Meet Clarence Rhodes
Meet Clarence Rhodes, former Electrical Field Service Engineer turned Master Rosarian. A problem solver by trade Clarence’s love for roses started by trying to solve a dilemma. His solution started him on a ride through the rose world that he enjoys to this day.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio Clarence’s story started in 1968 when he came home from work one day and told his wife Phyllis, they would have to sell their house and relocate because of his job. Phyllis was content in Ohio and was not happy about the news that they would be moving.
The Rhodes made the move that year to Portland, Maine, but Clarence’s mind was on how he could make his wife happy in their new home. They started meeting some of their neighbors one of which was Bill Homan, President of the Maine Rose Society. Bill had over 500 roses in his garden; Phyllis was immediately overjoyed at their sight. Clarence seeing his wife so happy, had the idea to plant her a rose garden. Having had grown up working in gardens and with insight from his new neighbor, Clarence made rose beds and planted roses in his new yard. Phyllis was so thrilled with her rose garden and its beautiful blooms, that the Rhodes got more involved with gardening and decided to join the Maine Rose Society. Clarence had made his wife happy - problem solved!
That was the beginning of the ride into the rose world. Phyllis was now happy in her new home and making friends at rose society meetings. Clarence being a competitive person started entering his roses into shows. At the time, he grew mostly hybrid teas and floribundas as he felt they were better exhibition roses. He did very well and won lots of Queens; (the most sought-after prize of the rose shows). Together, their love for roses grew and by 1972 they had joined the American Rose Society.
Clarence loved winning in rose shows and tinkering around in his garden. He developed his expertise and designed his own methods for growing roses. He implemented his problem-solving skills, by using household items that were made for one thing and repurposing them into other things so he could use to make his gardening and exhibiting easier. Over the years these self-made items would be referred to by his rose friends as Clarence’s Secondary Products.
One such product was a homemade bloom protector spurned from an idea of a rose friend from North Carolina that he enhanced upon to suit his own needs. He used this for the roses that he wanted to enter into the shows to ensure that they didn’t get damaged from rain and other weather elements before it was time to pick them. The bloom protector was derived from empty plastic gallon juice jugs. Cutting the openings wider, he then turned them upside down to cover the roses while still in his garden. Using wire, he attached a rust resistant ½” copper pole to the outside of each one to securely hold it in place. This safeguard would serve to protect his blooms up until the time he was ready to take them to the rose shows. Problem solved - there was only one thing wrong. At the time, Maine had a recycle deposit on the jugs. Trying to figure out how he was going to pay the deposits and drink all the juice for the multitude of jugs he needed, he decided to visit the source. The recycle facility was getting eight cents for each jug so Clarence offered them ten cents. The deal was made and before he knew it, he had more jugs than he needed. Over the course of two years, he bought over 1000 jugs to make his homemade bloom protectors, giving away many still to this day.
Always perfecting his garden, Clarence’s solutions weren’t always products. Sometimes they were methods he designed. His thoughts on bare root roses are; he feels they grow better because of their longer roots as opposed to potted roses bought at nurseries that have their roots chopped down to fit in the pot. He suggests, if you do buy roses in pots, do not plant them with the soil from the pots. Take the plant out of the pot, wash off the roots and then plant it by spreading the roots out for a much better result.
Clarence figured out that by making his rose beds four feet wide it was the ideal size for him. He plants two roses wide making for easy access on both sides therefore not compacting the soil by walking in the beds.
As his interest in roses grew Clarence visited the well-known Weeks
Roses fields in California one year to watch the workers who graft the roses (also known as budders). A rose budder opens up a T-shaped cut to place a rose bud onto a rootstock to create a new rose bush. Clarence was surprised by how such a precise process was done so quickly. The budders would graft each rose in an assembly line in about three seconds. Clarence videotaped the process and was able to watch it more closely later by advancing the tape one frame at a time. He studied the workers as they put the bud eye on the understock realizing that they were rushing through a process that dictates whether the rose matured properly or not. He remembered reading how some budded roses did well and others didn’t. I t was then that Clarence understood that whether a rose did well or not was whether the bud eye was mature and properly placed at the time of grafting.
Clarence and Phyllis continued to attend National Rose Conventions for forty years. They considered them vacations. In the late 1990’s, they even traveled abroad for an International Rose Convention, in Belfast, Ireland. Ed Ward, National Chairman of Judges at the time, invited Clarence to judge at the International Rose Show in Toronto, Canada. Ward was a big exhibitor from Penn-Jersey District during that time and was good friends with Frank Bernadella a miniature and miniflora rose Hybridizer from New Jersey. They all quickly became friends.
Through this new friendship, Clarence became interested in miniflora roses. Back in the 70’s he made a raised bed and planted 100 miniature roses for his wife. At the time miniature and miniflora roses weren’t that popular, but they are so popular now that the American Rose Society has an annual All-Miniature Rose Show.
After a few years, Phyllis got over moving to the “end of the earth”, as she called it. She was much happier because of the rose world she and Clarence were now involved in. Being outgoing people, they both enjoyed the social part of rose people (especially at shows or conventions when members would meet in the hospitality room to socialize). Clarence would have great conversations all night long about roses. He was a people magnet, everyone wanted to hear his interesting stories.
