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Saint James man a late bloomer in rose field

June 17, 2008|By JANET HEIM

SAINT JAMES -- Robert "Bob" Ruby grew up on a farm in Sharpsburg, where a love for the earth and hard work were instilled in him. Those values have served him well in retirement, where he has blossomed as a rose grower extraordinaire.

Ruby, 70, and his wife, Dixie, 69, have lived in their Saint James Village home for 47 years and planted their first five rose bushes 35 years ago. One, Big Ben, with its bright red flower, still graces the yard.

It wasn't until Dixie Ruby's retirement from Jefferson High School in West Virginia about 15 years ago that she realized the couple didn't have much blooming in their yard.

She got a job watering plants at Lappans Greenhouse, which is no longer in business, so she could learn more about plants and shrubbery because the couple wanted to update the landscaping in their yard.

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"I saw the beautiful roses coming in and brought a few home. It kept multiplying," Dixie Ruby said.

Bob Ruby retired after 38 years in the purchasing department at Jamison Door Co. in Hagerstown. He was looking for something to do in retirement and found it in tending roses.

They now have about 300 rose bushes that offer thousands of blooms from June to November.

"I'm putting in and taking out all the time," Bob Ruby said.

The Rubys' rose collection draws visits by garden clubs and other rose afficianados. The couple has even provided roses for weddings and special occasions.

Bob Ruby said he spends an average of four hours a day from late March to November tending the roses. Care includes weekly spraying to daily deadheading to remove spent blooms to watering, fertilizing and pruning.

He starts in the early morning while it's still cool, then does some work in the evening.

Dixie Ruby helps as needed, but said the rose care is mainly in her husband's hands.

This routine has evolved into a commitment that keeps the couple at home during the growing season.

The Rubys keep close watch on the weather forecasts, removing more blooms if a storm is expected. The wet, cool spring has produced mixed results in this year's roses.

"The rain was good, but the cool weather was too cool (for the roses) to be topnotch," Bob Ruby said.

He said too much heat isn't good for the roses, either, resulting in the buds bursting into bloom too quickly and fading the color, Dixie Ruby said. Heavy rain, wind and hail can destroy the blooms.

The Rubys, who have been married 48 years, met while students at Shepherd College. Bob Ruby, a Washington County native, was a business major. Dixie, who grew up in Jefferson County, W.Va., studied secondary education and business education.

Bob Ruby's interest in roses goes far beyond "hobby." He took courses to become a consultant rosarian, then studied to become a national judge.

The couple belongs to the South Penn Area Rose Society in Chambersburg, Pa., and were members of the Cumberland Valley Rose Society in Hagerstown until it disbanded.

Bob Ruby is a member of the American Rose Society.

Bob Ruby said the secret to his success is the mentors who have taught him the ins and outs of rose growing.

"You can't learn it from a book," he said.

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