Sacramento Bee: Rose show must go on


By Dan Vierria --Bee Columnist Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, April 29, 2006

Late bloomers, indeed. Roses, you've surely noticed, have been reluctant to develop during this chilly, wet spring. Bad weather has been such a thorn in the side of the Sacramento Rose Society that it seriously considered canceling or postponing its annual show.

Members couldn't recall another spring with such rain totals, but they voted earlier this month to present the 58th annual show, which is today and Sunday at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park.

Betty Ann Cassina, the society's secretary and membership chair, says the rose-growing weather has been the worst she's experienced in nearly 30 years.

"We've had sprinkles the day of the show and cliffhangers of being bloomed out, but we've never had to ask, 'Will we have any blooms?' " she says. "But being true gardeners, we're taking a leap of faith."

At least three other Northern California rose societies did cancel or postpone shows earlier this spring. The Sacramento Rose Society considered two options -move the date to July at a different location or combine with the Sierra Foothills Rose Society show this fall. Neither was deemed desirable.

This season's hottest new garden roses include Gentle Giant (pink hybrid tea); Let Freedom Ring (red hybrid tea); We Salute You (orangish-pink hybrid tea); Wild Blue Yonder (purple grandiflora); Tahitian Sunset (apricot-yellow-pink hybrid tea); Julia Child (yellow floribunda); Rainbow Sorbet (yellow-pink floribunda); Rhapsody in Blue (purple-bluish landscape rose).

Searching for heirloom tomato varieties? Several area nurseries have greatly increased their supply of heirlooms the past few years. Eisley Nursery in Auburn has nearly 60 varieties and the three Capital Nursery stores have a very good selection. Morning sun Herb Farm near Vacaville grows and sells dozens of heirloom varieties.

Online, offers a multitude of organically grown heirloom tomato seedlings shipped FedEx to your door. Each plant has a healthy, developed root system and is garden-ready. charges $8.99 per plant and offers selected collections of six plants for $25.99.

"We have two kinds of buyers, those very focused tomato people who want specific varieties and those who just want a cool, great-tasting, grab-bag of tomatoes (the collections)," says Ben Swett, founder and CEO of the California company. features a single variety each week for a reduced price.

To order: (888) 427-3362 or

"The $64 Tomato" (Algonquin, $22.95, 288 pages) isn't really about growing tomatoes, although author William Alexander does relate his misadventures of growing Brandywines in New York's Hudson Valley. The book actually is the laugh-out-loud antics of a naive, would-be gentleman farmer learning the realities of country gardening. The reality is that perfect gardens exist only in magazines.

Alexander learns only one way -the hard way. If it's not squirrels, deer and opossums, it's caterpillars, Japanese beetles and groundhogs, which ate half of his Brandywine tomatoes. Alexander's exhaustive efforts at using organic methods to harvest apples is painfully funny.

And, yes, after adding up his expenses and dividing it by the number of Brandywine tomatoes he harvested (19), his cost was $64 per tomato.

If you need a laugh, read this book.

About the writer:
The Bee's Dan Vierria can be reached at (916) 321-1119 or
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