my husband was offered a position in California's Napa Valley. We left our beautiful New England garden behind to move to a location where we could garden and grow roses for 10 months of the year. 

Knowing that we would be living in the Napa Valley, I was excited at the prospect of making a trip to Sebastopol to personally choose roses for my new garden but when I went to the nursery's web site I was shocked and dismayed to learn that the nursery was closing just as we were relocating to the area.

On the web site, I found links to the Friends of Vintage Roses and joined.  If we couldn't hand pick the roses that would someday grace our garden, at the very least, Steve and I could offer some financial support and volunteer to help preserve the collection.

The Friends of Vintage Roses is a group of dedicated volunteers that grew out of a similar group of rose enthusiasts who were regular volunteers at the original Vintage Gardens nursery for many years. 

Gregg Lowery, Curator of the Rose Collection*
Vintage Gardens was the physical embodiment of Gergg Lowery's and Phillip Robinson's shared passion for all roses but especially the rare old garden roses.  Their labor of love eventually resulted in a collection that at one point consisted of 5,124 named varieties of roses that comprised the most extensive collection of vintage roses in the world. 

Rose stock from Vintage Gardens was shared with botanical gardens in both the US and abroad, and was also provided for DNA studies both here and inFrance and Japan.  Dr. Yuki Mikanagi at Kobe University in Japan used roses from the Vintage Gardens for her research into rose pigment research and roses were also provided for the the Noisette and Tea studies conducted by Dr. Nancy Morvello at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. 

The collection is regarded as the most comprehesive and complete collection of  Hybrid Perpetuals, Bourbons, Gallicas, Hybrid Chinas, Teas, Noisettes, and Chinas in North America.  The old Hybrid Teas include an extensive group of Pernetianas that is probably unmatched in any other single public or private garden.

After the retail nursery closed in 2014, in order to preserve and maintain the extensive collection of roses that was established by Gregg Lowery and Phillip Robinson, the Friends took ownership of the roses and created a non-profit organization to in effect, create a living museum of the roses.

The long term goal of the Friends is to once again have the roses growing in a setting that can be open to the public and at the same time able to provide specimens for research and for other other botanical gardens around the world.

The volunteers continue to meet once or twice a month at the garden's current location on Pleasant Hill Road in Sebastopol for "Dirt Days", where they work under the guidance of  Gregg Lowery, a luminary in the rose world and one of the founders of the original collection.  Gregg has remained closely involved with the roses and currently serves as the curator for the collection.  Volunteers assist with pruning, weeding, feeding, tagging, and inventorying the many rare and historically important roses. 

For volunteers, working with the vintage roses is an opportunity to ask questions and learn about rose culture from one of the most experienced and knowledgeable rose gardeners in the world.  For Steve and me, being immersed in such historically significant roses and having an opportunity to listen to the conversation of experienced rose gardeners is both educational and inspiring.  As much as we know about rose pruning and cultivation, working next to such talented volunteers is always such a treat for us.  We always come away with pearls of wisdom from those who have done this for decades longer than we have. 

Volunteers gather with Gregg, ready to fertilize, weed, prune, and tag the roses.
As important to us as the educational aspect is, what I truly enjoy about these days is the opportunity to actually see and in many cases, smell, some of the rarest of the rare....  roses that few of the large public botanical gardens can boast among their collections.  To experience these roses is to experience history.

The current location of the collection is still in Sebastopol and many of the roses are cultivated in containers, in part, because it's easier to protect them from gophers and other critters, in part to make it easier to feed and water them, and in part to make it easier to move the collection, alluding to the possibly temporary nature of the current location. 

Shakespeare Garden, an Eglantine Rose*
The collection is regarded as one of the best and most extensive in the world and has provided cuttings of rare roses to botanical gardens around the world as well as DNA samples of roses for research into the history of the different lines of old garden roses. Indeed it is  treasure that deserves to be supported and maintained.

Every time we volunteer, we see roses that we might never see in any other venue, roses so rare they may exist in only a handful of gardens around the world. The rarity and importance of these roses can't be understated.

If you would like to support the maintenance of these wonderful roses you can send a financial donation to The Friends.  Help in the garden is always needed and assistance on "Dirt Days" is welcomed graciously.  You can contact Carolyn Sanders, director of volunteers, through the Friends web site to register and to get the updated schedule of dirt days and events.

