Vernon Rickard, owner of Almost Heaven Roses, says it was not his idea to begin growing the roses that have become his pride and joy.
â€œIt was all my wifeâ€™s fault,â€ Rickard said.
Rickardâ€™s wife Nancy grew up in Oregon, where many people have rose gardens. That, combined with her interest in yard work and landscaping, led Rickard to begin growing roses about 12 years ago.
Before he got into roses, Rickardâ€™s only experience with gardening had been growing tomato plants. Learning to grow roses took time and lots of trial and error.
â€œOnly the good Lord knows what will turn out,â€ said Rickard.
There are over 26,000 varieties of roses and Rickard grows about 150 types, some he developed himself through cross-pollination. In addition to an understanding of how to cultivate beautiful roses, he knows a good deal about the history of the flower he takes so much pride in growing.
According to Rickard, roses were very popular in Europe during Napoleonâ€™s time. Napoleonâ€™s wife Josephine was especially enamored of the blooms.
â€œWhile Napoleon was out fighting, she was spending his money,â€ Rickard said. â€œShe wanted to have the greatest collection of roses in the world.â€
Back then, in the early 1800s, most known species of roses only bloomed once. That changed when traders found species that bloomed over and over.
Today, the roses that were likely in Josephineâ€™s garden fall under the category of Dowager Candidate, denoting an old rose with an origin before 1867. Roses cultivated after 1867 are known as Victorian. Both classifications are considered antique because of the rosesâ€™ parentage.
Both Dowager Candidate and Victorian roses remain popular among those who grow roses.
â€œLots of nurseries are doing old garden roses,â€ said Rickard.
For Rickardâ€™s part, he is pursuing a different path, preferring to develop his own hybrid roses, classified as modern due to their parentage. One of the most popular of the modern roses is the hybrid tea rose, a cross between the tea rose and a hybrid.
Rickard leans toward growing modern roses because exhibitors â€“ people who grow and show roses â€“ buy the modern ones more so than their older cousins.
In selling roses, Rickard runs his business almost strictly online.
â€œNinety-nine percent of my business is mail order,â€ Rickard said.
Showing roses is another big part of Rickardâ€™s rose endeavor; his wife Nancy is even a rose judge. In 2000, one of his roses won first place at a national competition in Atlanta.
â€œThe number one rose in America came from Iron Station,â€ said Rickard.
As president of the Cleveland-Lincoln County Rose Society, Rickard is heavily involved with rose exhibition in the area. Every year, the group has a show in either Cleveland or Lincoln County. This year, it will be held at the Cleveland Mall in Shelby on September 29. According to Rickard, a mall full of people is the ideal place for a rose show.
â€œThe idea of a rose show is to educate the public on roses,â€ Rickard said.
There are rose societies all over the United States. Rickard worries that people have the wrong impression as to what the groups are all about.
â€œA lot of people think itâ€™s a bunch of old ladies sitting around and gossiping,â€ said Rickard. â€œItâ€™s not.â€
The societies sponsor speakers on such topics as pruning, soil samples and pesticides. Just like the rose shows, the societiesâ€™ events help people learn more about growing roses. Rickard says the programs occur each month and that anyone is welcome to attend.
Rickard also says he worries that our culture is getting away from pastimes like cultivating roses. He has noticed the societies are getting smaller and wishes more people would take the time to stop and smell the roses.
â€œItâ€™s a shame now that everything is so fast,â€ Rickard said. â€œPeople donâ€™t have time for anything.â€
His involvement with growing roses has helped Rickard meet people from all over the country. He meets fellow rose enthusiasts at conventions and they become friends as well as competitors.
Each Spring and Fall, national shows bring growers from across the land to display all types of miniature roses. Rickard has had some success at the national level.
A miniature he developed, called Nancy Jean, after his wife, tied for first place at one national show. Another one, named Rachel, after his mother, came in third at a show in Seattle.
As a result of Rickardâ€™s experience growing roses and his extensive knowledge on the subject, he has earned the title of Consulting Rosarian from the American Rose Society. This title means the organization considers him knowledgeable enough about roses to help others in growing them.
Although Rickard sells roses from his home on only a very limited basis, he says he is more than willing to answer any questions prospective rose growers may have.
â€œI donâ€™t mind visitors at all if I have time and theyâ€™re really interested,â€ said Rickard. â€œIâ€™m not a tour guide, but if people have a question, theyâ€™re more than welcome to call and if I donâ€™t know the answer I will find it.â€
People from all over the country have bought roses from Rickard. He says a number of people from up north have stopped by his home in Iron Station to pick up roses on their way farther south.
Despite his enthusiasm for roses and his success with cultivating and selling them, Rickard insists roses are not a job for him.
â€œItâ€™s not a business,â€ Rickard said. â€œItâ€™s just a hobby gone wild.â€
Rickard made a living building swimming pools for 25 years. He still works with his brother pouring concrete for pools and also does fence work. The work makes it easier for Rickard to continue pursuing his true passion.
â€œI do it to support my habit â€“ roses,â€ said Rickard.
Interested in purchasing roses or learning how to grow them yourself? You may contact Vernon Rickard at (704) 732-4787. Information is also available on his website at www.almostheavenroses.com.
by Allyson Levine