‘Rose lady’ enjoying her new hobby

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 20, 2000

VIDALIA, La. – What do Minnie Pearl, Jane Pauley, Dolly Parton and Amy Grant have in common? They’re among hundreds of varieties of roses in Vidalia resident Mary Mullins’ front-yard garden. So are Loving Touch and Arizona Sunset. Incognito. Sweet Caroline. Cachet and Kristen and Midas Touch.

And don’t forget Overnight Sensation, the first rose to go up as part of a NASA space flight. &uot;That’s a nice one,&uot; Mullins said, bending over to sniff the delicate pink flower’s fragrance.

Mullins’ love of roses is evident from the first time you meet her. The Eleanor Avenue resident neighbors call &uot;the rose lady&uot; talks nonstop about the different varieties of roses, their care and the shows in which they have been entered.

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&uot;I entered my first show in April, and (the rose variety) Flutterbye won a trophy on the Queen’s Table. That’s the most prestigious table,&uot; she said.

That’s not bad for a beginner. The number of thriving roses that already take up almost every inch of her front yard might suggest otherwise, but Mullins has only been growing roses for two years. &uot;A friend of mine (Pat Dillon) who lives over on Peach Street got me hooked,&uot; Mullins said. Now, they are both members in the Cenla Rose Society.

&uot;It’s a disease, and the only way to cure it is to buy another (rose bush). The only problem is, then you’ve got to buy another. And another.&uot;

In fact, she is already mulling over planting some new rose bushes in her back yard. &uot;We’ll have to buy more property soon if I’m going to plant any more,&uot; she said, laughing.

Mullins buys most of her roses through mail-order companies. And raising all those roses — about 275 at last count — is a lot of work.

There is watering, especially the summer’s drought. There is plenty of spraying to kill insects and the black spot fungus, which is caused by moisture and temperature extremes and can kill the plant if untreated.

There’s pruning existing plants and tilling the soil to plant new bushes, too. &uot;I didn’t have a tiller at first, but after that first year, I&160;bought one,&uot; Mullins said.

&uot;I do so much work out here that people probably know my backside better than my face.&uot;

She also talks to her roses &uot;just like they were my children&uot;&160;and plays country music to them — which she said they seem to like, judging from their growth.

Still, Mullins can’t do anything about some factors that influence her roses, such as the weather. Storms that buffeted the area Nov. 8 took many of the blooms off her rose bushes, and the weekend’s cold weather and caused buds to say closed.

But it is all worth it to be able to sit in her yard’s swing and bask in the roses’ color and fragrance on a sunny day in April, when the plants are at their blooming peak.

&uot;That’s what I love about them — it’s constant color,&uot;&160;said Mullins, whose roses range from white to gold to pale and hot pinks and, of course, red.

So advice would Mullins give budding gardeners? &uot;If you don’t want to take the time to care for them, don’t fool with them,&uot;&160;Mullins said. &uot;It takes a lot of work, … but it’s worth it.&uot;