A Thorny Pride

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Dangerous chemicals, eye droppers full of water, intense fear of bugs—these are just a few of the things competitive rose growers deal with on a daily basis. In Otherwise Normal People: Inside the Obsessive and Thorny World of Competitive Rose Gardening master gardener Aurelia Scott describes a click filled with intense competitiveness; a world where gardeners hoard products for fear they will soon be banned from the country due to toxicity, where people attempt to train wild birds to eat beetles off of roses, and where improper pruning techniques could be the end of a season. City Pages took a moment to talk to the author about her experiences with rose enthusiasts in the floral underground.

City Pages: Why are rose competitions so cutthroat? Why not tulips? Peonies?

Aurelia Scott: There aren't a lot of competitions for other flowers-- perhaps part of the reason is that the relationship between roses and people has gone on so much longer than the relationship between people and other flowers. We have been loving and hybridizing other these creatures for thousands of years—a long time.


CP: You also mention that competitive rose gardening is a male-dominated world. Why do you think that is?

AS: I would say that there are several reasons—and this all might sound sexist or traditionalist, but I'm still trying to figure it out. Men have traditionally been associated with working with roses because they're big thorny objects that they had to deal with in the garden. Also, many men are naturally competitive. I think that appeals to men—the chance to combine a competition with a beautiful part of nature, which perhaps is not something that men often get to do in a creative kind of way—they can cut the lawn, but a chance to shape beauty for a little while is not something a lot of people get to do.


CP: Is it female-friendly for the few that do compete?

AS: Oh it is, yes! The women who are into it are very much welcome. Admittedly, it's a specialized sport, so I think men realize that to maintain interest you need to invite everyone. Maybe it heightens competition. There aren't many sports that combine genders.


CP: I was shocked to hear that winners aren't awarded cash prizes! How does this effect competition?

AS: Well, you are truly doing it for the thrill of the win, and knowing that for that show you did something better than anyone else in the room. People are usually honest in acknowledging that it's a combo of skill and luck as well.


CP: Any gardening practices that you found truly shocking?

AS: Probably the oddest—there is one lady I know who buries her roses. You can bend them over and put soil over them—they'll be fine next year. She also travels frequently and will bring roses back in her suitcases! I bring shoes back; she brings roses.


CP: Any extreme gardening practices you have that you'd care to share?

AS: I don't know that you can be too extreme. I have times when I yell at the weeds that I am pulling up. Not loudly—I pull them and say, "See! See! Take this!" When I spot a beetle, I now squish them. Pretty disgusting, yet oddly satisfying!

Aurelia C. Scott reads and chats about roses tonight at Magers & Quinn. Free. 5:00 p.m. 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.822.4611.



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