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  • Writer's picture Jana

Why Didn't Anyone Tell me Before I Re-created The White House Rose Garden?

In 2020, amongst the many other events in my life, I made the life changing decision to purchase 200 rose bushes for my yard. If that sounds like a large number of rose bushes, that's because it is. Was it a bit crazy? Perhaps. But for those of you who follow my blog, you know that we have derived a great deal of joy, to say the least, from those roses in the short six months we have had them.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I didn't set out to buy. 200. rose bushes. When updating some of the landscaping in both my front and back yards last summer and this fall, I had initially designated a small area in the back yard for about 12 rose bushes ( hybrid teas and English roses) . However, after one visit to Otto and Sons in Fillmore, the most magical rose nursery you could ever imagine, I quickly became a convert. All the other plants I had been considering went out the window after entering the magical world of roses. I was entranced, enthralled and absolutely smitten with roses. I wanted nothing but roses, everywhere.

I created four separate gardens of hybrid teas, three of them in all shades of pinks and and one with a a variety of yellows. I designated other areas for gorgeous Floribunda roses ( Our Lady of Guadalupe, Flawless and White Icebergs). I bought two separate climbing rose varieties (Edens for the front split rail fence and Sally Holmes for another area). Finally, I put in beautiful Flower Carpet Apple Blossom roses along the front stairs, which are spectacular.

As a novice gardener, however (I am being generous in that statement, since up until six months ago I had not done any gardening nor had any interest in it whatsoever), I had no idea what lie ahead when I purchased this abundance of roses. Roses, like many things of great beauty, are high maintenance. Given my already full schedule (to put it mildly), adopting what amounted to another 200 children, was a bit ambitious during a pandemic.

Early on, I resigned myself to the weekly deadheading of my 200 bushes. I had become fairly adept at trimming off the dead buds and would strategically do it on Thursday mornings before my gardener came, so at least he could clean up (blow away, is a more apt description) all the trimmings, leaving me a little less work.

Then came January. I was vaguely familiar with the idea of pruning, but hadn't done much studying up on it, nor thought of what that might look like, times 200. Late last week, after receiving an email from Otto and Sons, titled "Rose University," I decided to get on their website and take a look at what that process entailed. Catherine, Garin, and I gathered around the computer on Thursday night and watched each of the six or seven videos and were mesmerized by what we saw. Scott, one of the four "sons" (of Otto and Sons) made the videos. In addition to being highly informative, there are frequent appearances by the "shop dogs" (a beautiful white lab and a golden retriever), which we thoroughly enjoyed, as we have met them many times on our visits. Although fasciated with the process, I also found myself feeling daunted at the prospect of what I had taken on. Why didn't anyone tell me before I went and created my own version of the White House Rose Garden?

Scott explained the process methodically:

1. Cut each bush down by 50% with shearers or hedge trimmers.

2. Get down with each bush and carefully cut off any branches that are crossing over one another as well as any that appear dead.

3. Painstakingly pull each leaf off every bush unless you choose to use the sprays to accomplish this (we opted not to). Since we live in California and these poor roses think it's still summer so they are filled with leaves.

4. Finally he recommend placing a full bag of mulch around each roses to provide nutrients to the soil and therefore the roses.

Not too complicated unless of course you're talking about 200 rose bushes and your work crew is children rather than rose experts like they have working at Otto and Sons. And to turn up the heat just a little more, all of these steps need to be completed in the first half of January (ideally the first week) to keep the roses on their proper schedule. That translated to this weekend and not a moment later.

Read on to find out how things went.


After not getting much sleep the night before (insomnia plagues me these days as it does so many other people in these trying times), I got up with the roosters on Saturday morning, of which they are plenty in Hidden Hills, put on my gardening clothes and started in on what would be a very long weekend of work. After being out there for a few hours, Garin was the next to join me. Catherine, Graham and Miles trickled out to see to see my progress sometime later and began to help.

Garin was of some help, for part of the day. However, given that one of his strengths is not holding his attention on tasks that don't captivate him, his enthusiasm was somewhat short-lived. He worked on a few icebergs and then jointed me at the split-rail fence to hand pick every leaf off our Eden climbers. He was basically done after that. I wish I could have been done too!

Miles was Miles. I managed to convince him to pull the tiny leaves off one Flower Carpet Apple Blossom rose bush (the smallest of all our bushes) and then he clocked out for the rest of the day. As far as he was concerned that was enough work. He moved on to his usual outdoor mischief of hunting for critters, climbing hillsides and getting into whatever other trouble he could conjure up.

Graham, who doesn't seem to have a green thumb anywhere in his DNA, committed to a rather large job, which impressed me. I knew it would be the right job for him, given the rote nature and lack of thorns involved. He pulled hundreds of leaves off two huge Sally Holmes climbers. He got every last leaf off, however, then he too clocked out for the day. So now it was just Catherine and me left to tackle the 195 or so roses that still remained.

