Published May 18, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “You can promise a rose garden in Cheyenne”
By Barb Gorges
Gary Halstead probably didn’t promise his wife a rose garden.
With the Cheyenne weather as it is, most would bet on that becoming a broken promise.
But 10 years ago, when Rhea Halstead and her husband were finished with their list of major home improvements, she looked out at the backyard and was inspired to recreate a scene from Country Home magazine: a small, vintage travel trailer smothered in roses, with a little bistro table and chairs for two out front. The serene vision appealed to Rhea, who has a career that often brings her face to face with the dark side of humanity.
Ten years later, I am charmed by the oasis the Halsteads have grown, protected by hedges and trees. The tiny vintage travel trailer is there, embedded in roses, and should be covered in blooms within a month. Rhea found another, slightly larger trailer at a garage sale for $50 and fixed it up–antiques are her other passion. She calls it the Honeymoon Cottage, though, apparently her daughter didn’t take her up on the offer to stay there on her honeymoon.
Over to one side is a tiny cottage that’s really the potting shed. Another small building is the summer kitchen—the Halsteads love to entertain outdoors. And there’s the gazebo and a greenhouse. Circuitous gravel paths are sparked by a scattering of colored glass pebbles.
Rhea’s 150 rose bushes are tucked into protected corners or in small beds in which white picket and other kinds of fencing provide backdrops. And everywhere there are bits of vintage memorabilia to discover.
Rhea was not a gardener when she decided to plant her first rosebush. Instead, she researched and learned from members of the Prairie Rose Society, a local club. Today, she gives informative talks on growing roses for the Rose Club.
How does Rhea grow roses?
Roses need 6-8 hours of sun, preferably morning sun, because heat fades blooms.
Most of Rhea’s roses grow on their own roots—they are not fussy varieties that require grafting onto sturdier root stock—and they tend to be repeat bloomers. Many are hardy enough they don’t need winter protection.
March and April are when Rhea consults her wish list and researches where to find new varieties she wants to try.
If you do plant a grafted variety, “grown on a union,” bury that union 2-3 inches deep, Rhea said. For the latest, best planting instructions, search online for “how to plant a rose bush.” This site, http://www.ehow.com, has great directions.
Rhea waters as needed, which can be as often as every other day when it’s hot. She has considered drip irrigation but has chosen to walk her garden with the hose.
“That’s the whole Zen thing,” she said, and it helps her de-stress, she said. It only takes 30 minutes and it allows her to spend time with the roses and see how they are doing.
Before the roses leaf out, Rhea treats any with signs of magnesium depletion by spreading a half cup of Epsom salts per plant.
She tried using all the natural fertilizers, but the dogs ate them. Now when she checks mid-summer for the need to fertilize, she uses conventional products.
Each year she replenishes her wood chip mulch, which feeds the roses as it decomposes as well as represses weeds. And for weeds that do show up, “We get on our hands and knees and pick,” Rhea said.
She aims for rose varieties that aren’t as susceptible to pests and diseases, and if she needs to, she uses Neem oil and sometimes Bayer products.
Chlorosis can be another problem. Our alkaline soil can tie up iron and leaves will grow gangly and yellow. Roses like slightly acidic soil and so applying iron sulfate as directed can help. Consult the Laramie County Extension office for a definite diagnosis.
Deadheading, removal of flowers that are finished blooming, encourages the repeat blooming varieties to keep flowering.
In September, Rhea quits deadheading to make it easier for the roses to go into dormancy. She reduces watering to once a week.
In November, about 60 percent of Rhea’s bushes get covered, and always the ones in their first year in her garden. Covering is about trying to keep the rosebush cold so it stays dormant, she said. If she has a variety that doesn’t die back, like the floribundas, it doesn’t need a cover.
But hybrid teas and some others, and new bushes do need a cover. So Rhea buries the base of the bush in about 6 inches of top soil, from either her garden or a garden center. Using an old plastic pot from a nursery, with the bottom removed, she places the cylinder over the plant and fills it with a mix of dry, brown leaves and a little more dirt. The open top allows water to leach in, but the leaves allow enough air to prevent mildew.
Rhea removes the covers between April 15 and 30. At the time of my visit April 26, she had removed the covers, but not the mounds of soil, which were fine protection for the coming spring snowstorms. [Rhea said she did re-cover the bushes before the 11 inches of snow we had May 11 and 12.]
Eventually, she waters out the protective soil, cuts canes back to the last green growth, blows the leaves out, picks the weeds and puts in new wood chip mulch.
Propagation is possible
Rhea has perfected the art of propagating roses from cuttings. It requires warm, stable temperatures and 95 percent humidity. Over the years she has improved her success rate from 10 to 90 percent.
The Rose Club’s latest project is propagating cuttings from the old roses in the Cheyenne cemetery, single bloomers (blooming once a year), probably centifolia, floribunda and cabbage rose types. Since they were planted decades ago and have survived without time-consuming cultivation practices, they should be perfect for the modern homeowner.
If you missed them at the annual Laramie County Master Gardeners’ plant sale May 17, check with Rhea to see if any are still available.
Rhea’s advice on choosing roses for Cheyenne
Canadian roses, which are varieties developed by Agriculture Canada for harsh prairie conditions, are a better bet here in this climate. Some varieties to consider: the Explorer series roses, John Davis, William Baffin and Alexander Mackenzie. Also, Morden Blush, Hope for Humanity and Winnipeg Park are solid roses.
Knockout roses seem to do well here. These are varieties developed in Wisconsin and introduced in 2000.
The David Austin roses were developed in England beginning in the 1960s and cross old garden varieties roses with modern. These are very winter hardy: Winchester Cathedral, Mary, Crown Princess Margareta and Strawberry Hill.
If you have to go with a modern rose, floribundas are hardier than the hybrid teas. A few that survive well here and are quite beautiful are Europeana and Strike It Rich. They will require winter cover.
The floribundas can be found at most nurseries and box stores. Canadians can also be found at local nurseries or online.
The older Explorer roses will likely have to be bought online. David Austins can be found in Colorado nurseries or online.
The Flower Bin in Longmont gets a massive amount of roses every Mother’s Day and you can find many new and old varieties there.
High Country Roses in Denver carries many older varieties of roses that do well in this climate.
Roses rated for Zone 5 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness map will mostly do OK here. Though Cheyenne is rated zone 5, roses rated for zones 4 and below do better here.
The Rose Club
The Rose Club meets in Cheyenne monthly, June through September. To attend, call Rhea, 637-3114.