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Rose garden tender seeking a successor

Retirement village plants need special attention

Robert Spies spent years caring for the rose garden at the Rockwood at Hawthorne retirement community, until he went blind several years ago.

Now, the lush plants that he so meticulously cared for are struggling, and some have died. The past winter took a toll.

“They used to be great big roses,” the 90-year-old said.

Spies said he has so little eyesight left from macular degeneration that he cannot even see where to prune the rose canes.

When he put away his clippers four years ago, he wrote a poem to guide any successor on proper rose care.

It reads:

“When flowers start to bloom

Keep your pruners handy.

As each flower fades you must prune

To a five-petaled leaf for more buds dandy.”

Spies is hoping a garden enthusiast in the community will step forward and volunteer to bring the roses back to their glory.

“Some of them are still pretty healthy,” he said.

During a walk around the garden last week, Spies had trouble distinguishing the different varieties. He could barely see the largest blooms, and he pulled a few toward his nose to enjoy their scent.

The retirement community at 101 E. Hawthorne Road has a full-time groundskeeper, but that person is responsible for an eight-acre campus that houses about 113 residents, said Hawthorne Administrator Robert Stauff.

That leaves insufficient time for rose care, he said.

“In the years past it’s always been kind of a main feature in our community,” Stauff said of the importance of the rose garden to the residents.

He said he, too, would like to have someone volunteer to take over for Spies.

The rose garden got its start more than two decades ago, when a resident planted about four dozen hybrid tea roses, then moved away.

Spies, who took care of his father’s roses as a boy, initially didn’t want to assume care duties. One of the reasons he and his late wife, Mary, moved into the facility in 1986 was to get away from yardwork.

The large and showy tea roses, while beautiful, require a lot of attention, he explained.

“I couldn’t sit by and watch them go to nothing,” he said.

Later, the retirement campus got a second rose garden when another resident planted several dozen more roses.

The two gardens were merged into a single plot when a building project displaced the old gardens.

At one point, there were about 80 rose bushes in the garden.

“The key to rose care is continuous care,” Spies said.

Tea roses are vulnerable to insects, fungi, diseases and winter kill.

In the fall, he said, canes should be clipped back to dormant buds or just above five-petaled leaves about 12 inches off the ground, then covered with pine needles.

They need fertilizer in the spring, lots of water in the summer and a second shot of fertilizer at midsummer.

As the poem goes:

“This way you keep new beauties coming

All the summertime long.

The compliments you’ll get from your garden

Will keep coming like an old love song.”

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James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.