A fundraiser is currently scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 3rd, to help offset the financial costs of maintaining the roses.  The fabulous garden at Terra Bella Vista, a privately owned collection of 450 roses owned by Susan Feichtmeir will be open to the public from noon to 4 PM.  A $20.00 donation per person will gain you entrance to the garden and the silent auction of artwork and roses that is scheduled to take place from noon to 2 PM.  All funds will benefit the Friends of The Vintage Roses' costs to maintain the Lowery-Robinson rose collection.  You can see the entire flyer HERE.

The entire flyer is available on the Friends web site.*

Do check the Friends website for other upcoming activities.  Click on "Upcoming Events" on the group's Home Page.
Carolyn Sanders, Volunteer Coordinator
Volunteer activities are under the direction of Carolyn Sanders who schedules the "Dirt Days" and sends out communications and reminders to volunteers.  She is also volunteer extraordinaire and has been for some time.

Many of the volunteer activities require no specific knowledge of roses (weeding the beds and pots, for example) and Carolyn, Gregg, or one of the other volunteers is always avaliable to answer questions. 

If you ever wanted to learn about roses and their care and cultivation, volunteering at the Friends rose garden is an excellent opportunity to be able to not only help out this worthy cause but to feel comfortable around these easy to cultivate plants.  Many people are under the mistaken impression that roses are hard to grow.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Growing in pots, in a part of the country that has been subjected to a multi-year drought,
This weekend, we worked hard to make certain that the roses were adequately tagged.  Each rose has a tag attached to it, and then another one or two handwritten (in pencil on plastic) tags is added to the pot.  It's amazing how often these get displaced.  Accurate identification of the roses is crucial to the integrity of of a collection of this many rose specimens.

Tags are placed both on the roses and in the pots, to include the name of the rose cultivar, classification or group, and year the rose was introduced.
The chance to interact one-on-one with a rose expert of the caliber of Gregg Lowery is a special perk for volunteers.
Some of the roses are in the ground but many are clustered in pots.  One of our tasks last fall was to dig up and put shrubs that had been attacked by gophers.  While some volunteers were weeding and pruning, other volunteers added fertilizer and tags to the pots. The pots are not ideal, but they will protect the roses until the beds can be adequately fenced against rodent pests, an expensive proposition for a garden this size.
Some of the roses currently in bloom at the garden.  The fragrance is indescribable.

One of my favorites of the roses in bloom this past weekend.  I meant to go into the row between the pots and check the label and we were so busy, I forgot!  Maybe one of the of the volunteers will help me out.  The sun washed out the color somewhat...  the subtle soft shades of rose and mauve brushed with yellow and ivory at the base of each petal were absolutely stunning.

While we were there this weekend, blooms were everywhere.
Comtesse de Rocquigny, a Bourbon rose in the collection*

Gourdalt, a Bourbon rose in the collection*

Visit the Friends of Vintage Roses.

*Photos courtesy of the Friends of Vintage Roses
All other photos copyright Cathy Rose

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Almost Time for Roses - Share your Knowledge with New Gardeners at Your Local Garden Center

If you enjoy talking about roses and sharing your knowledge and love of roses with others, you might consider volunteering at a local garden center this spring when people will be shopping for roses to plant in their gardens.

I am amazed at the number of people who won't even consider planting roses because they are convinced that roses are labor intensive, for expert gardeners only, and uncommonly hard to grow.  I've heard every complaint.  "They're too finicky."  "They never do well for me no matter what I do. "  "They're just too much work and too hard for the average person to grow."

Probably the most pervasive misconception is that growing roses is labor intensive. "You need to be out there taking care of them constantly, don't you? I mean, they have to be fed, sprayed, deadheaded every day! Why do you think only retired people grow roses?  No one else has the time."  Of course, none of that is true and these same people are out there weeding and deadheading their petunias and peonies without giving it a second thought.

We live in New England on the northernmost coast of Massachusetts.  We are zoned 6b "officially" but that is based in part on averages.  The reality is that despite an overall tendency toward milder weather during the winter months, winters here can range from zone 8 warm to zone 5 harsh.  We usually see more ice storms than snow, which would be protective of the garden, providing moisture and insulation from harsh drying winds.  Gale force winds and nor'easters are frequent and can be hard on any garden plant, not just roses.  Summers bring heat and humidity, droughts, 90+ degree heat waves with 90+ percent humidity, downy mildew, Japanese Beetles, and the dreaded blackspot.  No question: there are much easier climates in which to grow roses.  There are also literally hundreds of roses that not only survive here, they thrive here, often despite a fair amount of benign neglect.

