11 Apr 23 - Resident stories

Rose to the occasion

“I’d love to have the whole place swimming in roses,” declared Molly Bloom in Ulysses.

James Joyce’s character would enjoy a visit to Paul and Janice McKeany at Summerset by the Dunes. The Papamoa couple have been winning awards for their prize roses for more than 20 years and have delighted village residents with their dedicated rose garden, where they currently grow 26 different varieties. “I have always loved roses,” says Paul. “What other flower gives you blooms ten months of year?”

Although the pair, who have been married for 51 years, were both born to farming stock, cultivating plants to show came to them later in life. Says Paul, “I was in the Royal New Zealand Engineers in the military. When I retired, Janice and I moved to the UK. I worked as a gardener there and began to learn more about roses.” On the couple’s return to New Zealand, Paul became the head gardener at St Peter’s School in Cambridge – a rose enthusiast’s dream with over 700 varieties of roses.

Left: Janice and her miniature roses. Right: 'Absolutely Fabulous'

Paul studied the Amenity Horticulture course at Wintec in Hamilton, and the couple grew 150 show roses at their Waikato property. “I wanted to find work closer to home. Luckily, Amore Roses nursery was just starting up, and the owner, Jan, asked us if we would work there.” The couple jumped at the chance, with Paul looking after the field roses and trial beds while Janice took care of the propagation of new rose stock.

“Roses aren’t hard to grow. They mainly need lots of food and lots of water. They are extremely hungry,” says Paul. “Like anything, though, they need looking after.”

So, what are some top tips for growing beautiful blooms? “A complete food for them,” advises Paul. “I do what I call ‘rose patrol’ – checking the plants daily for insects and other pests. You also need a decent pair of secateurs, as the more you deadhead, the more they will bloom. In this climate it can be hard for them to go dormant; therefore, hard pruning when the time is right is important. Try not to choose your plants based on perfume and colour, as the heavily scented blooms tend to be more prone to disease. There are probably only three or four breeders in New Zealand successfully growing roses that are both healthy and smell nice.”

Left: Their award-winning rose, 'Loving Memory'. Right: Paul pruning his roses

The couple are heavily involved in the Waikato Rose Society, with November being the busiest month on the rose circuit with numerous shows held across the country. Paul shows full-size roses whereas Janice shows miniature roses, which tend to be one-quarter the size of regular roses – although roughly the same amount of work. “We have been very lucky to reap the rewards of our efforts,” says Janice.

Paul is also a national judge, though obviously doesn’t judge his own blooms. “Judges tend to work in pairs, sometimes threes. It takes about five to seven years to become a judge, and we must follow a set of guides and take exams. We judge on form, substance, freshness, stem balance and foliage, with marks awarded out of 100. There are different show classes too.” This past November, Paul took home a couple of Champion awards at shows, as well as the coveted Champion of Champions award at the National Rose Show held in Auckland. He won for his rich red rose ‘Loving Memory’, which he grows in his villa garden. Does he have a favourite? “It is hard to pick just one! ‘Loving Memory’ is my favourite show rose. My favourite scented rose is the mauve ‘Perfumed Kiss’, and for colour it’s ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, which is a beautiful rich yellow.”

Top row, 1: 'Pirate King', 2: 'Newsflash', 3: 'Perfumed Kiss'. Bottom row, 4: 'Perfect Moment', 5: 'Legend', 6: 'Summer Dawn'

The couple have lived at their Summerset by the Dunes villa for 12 months, and while the villa gardens are usually maintained on residents’ behalf, Paul and Janice take care of their own. “We were going to stop growing and showing roses altogether when we made the decision to sell up our home. But we found we couldn’t give them up, so we asked Summerset if we could start our own rose garden here, and they were happy for us to. It is therapeutic, and it’s wonderful to see people’s faces light up when they see our blooms. We rarely pick ours; we like to leave them on the plants for everyone to see.” This is in line with the New Zealand Rose Society’s motto: “To implant roses in the hearts and gardens of the people.”

This is an article from the Autumn 2023 edition of Summerset Scene magazine

Click here to read the full issue