The Karl Switzer Rose Circle at Deering Oaks will be undergoing some major changes next year, Portland City Arborist Jeff Tarling told a class at O’Donal’s nursery on Oct. 21.

The rose circle is named for a city park superintendent who created it in the 1930s, based on a 1927 design by then city engineer William Dougherty. In recent years it has served as a display and test garden for All-America Rose Selections, with more than 600 rose bushes.

“We will be pulling out all of the roses now in the garden and replacing them with Easy Care Roses or Earth Kind Rose,” Tarling said. “Peter Kukielski of the New York Botanical Garden, who has created an Earth Kind Rose garden there, has agreed to work with us.”

A lot of reasons went into the decision to change the rose garden, Tarling said, but it is mostly because of the amount of time it takes to maintain it. The roses that typically win All-America Rose Selections honors are high-maintenance plants. They have to be mulched heavily to survive the winter. They often require pesticides to protect them from plant diseases and other pests. They require a lot of fertilizer. And they require a lot of pruning.

Tarling said the city staff available to take care of city plantings has been cut markedly in recent years, and it does not make sense to spend as much time to take care of the Rose Circle.  Back in the spring of 2010, citing budget concerns, Tarling sent out a call to other groups to help support the rose circle. One of the groups he asked, the Maine Rose Society, has since disbanded and was not able to help with the circle. And other groups did not offer significant help.

In addition, he said, the All-America Rose Selections organization is having financial problems of its own, so its support will be reduced.

According to the New York Botanical Garden website, the concept of Earth Kind Roses began in Texas in the mid-1990s and established strict protocols for test gardens that could be created all around the country.

“The goal of the program was to eliminate the use of fertilizer, reduce the use of insecticides and fungicides by 98 percent, eliminate annual pruning and deadheading and reduce supplemental irrigation by at least 70 percent,” the website says.

And the goal has been achieved — with some modifications. Roses still have to be pruned every three years, and in the North some dead branches have to be removed in the spring, so pruning is not actually eliminated.

While no fertilizer is used, the beds are amended with 4 to 6 inches of compost when they are created, and 3 to 4 inches of hardwood mulch are added each year, but that is still less mulch than is required by traditional roses. 

A number of roses have already won the Earth Kind designation, including such popular trade names as Knockout and The Fairy. Others are still being tested, including the popular Double Knockout.

These are roses that have been gaining popularity in home gardens, as people are finding less time to tend to their own plots. So while the tea roses that have made up a good part of the rose circle for years will be gone, many rose lovers won’t mind. The rose circle will more closely resemble what people are growing at their homes.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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