When I am able to get to the bottom of what it is that has given someone such a negative impression of roses, what I almost uniformly learn is that the wrong rose was planted the wrong way in the wrong spot (for that rose, in that yard).  And if I take the time to explain how a rose should be planted in New England (much different from how it would planted in California) and help them to choose the right kind of rose for the location where they intend to plant it, they are not just going to be successful at growing roses, they often will become avid rose enthusiasts. Who couldn't learn to love a rose?

In the spring, my husband and I volunteer in the rose yard at local garden centers to answer questions and give advice about choosing and growing roses.  We ask the customers what kind of rose they're looking for (a shrub, a climber, or something to grow a particular way in a particular area), what colors they prefer, whether or not fragrance is important to them, and what the area where the rose will be planted is like (sunny, shady, inner city, on the beach, under pines).   We take the time to educate them about the different rose classes, basic rose care, and what kinds of roses will grow best for them, based on how they describe their yard and what they tell us they are looking for.

Knockouts and Joseph's Coat blooming under pines in moderate shade
We will walk through the rose yard with them, showing them options, answering their questions and asking many of our own. This helps us to know how comfortable they are in the garden in general and how much guidance they may need to get started.

Sometimes, no matter what we say, someone is determined to try a rose that probably wouldn't work as well for them as another variety or worse, may be totally inappropriate for their yard.   After we explain our concerns about that particular rose in that location, we do our best to suggest ways that they can mitigate the negatives and support the rose so they can be successful.  Sometimes you have to think out of the box (literally).  But there are roses that will grow in the shade near pines if their cultivation needs are met.

One they've selected a rose, we show them how to position the graft when they plant it and how to prune it.  We also teach them how to care for it through all four of our seasons.  We have a recipe for a totally natural spray that we share for those who want a chemical free garden.  If they prefer, we recommend products available in the garden shop or hardware store that are effective and environmentally friendly.  We also give them information about the local rose society.  We encourage them to join the group but even if they decide not to, our local rose society will respond to questions from any gardener about growing roses and a rosarian will make a house call to help them with their rose problems, whether they are members of the organization or not.  

Often, people will come to buy a rose without having prepared a bed (usually without the first idea about how to do that) or even knowing precisely where they want to put it.  Once we have a sense of what their yard is like we can help them think through the best place to plant.  Then we explain what roses require,  soil amendments they will likely need, and how to get the area ready for planting. 

We have found that when an inexperienced gardener purchases a rose before they have decided on and prepared a place to plant it, there is an extraordinarily high risk of failure so we encourage them to prepare the are before they actually purchase the rose.
If there is no existing flower bed for the rose, and especially if this is a first time homeowner putting in a flower bed for the first time, they tend to significantly underestimate how much time and effort goes into creating a place where any plants, not just roses, will thrive.  And if they are busy building a flower bed, chasing toddlers, and working full time, it's easy to forget to water their new plants.  If the rose is left sitting in a "nice sunny spot" without water, by the time the bed is ready, the rose and any companion plants they might have also purchased are dead.  So if we are working with someone who is very new to gardening, we encourage them to prepare the location first and come back the next day or even the next week for the rose.  We write down the names of the available roses that they liked and that we thought would do well for them so that when they return, they know what to ask for.

We try to get to the rose yard well before the garden center opens its gates to the public not only to familiarize ourselves with the available rose stock but also to scout out companion plants.  We will usually grab a couple of large garden carts and load them with a variety of our favorites and have them on hand to show people how they will look together.

Many people who are gardening for the first time don't know the names of a lot of annuals and perennials, so rattling off a list of plants is of no value.   We show them the cart and chat about what plants work well together and why.   We have a printed list of suggestions for good companions in the garden that they can take with them as they shop.  They are welcome to take plants off the cart or meander through the nursery, list in hand, to select their own. 

Sometimes people will show up in the rose yard with a leaf or blossom in a baggie, hoping to get advice about a problem they're having.  Last spring, this area saw a larger than usual infestation of the rose sawfly.  We were able to reassure people that their roses would be okay and we gave them easy instructions for battling this nuisance.  If we can't identify a problem, we refer them to a more experienced rosarian or suggest that they request to have someone come out from the rose society to diagnose the problem and explain the options for dealing with it.

Rose food companies will often give sample food packets to give out when people purchase new roses and we distribute those along with advice for when and how often to feed. 

Occasionally we participate in special "Rose Days" sponsored through our local rose society, but since those usually happen only once a season and not at every garden center, most of the time we work out a schedule directly with the nursery manager at a nursery close to our home.  We try to be available for several hours on multiple days during the months of May and June and sometimes even into early July if the gardening season has been delayed by weather.   We really enjoy it when someone who was dead set against even considering a rose leaves with one or three or more.  And when they come back to share their success, it's even more rewarding for us.

