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He rose to meet challenge

July 18, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

This is the time of year many people take vacations to get away to scenic vistas, but Bob Ruby never would think of taking a vacation now.

"I have to be here every day," said Ruby, 66.

"Here" is what some people would consider a nice place to visit for a respite from the fast-paced, urban life.

"Here" is also Ruby's Woodside Drive yard south of Hagerstown with approximately 325 rose bushes that he tends to daily.

Ruby tends to his garden an average of three hours a day from the first of April to mid-October.

He weeds, waters, dead heads or cuts off old blooms, fertilizes and sprays to prevent disease and damage.

With a recent spate of Japanese beetles attacking his blooms, Ruby has carried a bottle of Sevin with him in the mornings and evenings to ward off the pests.

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"The rose is the national flower and to raise a good rose is a challenge, so I suppose that it was a hobby and a challenge and I got into it," Ruby said. "And they grow on you."

"It started as a hobby and now it's full-time farming," said Ruby's wife, Dixie Dunn, 65.

The couple bought their first four rose bushes about 35 years ago for landscaping. They knew little about roses then and the plants became diseased, with only one that has survived all those years. The survivor, a dark red Big Ben, stands about 4 feet high along an outer wall of their solarium.

Twelve years ago, before Bob Ruby retired from Jamison Door Co., the couple got more serious about their roses and started planting more.

"It's a sense of accomplishment when you're able to grow an excellent rose and take it to rose shows and be recognized," Bob Ruby said.

Ruby won his first trophy for his miniature pink and white Kristin rose. Ruby said he hasn't kept track of how many ribbons and trophies he's won.

Ruby's favorite roses include Soroptimist International, the pink hybrid T Elizabeth Taylor, the large pink Signature and Veterans' Honor.

Veterans' Honor is, in Ruby's opinion, the best red rose on the market today. While it doesn't have the fragrance of a Mister Lincoln, it has a high center and is perfectly round, he said.

His wife likes the three peace roses - Peace, Chicago Peace, and Love and Peace - but her favorite probably is Big Ben because it has survived so long.

While Bob Ruby said most of the newer rose varieties are not particularly fragrant, the breeze over the garden carries the smell of a bouquet of roses.

He has rectangular beds of roses east of the house and in the back yard, as well as more natural, curved rose gardens along the back, west and front of the house.

"It's beautiful," said Betty White, 77, who lives across the street. "I can sit and look out my picture window and it just looks like something out of a magazine ... like 'Better Homes and Gardens.'"

The Rubys don't mind people slowly driving their cars by to peek at the gardens or the occasional neighbor who cuts through the yard to get a better glimpse, they said.

Their collection includes miniature roses, hybrid Ts that only have one bloom per cane or stem, and floribunda that have multiple small blooms on each cane.

Ruby has been working on his own hybrid for three years and is considering registering it and letting a commercial grower sell it.

The miniature yellow rose is named Destiny, after a cat the couple has buried nearby, Dixie Dunn Ruby said.

Dixie Dunn Ruby said she helps her husband, but doesn't get involved to the extent he does.

"I don't do that much," she said. "I follow orders."

Bob Ruby takes growing roses seriously enough that he studied to become a consultant rosarian, and later a national judge. He learned how to look for high centers, symmetry, healthy foliage and the length of the cane in proportion to the bloom.

When judging a rose, Ruby keeps in mind how the perfect rose of that variety should appear.

The couple belong to the South Penn Area Rose Society in Chambersburg, Pa., and the Cumberland Valley Rose Society in Hagerstown. He also is a member of the American Rose Society.

The Hagerstown group's annual rose show usually is held the third Saturday in June at Valley Mall, about the time the first and typically best bloom of the year occurs, Ruby said.

But a warm May caused the roses to bloom early, so the show was canceled, he said. The first bloom would have ended by the time of the show.

Depending on the variety, a rose can have from three to six bloomings a season.

A miniature rose bush typically costs between $6 and $7, Ruby said. The average price of a hybrid T ranges from $18 to $26.

April marks the arrival of Ruby's mail-ordered roses. He soaks the bare roots and plants them in the ground or, if the weather is expected to be bad for a week, he wets them and puts them in the refrigerator in his garage.

There will be no vacation until at least late October.

"That's why I say it's like farming," Dixie Dunn Ruby said. "We might as well milk cows, too."

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