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GARDENING : Pat's Roses Have Special Spot at Richard's Library

September 01, 1990|DIANA O'BRIEN | Diana O'Brien is a free-lance writer based in Lakewood

Everything's coming up roses at the newly opened Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda. Pat Nixon roses, that is.

The Pat Nixon roses, interspersed with Abraham Lincolns, reside in a place of honor at the head of the rectangular reflecting pool in the center of the complex.

The deep red blooms are full-petaled and velvetlike. The deep red hue darkens at the edges, outlining each petal and giving each a look of special definition.

The Pat Nixon roses are red-black floribunda, which grow densely and produce clusters of flowers on vigorous, bushy plants. They are considered excellent for providing masses of color and are mildly fragrant.

The rose was created in France by specialists at the House of Meilland and introduced to the United States in 1972 by C.W. Stewart Nursery of New York. The nursery wanted to market the rose with Nixon's name and was granted permission.

"Up until recently, there was a feeling in the rose industry not to name roses for people," said Tom Carruth, a hybridizer at Week's Roses in Upland. "Now the feelings have changed and they're naming them after people again, primarily celebrities, or people rich enough to pay for it.

"There can be a problem with marketing," Carruth said, "say, if someone's popularity fell, there would be a dip in the sale of the roses."

Dick Hutton, who then represented the House of Meilland in North America and helped put the C.W. Stewart deal together, said roses are not often named for people. "Who knows how long they'll be popular?" he said. "Usually (the First Lady) is a pretty good name, but it doesn't always work out that way. If you wanted a few thousand Rosalynn Carter roses we could have let you have them very cheap." (The Rosalynn Carter rose was "sort of a salmon orange, basically orange with salmon tones in it.")

"To tell you quite honestly, the Pat Nixon rose wasn't very popular a couple of years after it came out because of the problems her husband had," Hutton said.

There is a Barbara Bush rose in the works at Jackson 'n Perkins Co. nursery in Medford, Ore. It is expected to be available next spring and is a "coral pink and white blend," said spokesperson Nancy Butler.

The Pat Nixon rose, available at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar, is a cross of Tomango and seedling of Fireking and Banzai. "It is quite similar to the Tomango rose," Hutton said. "It bloomed a little more than Tomango but didn't have quite as large a flower and not quite as strong a bush, but it did have LOTS of flowers," he said. "Fireking was a very nice, bright red floribunda that was an All-America winner about 1959 as I recall."

The Fireking had the most bloom, Hutton said. The Tomango had that deep velvety color that sometimes has the dark accenting on the edges. Hutton praised the "velvety redness," the "deep color," and the "beautiful, glossy green foliage" of the resulting Pat Nixon rose.

Like any other rose, it needs plenty of sun, good air circulation and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. "The more sun the better," said Kathy Sommers of Roger's Gardens. Good air circulation helps keep down mildew, diseases and pests. It also ensures full exposure to the sun.

"Western Garden Book" cautions, however, to avoid planting roses where they will receive reflected heat from light colored walls, especially in south or west exposures.

Although the custom of First Ladies having roses named in their honor dates to near the turn of the century, few of these roses still grace the White House Rose Garden.

The Pat Nixon rose does. "I understand that is so well-situated and has always done so well they never wanted to take it out," said Kevin Cartwright, publicist at the Richard Nixon Library.

"It's in a southeast corner that consistently gets sun," White House curator Rex Scouton said. "It's right in the corner that gets the sun every morning."

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