When we volunteer, we generally dress in 19th or early 20th century period attire.  Since we are vintage dancers, our period costumes serve double duty.  The nursery workers and customers get a kick out of it and it makes it easy to find us.  The staff need only point in the direction of the rose yard and tell them that "You can't miss them - they are the ones wearing funny clothes."

Of course, to be able to give advice, you need to know your roses.   We currently grow 280 in our home garden but over the years, we've grown a majority of the most popular ones and many of the less well known ones at one time or another.  We read rose catalogs and rose and gardening books all winter, visit rose and botanical gardens extensively - it's our favorite way to spend a free weekend - and attend educational programs that appeal to us as well.   We also prepare for our volunteer stint by asking for nursery's rose list ahead of time so that we can read up on any new rose that that we're not familiar with and check with our rose friends to get feedback on their experience with it.

One of the things that frustrated us the most both as consumers and especially when we first started volunteering was that too often, the "best" roses for many of the issues we have to deal with in our area were not available at the local garden centers.   As seasoned gardeners looking for very specific shrubs, we usually acquire roses through mail order companies.  Even this early in the season, the most sought after and hard to find roses are often sold out of the on-line nurseries so we typically order in fall or early winter for a spring shipment.

Someone who is shy on gardening experience will go first to their local garden center or to the local big-box home improvement center, trusting that the roses offered for sale are appropriate for this area but that isn't always the case. 
Mauve and lavender roses often have a strong citrus fragrance.
This is a problem we have experienced as consumers as well as volunteers.   The roses sold here are typically ordered through regional  distributors who are located far south of here and then trucked in from several hours (and several hardiness zones) away.  Many of the roses that can be grown on Cape Cod, New York and New Jersey, or farther south into the mid-Atlantic states are not going to do well where we are on the on the north Atlantic coast.

"Sterling Silver" is a classic example.  The first true lavender and one of my long time favorites, they are simply not hardy in our micro-climate.  I can't resist it but I've learned to grow it as an annual and cheer if I get a second year out of it.  There are newer, hardier, and more disease resistant mauve and lavender roses out there, Blue Ribbon (my favorite lavender next to Sterling Silver), Kordes' Silver Star, Fragrant Plum, Wild Blue Yonder, and Angel Face being but a few.  All are star performers this far north but are rarely available in local garden centers.     

I'm not a sales person and when I volunteer, I'm there not so much to "sell" roses but to "share" my knowledge and enthusiasm for growing them.  I don't feel comfortable recommending roses that I personally have not had a lot of success with or that I am not confident will do well in our particular micro-climate.  So if I look over the stock and see that most of the available roses are zoned for zone 7 or higher or they have failed multiple times in my garden, my day is off to a bad start.  I don't feel compelled to push a rose I am certain will not do well and I will give the customer a list of roses that I am confident they can be successful with.

A few years ago, I mentioned this conundrum to a rose manager and when it was time to reorder for the current season as well as for the following spring, he gave me the list of roses available through his main distributor and asked me to make recommendations.  I marked each rose on the list as either first choice (will do well in our geographic area and climate and will out-perform
others in the same category), second choice (reasonable alternatives if the first choice is out of stock already), or don't buy (they aren't going to do well and please don't ask me to encourage people to buy them).  I also jotted a note explaining why I ranked it the way I did - it's strengths, weaknesses, and particular attributes or problems.  Yes, it was time consuming - it took me an entire weekend - but it was time well spent.  I was delighted to see that he took my recommendations to heart when he ordered roses after that.

Most of the nurseries that I and my fellow rose society volunteers work with value our gift of time and expertise to their customers and will go out of their way to make us feel welcome and appreciated.  When we arrive, they usually have already moved lawn furniture and umbrellas into the rose yard and we're greeted warmly by all the staff, since our recommendations for companion plants (which we also share with the staff handling annuals and perennials) help them enormously.  They generally offer not just volunteers but all of the members of the local rose society a discount on plants and merchandise, and we leave planting instructions, rose care guidelines, and brochures for the rose society for them to distribute when we aren't there.  They know that their customers have access to expert advice through our group on an ongoing basis.

Working closely with a garden center manager has another advantage in that they are often willing to take orders from those of us who volunteer when they're sending in their end of summer rose orders for the next growing season.  We are able to get roses that they may not wish to stock but that are available through their distributor.  Sometimes they even take a cue from our choices and add them to their regular inventory.  Not only do they usually give us the roses at a discount, which is a considerable savings for us, but we have been able to acquire roses that we have had considerable difficulty obtaining even on-line.