Catherine, on the other hand, who is my partner in crime when it comes to roses, stayed steadfast and by my side for most of the day, never giving up, never tiring, and never complaining. I worked for nine back-breaking hours, at least five of which she joined me. We pruned, we talked, and we laughed. We discussed life; roses; and her zany brothers who were playing unintelligible imaginary chasing games in the yard for hours while we toiled away at the roses. We finally came in the house when it had become too dark to see anymore, at which point she told me what a wonderful day she had had. "Mommy, I really enjoyed today because I got to be with you all day," were her exact words. My heart melted.


I rose with the roosters again this morning. After yesterday's long day, we were about fifty percent done, if you include raking up the thousands of leaves from our neighbor's yard that had blown into our yard yesterday during the Santa Ana winds. With tomorrow being a school day, there was a huge push to get everything done.

Garin was up and out. bright and early. He was noticeably more helpful than yesterday. Although he gardened most of the day in his PJs, I decided not to take issue with it since he was helping. He was quite bossy about how things needed to be done as he oversaw the tedious job of pulling every tiny leaf off the remaining eight Flower Carpet Apple Blossom Carpet roses. He also felt it necessary to subject us all to an ongoing narrative of each step of his progress which was annoying beyond belief, but let's face it, I needed the help so I kept my mouth shut (his siblings weren't shy in voicing their displeasure, on the other hand).

Miles, once again, quit before he began. While we were tirelessly trimming and pulling leaves off countless rose bushes, he sat quietly and observed a slug he had found under a rock for some prolonged period of time. Honestly, I was just happy that he had found something that contented him. He later joined in and helped with a few clean-up tasks which was a huge improvement from yesterday, for which I was enormously grateful.

Graham knocked it out of the park today. He seemed to get into more of a groove and found that perhaps he had a bit of a green thumb after-all. He painstakingly pulled leaves off about 50 iceberg roses. He also helped clean up the thousands of leaves that had blown over from the neighbors yard. He did it all without a single complaint or whine.

Catherine was her usual tireless, cheerful, helpful and loyal self. She once again never left my side. I spent about 9 hours working again today and she was with me for at least 6 of those. She never ceases to amaze me.

All of us felt an incredible sense of accomplishment when we were done. When we set out on this journey, I had no idea how it was going to go. I didn't know how long it would take or if anyone would really help me. I didn't know if there would be tears, breakdowns or just pure exhaustion. There were certainly some difficult moments, like when I came in for a lunch break yesterday and began to tear up I was so overwhelmed. But we made it through and managed to get all 200 roses ready for their winter dormancy (California-style). I think all of us felt like we grew closer as a family. We persevered, even when the task at hand felt daunting and overwhelming. Additionally we learned new skills that we never had. We supported one another and most importantly we didn't give when the going got tough.

Our roses have managed, once again, to bring us great joy. This time it was certainly not in a way that I could have predicted or imagined, but joy nonetheless.

It takes a village they say and I certainly saw that this weekend. I am so very grateful for my village tonight, as I write this post.

Disclaimer: My "crew" was fed often and well throughout the two days. I made sure to whip up their favorite meals, snacks and treats to keep them nourished and more importantly to let them know how appreciative I was for their help.

Note of Gratitude: I want to thank our neighbors and friends, Barbara and Russ, for loaning us extra gardening tools to get this huge job done, thus saving us from having to make a lengthy trip to Home Depot to buy extra of everything. I also want to thank Scott at Otto and Sons for the fabulous tutorial videos he made, not to mention taking not one, nor two, nor three, but four calls from me yesterday with a myriad of questions, as we worked through the process of pruning our army of roses.

Starting the trimming on Saturday morning.

Fitzy too was a steadfast companion to everyone over the course of the weekend.

Catherine, Graham and Miles helping with the one of the hybrid tea gardens. I don't think Miles was actually working, but does a mean impression.

Graham asked if he could prune this special rose we bought in memory of my mom. It is a John F. Kennedy which blooms in a beautiful shade of candlelight white. It is planted by itself away from the other roses, surrounded by rosemary. He did a perfect job.

Catherine standing proudly by the 35 Flawless roses we pruned and giving a thumbs-up as we finished that section of the garden.

Miles relaxing and admiring the slug he found this morning while the rest of us worked our tails off.

Miles finally deciding to lend a hand as we took up the massive clean-up endeavor this afternoon.

The rest of crew pitching in to help with the cleanup.

We filled 12 huge trash bags with our rose trimmings, not to mention our neighbor's pesky leaves.

Fitzy came back in the house with a rose trimming he managed to get stuck in his adorable curly Pug tail (luckily it wasn't one of the thornier ones).

Spaghetti and Meatballs and Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting for dessert. Graham made the cake, for the most part, himself. It was divine!

Our last roses of the season. We are so sad to see them go, but look forward to their triumphant return in the spring.

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1 Comment

Talk about "Slow down and smell the roses" :) You are planting a life time of memories that your family will always remember. How fulfilling it will be to watch the Roses bloom! I really enjoyed reading the process and seeing the pictures. Zac would have done it in his pajamas as well! :)

Take care, Dominick

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