Rose stock art.

Is there a rose bush in your gardening future?

Now is the time to browse local garden centers for these sun-loving, repeat-blooming treasures.

While it may be still and quiet in our gardens, it is anything but in the garden center this time of year. All over Puget Sound, nurseries are receiving their once-a-year deliveries of bare root roses, and diligently pruning and potting them up for you to take home and plunge into your gardens.

This is an annual ritual that really kicks off the season for nursery workers, and I have to admit that after doing it for more than 30 years, I kind of miss it. There is nothing quite as satisfying as looking out over a mass of 2,500 roses, all neatly arranged in their black nursery pots with colorful signs lovingly attached to each one and banners hung extolling all the virtues of these wonderful garden creatures. Wow, it gets my gardening juices flowing just writing about it.

My personal history with roses is a bit checkered. Growing up, I remember having only one rose in our garden, a rather homely pink variety that my mother referred to as a “cabbage rose.” That name came from it having a very high petal count, much like many of the English roses that are now very popular.

When I was 14, I took my first nursery job (hard to believe that was 60 years ago) and had the task of potting up the roses. There were probably only a few hundred of them, but I made sure I knew every one of their names and what made each one of them so special. Later in my youth, I worked for various gardeners and helped maintain assorted rose gardens all over town. While I wasn’t madly in love with roses, I did enjoy their lovely fragrances and found great pleasure in caring for them.

As I look back over those times, I am surprised at how many yards included a rose garden or had an arbor or split rail fence with a climber clamoring over it. It just goes to show that roses have always been popular with gardeners.

In 1992, I embarked on my own rose garden in front of our house. It was a semi-circular space into which I managed to fit 100 roses in concentric rows surrounding our driveway. In the center, I planted a weeping giant Sequoia as a focal point. It was a work of art and my pride and joy for many years, but eventually I needed the space for other treasures and now all that is left is the giant weeping Sequoia. (The roses were dug up and donated to a plant sale, in case you were wondering.)

Over the last 30 years, I have seen the popularity of roses ebb and flow, and I am happy to report that we seem to be trending up. New gardeners are rediscovering the versatility of these sun-loving, repeat-blooming shrubs that are hard to beat for summer-long color (not to mention the incredible fragrance that so many of them possess). While I no longer have a formal rose garden, I have been able to incorporate several roses into my informal faux cottage garden, where our relationship is more relaxed and much less intense.

I know many gardeners that are very sentimental about their roses, some of whom have rose plants dating back more than 100 years from their grand or great grandparents. It just goes to show how much emotion these beauties can generate. As for me, nostalgia was never a strong suit and I hardly have a sentimental bone in my body. Just the same, I am glad I still have some roses in my garden and would highly recommend you consider planting some, as well. Now is the time to check them out while the selection is at its best. Remember, nurseries only receive them once a year, and when they are gone, well, you’ll just be plain out of luck, which makes me so very sad (but I am NOT sentimental). Happy rose discovering!

Steve Smith represents Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, and can be reached at

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The next class at Sunnyside Nursery will be “PNW Fruit Trees” at 10 a.m. Jan. 28 and Jan. 29. For more, go to

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