An extravaganza of roses—250 plants, more than 200 varieties—flourishes in the Port Washington yard of Bruce and Maggie Barr, rose experts who will chair an American Rose Society show this weekend
Other flowers grow in the gardens, but they don’t get near the tender, loving care as the myriad of roses that dominate the landscape at Maggie and Bruce Barr’s home on North Wisconsin Street in Port Washington.
Long-stemmed beauties, dainty miniatures, abundant bushes and tall climbers are among the approximately 250 rose plants of more than 200 varieties that fill their gardens.
“It’s good for us to know the varieties out there and that’s why we grow a lot of different types,” Maggie said.
The Barrs have won numerous prizes for their roses. They are accredited horticulture judges and consulting rosarians. Bruce also judges arrangements and Maggie is president of the Greater Milwaukee Rose Society.
They are also co-chairmen of the 12th Annual American Rose Society All-Miniature Rose Show and Conference that will be held Friday through Sunday, Aug. 20 to 22, at the Country Springs Hotel and Conference Center in Pewaukee.
The last time a national American Rose Society conference was held in the Milwaukee area was in the late 1970s at the Pfister Hotel.
“People are still talking about it. They gave beer steins for awards,” Bruce said.
The couple have been devoting so much time to planning the conference — including exhibiting and judging at nine national rose shows in the past two years — that they’ve almost neglected their own roses.
“We felt we had to enter our own show, but a few weeks ago it looked like there wouldn’t be any miniatures worth the bother,” Bruce said.
He found about a dozen blooms that met their own exacting standards. They were are in a refrigerator. Bruce preserved them in a way commonly used by commercial growers in the 1880s to the 1920s before refrigeration.
He cut the roses at their peak bloom, sealed the stems with wax, then wrapped the flowers in plastic wrap or put them in plastic tubes. The day of the show, which is Saturday, he will cut off the waxed ends and put the stems in water to rehydrate the rose. Then he and Maggie will decide which roses should be entered.
The couple also set up and took down the rose show at the Wisconsin State Fair. They manned the booth a couple times during the four days it was up.
“It’s a wonderful time to have contact with people and answer questions about growing roses,” Bruce said.
“Most people think it’s too hard to grow roses, but with the new things on the market, it’s much easier.”
To prepare for the national show, the Barrs were judges at nine national rose shows in 2008 and 2009 and entered roses in categories reserved for judges, taking home several awards. They saw how the shows were run and got advice from the organizers.
They are coordinating more than 45 volunteers from the three garden clubs.
The Barrs’ love for growing roses started in 1985 when they purchased their Port home and tried to resurrect roses that had reverted to a wild state. Both their parents had grown roses.
The couple, who were married in 1982, met at Grafton Elementary School, where Bruce taught fifth grade and coordinated gifted-and-talented programs and Maggie was a special education teacher.
Teachers who grew roses encouraged them to take up the hobby and made a list of plants to purchase.
The couple planted a dozen different varieties the first year and haven’t stopped. They buy mostly hybrid roses from garden club members who developed the variety.
As much as the Barrs love their roses, so do deer and rabbits.
Tall enclosures of black netting currently surround the roses.
“It keeps out the deer and most rabbits, but it also keeps us out. It’s not a physical barrier, but a psychological one,” Bruce said. “You can’t just bend over and pick off a dead leaf. You have to go through the gate and find your way back to the plant.”
They sprayed Liquid Fence (a commercial deer repellent) on the roses and other flowers in their gardens until the roses began to bloom.
“The spray leaves spots on the blooms and leaves and we wouldn’t be able to exhibit them,” Bruce explained.
Placing black netting over the plants worked until buds poked through and were quickly chomped.
So the tall fences went up. Next year, the Barrs plan to install single-wire electric fences that can be turned off when they want to be in the garden.
Protection from Port’s snow, wind, ice and freezing-thawing conditions is another challenge.
The Barrs tried a new winter protection for their in-ground miniature roses. Instead of putting them in pots and storing them in the garage, they wrapped thick newspaper collars around the plants and covered them with mulch. It didn’t work.
Fifty miniature rose plants expected to produce beautiful blooms for the show died.
The Barrs’ entries came from new plants they purchased.
Growing roses is a passion the couple doesn’t envision diminishing any time soon, but they now look for varieties that require less work and are more pest resistant.
“I think what fascinates me most about roses is the incredible varieties, colors, forms and sizes,” Bruce said. “There are something like 25,000 varieties in commercial production. When you see something that’s very, very nice, it’s so inspiring, almost spiritual.”
Maggie added, “I’ve never met anybody who isn’t awed by the beauty of a rose. It’s so much fun to see people point to a rose and tell their kids to look at it. I don’t think you get that same awe with dahlias and gladioluses.
“It is America’s national flower.”