With proper care, roses have a lot 'to say'

Judi Ford Johnson recalls the time when a magnanimous florist added a free rose to the 23 her father ordered for her mother. It was an act of generosity that went awry. From their first wedding anniversary on, Judi's father had sent her mother a rose for each year they had been married.

Frankly, it didn't please Mrs. Ford one bit that he should have "forgotten" how long they had been married.

The error was quickly cleared up and harmony restored. Mrs. Johnson, who, as Judi ford, was crowned Miss America in 1968, tells the story to illustrate that she has grown up with roses. They were the first choice among flowers in the Ford home and were used to mark all sorts of anniversaries, including Mother's Day.

Frequently they were brought into the home for "the best of all reasons," -- simply, to express the beauty and love in the home.

Over the years, then, the slim "mighty like a rose" Mrs. Johnson has learned much about the care of cut roses. It was this knowledge, along with her Miss America crown, no doubt, which recently earned her the position as spokeswoman for the North american Rose Growers Association.

Obviously, her aim is to promote the sale of cut roses, but that doesn't alter the fact that her advice for selecting and prolonging the life of the flowers in the vase is well worth heeding, whether you buy yours from a florist or pick them from your own dew-drenched garden.

Here are some of her suggestions:

Buy or pick roses when the just-opening buds are springy to the touch when lightly pressed between finger and thumb. Another good sign is when one or two outside petals have opened slightly from the bud. In contrast, a tight bud has been picked too soon and may not open at all.

Petals should appear velvety and damp-looking.

Place cut roses in water as soon as possible; otherwise, store them in a cool , dark place or in a refrigerator. Do not store roses near ripe fruit where the presence of ethylene gas can age the blossom fast.

Remove all leaves and thorns from the stem below the water line to prevent them from starting to decay. Running the fingers of a gloved hand down the stem will remove both leaves and thorns. The fact that all rose thorns point downward makes this maneuver possible.

Use water that is barely warm to the touch -- around 100 degrees F. Add a floral preservative which is available from florists -- or you might use soda pop. Soda, added to water in a 1-to-3 ratio, provides the carbonic acid and sugar needed to prolong the life of cut flowers.

Finally, cut off the end of the rose stem using a sharp knife (shears tend to crush and bruise the stem). Make an angled cut and immediately place the stem in water. Better still, cut the rose underwater and transfer it to the vase with a drop of water clinging to the stem.

In the vase roses practically arrange themselves. A good rule of thumb is to make the tallest rose, with the tightest bud, the centerpiece.

Place the arrangement in the light but not in the direct rays of the sun.

Finally, here's a way to revive a drooping rose: Lie it down full length in a basin of water and cut a small piece off the bottom of the stem. Leave the rose in the water for about two hours before returning it to the vase.

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