An Exhibitor's Real Challenge
By Doug Whitt
(From The Carolina District Newsletter, Fall, 1999)

Having grown roses for many years, I have become accustomed to the seasonal parade of annoyances that complicate an otherwise pleasurable hobby.

With a fondness for the excitement of exhibiting roses, I have had to develop a critical eye for any situation that could arise to lessen the chance of being competitive at the show.

I accept the fact that Mother Nature is beyond my control when she decides to visit the garden with severe freezes after the bloom buds have formed in the spring. The annual Japanese beetle invasion I now tolerate by gritting my teeth and swallowing hard. I have even resigned myself to the occasional outbreak of blackspot or spider mites, as long as I can regain control before exhibition season arrives. But I have found that just when I think I have everything under control, something deleterious is about to happen.

First, it was the rabbits. Out of nowhere they arrived and the new basal growth became a salad supreme with the minis as the main course. My potential "queens" were being reduced to stubs overnight. After much consternation and malicious thoughts, I have finally begun to enclose the plants with new basal breaks, in a cage of chicken wire until one bloom cycle is completed. It seems to be working.

To offset the frustration of these new pests in the garden, I have installed a number of bird feeders to provide an endless array of colorful and wondrous avian companions. This did not discourage the nightly visit of the rabbits, but it did provide a balm to the psyche of one anxious rosarian.

One morning while making the daily inspection of each plant, I noticed two or three prized buds that had one side of the bud completely missing. These were about the diameter of a dime, and would have soon begun to show color. What now, I thought. After several visits to the garden over the next few days, and observation forays well into the nights, I discovered the culprit feasting away in the glare of my flashlight... a katydid. I still have no bonafide cure for these pests other than the usual pesticides.

The latest episode was just as bewildering as well as amusing. A few days ago, I noticed that some of the maturing buds had the tip missing and even portions of the bud had been apparently eaten. Could this be a new invasion of a novel strain of katydids? I began the search for this latest offender. I had observed an increase of the bird population at the feeders, and had noted on occasion that some were using the taller nearby roses as a perch while waiting for a spot at the feeder. Could this be my new pest? It was! With lengthy observations I noted that not only were they pecking at the maturing buds, but that some were actually hiding sunflower seeds in the opening buds, perhaps to feed on at a later time. I even observed a titmouse hiding seeds under the roofing tiles.

Will I discontinue feeding the birds? Of course not! I have accepted their behavioral conduct along with the late freezes, blackspot, Japanese beetles, and the like. No one ever said growing exhibition roses was easy.

I hesitate to speculate on what may be the next surprise in store as I tour through the garden, but at least I will have the birds to keep me company. Perhaps I should install more feeders.