But for us, the best benefit is less tangible.  By demystifying roses for the less experienced gardener, we have provided innumerable new gardeners with options and advice that comes from our many decades of experience and failed efforts.  To see a customer enthusiastically embrace adding roses to their garden is exceedingly gratifying and when they happily report back the following year that their plants have thrived, well, that makes all the time spent that much more worthwhile for us.

If you decide to share your love of roses: 

1.  Call early in the spring (April, here), before planting time, and arrange to meet the nursery manager and the person who is in charge of roses.  Describe your garden (or better yet bring pictures) and your experience.  Talk roses with them.  They have to know that you know what you're talking about if they are going to entrust their customers to you.

2.  Encourage the manager to post on their web site and hang signs at the garden center letting customers know when "The Rose People" will be there to answer questions and give advice.

3. Work out a reasonable schedule to volunteer.  We try to visit one to two weekends a month in May, June, and early July.  That still gives us plenty of time in our own garden.

4. Weekend mornings work best for everyone in that we capture the majority of new customers without tying up our entire weekend.  We like to get there at least fifteen minutes before the garden center opens so we can get a quick look at the available stock and we stay through the lunch hour, usually until 1-2 PM.  We try to keep the day relatively open so that we can stay longer if the rose yard is crowded with costumers.   

5.  Be prepared to be flexible though.  The garden centers will usually call you early in the day if there is a rain-out so they can post on their web site and at the shop if they opt to postpone due to inclement weather.   However, rain does not always deter the customers!  After cancelling because we were having relentless downpours, I got a call mid-morning that quite a number of people had shown up anyway, just for the rose talk.  My husband was off running errands but a friend (not even a gardener!) had come by to visit so we drove over to the garden center.  They brought some roses and folding chairs into a greenhouse and despite the weather, we had one of our best and most fun days talking roses.

6.  Invite other rosarians from your local rose or garden club to join you.  It can get busy, especially if it was advertised that you are going to be available on a certain date and time, and as word gets around that you're there on a periodic basis.  We almost always plan to be there two days in a row.  It's amazing how many people will come and speak to us, take our information, thank us, and leave without buying a rose, and then come back the next day to make their purchase.  We make a point of telling customers that we'll be there the next day as well, and many will return with neighbors, friends, and family who also have questions or want to know more about growing roses.   

7.  Wear (or at least bring) a hat and comfortable shoes and dress in layers.  Don't forget to pack sunscreen and bottled water or your favorite hot weather beverage.  At the nurseries where we regularly volunteer, they set up an umbrella table and chairs in the rose yard.  One garden center will sometimes bring a cart of gardening books, rose food, pruners, gloves, and garden sprays to the area since their sales staff is readily available to process sales of plants and gardening accessories in the yard.  People enjoy sitting down and chatting about their gardens.  Being able to show them what a by-pass pruner is and having the products that they need readily available benefits everyone.

8.  Have lists of available roses ahead of time so you can know what's in stock and be able to read up on anything new that you aren't familiar with.  Have a current rose guide tucked in your bag (or a smart phone) so you can look something up on the fly. 

9.  We developed handouts showing techniques for planting and pruning, and general rose care that is specific to our area.  Many of the roses sold locally are tagged with instructions for growing them in much warmer climates.  Be sure to explain this to the customer.  Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know but I'll have someone who does get in touch with you."

10.  Know the best and most readily available companion plants in your area.  If the garden center allows it, bring some into the rose area for novice gardeners to see and choose from.  

11.  Get permission from the garden center first, but if it hasn't already been done before you get there, organize the shrubs by rose class.  If help is available, either a staff person assigned to the area or other volunteers, we also try to organize by color and fragrance as well.  There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you saw the rose the are asking for around there "somewhere". 

12.  Bring your own garden pruners and rose gloves.  Be prepared to deadhead and "pretty up" the stock both when there is a lull in the foot traffic and when you're actually demonstrating proper pruning techniques to a customer.  Sanitize your tools before you bring them to a garden center and also before you use them in your own garden again after you have volunteered.  We typically sanitize with either rubbing alcohol or a dilute bleach solution.  Alcohol has the advantage of evaporating and drying quickly.

13.  And finally, engage the rose yard staff in the process.  Include them in discussions with customers.  When there are lulls, chat about their favorite roses or experience with roses and rose problems.  Many are intimidated to have someone with so much knowledge there for the day and they may be shy about asking questions.  But they will be the resource people for the customers when you aren't there, so leaving them with your gardening pearls as well as extra handouts will make their job easier all week long.