Yankee District Rose Convention, March 2014 - Andy Vanable, Clarence Rhodes, Audrey and Oz Osborn, Manny and Betty Mendes and John Mattia
- Photo, Teresa Mosher
The Rhodes enjoyed their garden and shows together for many years. After his wife’s passing, Clarence retired and became more involved in the rose world. He continues to judge at rose shows. As the years have passed Clarence tried to come up with an easier way to continue caring for his roses. Instead of having to bend over all the time, dig in the ground and winter protect his roses, he tried to come up with an easier solution.
At first, he tried potting roses in whiskey barrels which did make them higher but the barrels rotted, and were very heavy making them hard to move around. He then bought 32-gallon plastic garbage bins with wheels, cut the tops off and used them as potting vessels. When potting his roses, he uses Pro-Mix BX for a growing medium which is light and can hold water longer (because of the peat moss in it). This resulted in only having to water twice a week. He also uses a gallon of water-soluble fertilizer twice a month for each bin.
Clarence’s pots and roses July, 2006
-Photo, Teresa Mosher
He puts two roses in each bin. The advantages are that you can fertilize each bin separately if you choose. They are tall and make it easier to care for with less bending and ease of pruning the roses, while keeping a better eye on them year-round. The wheels on the bottom make it easier to move around the garden and for bringing indoors for the winter, resulting in no dieback. This maintains very tall canes resulting in the same size roses grown in California, even though it’s a shorter season here in New England. Problem solved! These barrels have become one of the handiest of Clarence’s Secondary Products.
When I interviewed Clarence for this story, I found him in his back yard sifting loam that had just been delivered. He was using a screen that fit entirely over his wheelbarrel, (a Clarence’s Secondary Product of course)! He’d put a few shovelfuls in and then hand-sifted the loam, before putting it into his rose bed. At the time of my interview with him, Clarence was 86 years old and I am always amazed at how hard he works in his garden, (even now at the age of 91).
Clarence Rhodes, August 2014
-Photo, Teresa Mosher
I have come to know Clarence as a friend and mentor since having met him at a Yankee District Rose Convention in 2004. Clarence has gotten so many people interested in growing roses over the years, one of which is his neighbor, Marion Stevens.
Marion, is a New England Rose Society member. She rides along with Clarence to meetings, shows and conventions and has become a great rose companion. Marion is a quiet, wonderful lady and I’m happy to have her as a rose friend as well. We often talk about how lucky we all are to have met so many interesting people that share the same interests that are part of the rose world.
Over the years Clarence’s journey has enabled him to enjoy many titles and honors. The list is endless—former Region 0 Director for the American Rose Society, Master Rosarian and Horticulture Rose Judge. He is the recipient of the Yankee District Silver Honor Medal, Outstanding Judge, Outstanding Consulting Rosarian and American Rose Society Presidential Citation.
The Maine Rose Society dissolved a in 2010, but that wasn’t a problem for a lifelong problem solver. He immediately became a member of the New England Rose Society. As Past President, I can attest that we are very happy to have him in the New England Rose Society, sharing his newest Clarence’s Secondary Products and his never-ending words of wisdom!
Clarence’s Zone 5B Advice:
Roses are not so delicate. Grow them and if they don’t do well throw them out and plant another variety. He feels one third of roses don’t do well, no matter how much you care for them.
He has done many experiments with his roses over the years. Two roses in the same bin, same care, same rose and fertilizer, one did well and one didn’t. Some roses are good and some are bad. So, don’t feel it’s always your fault if the rose doesn’t do well, don’t take it personally. Clarence gave the rose 'St. Patrick' as an example, it’s a great rose, he put two rose plants in a pot, one grew six feet tall and the other rose grew two feet tall and didn’t do well.
Clarence read a book many years ago, it was written in 1910 about the debate of whether own root or grafted roses are better. They said the grafted lasted longer. The debate is still going on today on which is better. Clarence said, “Don’t get too caught up in all of it.”
Think about where you plant your roses and its surroundings. If you have a white house and plant roses against the house, the sun reflection will be on the roses more than if you have a dark house. Planting on the north side or south side of a house has a big effect on how well your roses grow.
Winter protection: Experiment and don’t be afraid. Do what works for you! Covering roses with soil is a lot of work. Instead, Clarence built an insulated box out of Homasote to go over the raised beds. It’s a solid board ½ inch thick, grey, fiber board used for winter protection. It’s two feet high and he has never lost any roses in all of these years.
Ask yourself, does it sound logical and have you tried it?
Use good soil. Water and fertilize regularly. He sprays every ten days and has very little blackspot or mildew. He has had some downey mildew and you need to spray to get rid of it or it will kill your roses.
Visit rose gardens to see what grows well in your area.
If the rose bush doesn’t grow well, get rid of it and plant another. Plenty more roses are available.
Don’t believe all the advice you hear is going to work for you. Each garden’s soil and climate are different. There are multiple ways to do the same things and get the same results.
Don’t get overwhelmed! Keep it simple and have fun!!
‘Ivory Fashion’: Floribunda, white, 1958 and strong fragrance, bred by Gene Boerner.
‘Dublin’: Hybrid Tea, red, 1983 and strong fragrance, bred by Astor Perry.
“In Loving Memory” Clarence E. Rhodes June 11, 1929 – May 11, 2022
For more about Clarence Rhodes, see an excerpt from Teresa Mosher’s book, How Roses Touch Our Lives, on our website rose.org.
To purchase Teresa Mosher’s book, How Roses Touch Our Lives, Clarence Rhodes and other great Rosarians stories, contact Teresa for information at email@example.com.
Story from Teresa Moshers book: How Roses Touch Our Lives
New England Rose Society Past President