The Huntington’s Curator Shares His Best Rose Tips and Insights

I’ve enjoyed roses ever since I was a child. Both my mother and grandmother had rose gardens where they’d let me cut flowers to make beautiful bouquets for our home and to share with my teachers.

By Linda Brooks

I’ve enjoyed roses ever since I was a child. Both my mother and grandmother had rose gardens where they’d let me cut flowers to make beautiful bouquets for our home and to share with my teachers. A double-bloom of pale yellow with soft pink tips named “Peace” was a favorite.

My current rose garden consists of 30 plants, most of which are in a dedicated rose bed, filled with every color from white to deep purple, and an array of fragrances that can’t be store bought.

I’ve tried to pass along my love and appreciation of roses to my daughter, constantly putting little boutiques of freshly cut roses on a bedside table while she was growing up. But apparently the “queen of flowers” has gone out of vogue in the last decade or so. Maybe it’s that younger generations only have the patience for succulents.

But now, on the brink of the 133rd Annual Tournament of Roses Parade, roses are on my mind more than ever.

I’ve known of Tom Carruth since I discovered his extraordinary, deep rust–colored “Hot Cocoa” rose. He’s credited with breeding more than 150 varieties, 11 of which have received the prestigious All-American Rose Selection award for outstanding rose variety. (It takes 9–10 years to bring a rose to market.) As curator, he oversees The Huntington’s three-acre rose garden, which showcases more than 1,300 varieties, over 2,500 individual plants, and about 45 volunteers (there is even a wait list).

When I go to visit him at The Huntington, my mind is filled with questions. Here, he shares his tips and insights.

I’ve always been told to water roses in the ground, soaking them deeply, but here I see you water overhead with sprinklers.

We do that twice a week, early morning, for about 10–15 minutes at a time. This deep waters them, while also cleansing the plants of pests and disease. We are an organic garden and have no mildew or spider mites. Applying mulch 4 inches away from the crown conserves water and reduces weeds. We replace mulch in January.

One common complaint about growing roses is that they are fussy and time consuming. How do you manage more than 2,500 rose plants organically?

We work with Mother Nature, build good soil, and show tough love with reduced watering, which produces more blooms. Roses like moist, not wet, soil. Birds, natural predators, and beneficial nematodes take care of pests. To combat the chilli thrips, we apply monthly an organic spray during summer of Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew.

We feed during the growing season, April to August. Two to three times each year, we sprinkle Scotts Natural Lawn Food. Twice a year, a light snow of gypsum is watered in for soil conditioning, and when the temperature is below 80 degrees, a foliar fertilizer spray of our own blend is applied. A liquid seaweed solution is good, too. Including self-cleaning roses that produce new buds reduces the effort of dead heading.

When and how much pruning do you suggest?

We spend the month of January pruning. But for the home gardener, one day mid-month is best. You’ll want to reduce the plant size by about 50%. For more information on pruning, the Los Angeles County Arboretum ( offers classes in January.

How can we get the most out of the fragrance? 

It’s important to smell the flower just at the right time. The rose scent is found in the oil at the base of the petals, which is most potent when the bud is opening in the presence of moisture during early morning or evening twilight.  

Selecting a Rose

There are endless possibilities to have fragrance, color, and disease resistance altogether. Pasadena native Julia Child chose as her namesake a self-cleaning yellow rose for its buttery gold color and sweet licorice scent, bred by Tom Carruth.

“Huntington’s 100th” (also known as “Life of the Party”), a pastel yellow touched with orchid pink and cream with an intense fragrance of lemon blossom and hint of baby powder, was hybridized by Carruth and selected to honor The Huntington’s centennial. It was featured on The Huntington’s 2020 Rose Parade float—the first in 50 years—which took home the Golden State Award for depicting life in California.


Visit to narrow your selection based on your preferences.

Top nurseries for buying roses:

Otto & Sons Nursery (Ventura County), ottoandsons

San Gabriel Nursery & Florist (San Gabriel),

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