I gave up growing roses in my Arizona garden years ago. I found them demanding and disappointing. I virtually stopped buying cut roses as well since their life span seemed incredibly brief. But I have just returned from a trip to Ecuador, where roses reign supreme, and I have an entirely different view of the world of roses.
The Ecuadorian landscape is quilted in green fields accented with white hoop houses growing sunflowers, vegetables, and roses, especially roses. My reeducation on roses began at Sacha Roses, south of Quito, Ecuador, where they claim to grow the world’s largest roses.
I could never find the best location to grow roses in my garden; Ecuador, located on the equator, is the best location to grow roses. At an elevation of 10,000 ft, with 12 hours of daily sunshine, the rose farm protects their crop in hoop houses with a UV-rated plastic cover specifically matched for the variety of roses they are growing. The UV-adjusted covering allows the colors to saturate precisely. These ideal conditions allow the rose bushes to produce an average of one long-stemmed rose each month, all year round.
Fernando Lopez, rose authority extraordinaire and a member of the family, gave me the tour. We started in their test house with all the wide variety of colors in one place. He identified each one by name, a white Tibet without thorns, Nina, an orange-red, a Tapas hot pink, and many, many more varieties all new to me. He made it clear the buyers have their favorite varieties in ordering and expect identical quality in each delivery.
As we walked through the test house I looked up, amazed as the roses grew far above my head. The roses not only grow tall, but the buds are full and round. The high mountain temperatures can be quite cool, and this helps the roses “fatten up.” Fernando compared it to people adding layers of clothing in cold weather, making us rounder.
Fernando’s family farming practices maintain a reverence for water, recirculating the runoff from the drip lines and cleaning the water before it is released downstream. Pest control is done with sacrificial plants outside the hoop houses providing tasty leaves for hungry insects keeping them off the roses inside.
The rose farms provide skilled employment for local residents. Cutting the roses at the right time, cleaning the stems, grading the buds, and packing for transport to meet international shipping standards is not casual work.
Why I wonder, did the roses travel with such long stems, 39” (1 meter)? Sacha Roses’ primary customer is Russia, specifically Siberia. Now my impression of Siberia was limited to spy movies before this conversation but assumed rose growing conditions are not part of their climate. Yet they love roses (though not yellow roses, something about a not-so-subtle message of death), and the nearly 40 million people living in Siberia want fresh flowers in their homes. Russians place their flower vases on the floor, so the height of the rose stem is essential to adjust for the pleasure of viewing the flowers.
In my house, I cut long stem roses to fit the size of my vase. I place the vase on the tabletop and enjoy them there. Travel always introduces new perspectives.
It is a remarkable feat to grow a rose at the equator and ship it to Siberia. I stopped buying roses because they wilted so quickly; I read tips for preserving the life of the roses by cutting them underwater and never letting a second of air get into the stem! Here the roses are cut, bundled, and carried by small trucks to the sorting and grading shed. They are then dipped in a solution of water and chlorine bleach to ensure no insects are riding along. There they are cleaned of leaves and thorns, packed dry and tightly in bundles packed into boxes of 250 stems, loaded back into a truck, driven to the airport in Quito, placed into the airplane cargo, and flown into Miami, and then onto Russia. It can take seven days by transport! They are protected by temperature control, given no water, and shipped from the florist to the romantic, and expected to last ten days in the vase. These are not my grocery store roses.
I learned one of the reasons the roses last so long is the removal of their scent. The hormone providing fragrance causes the flower to open faster and deteriorate more quickly. By breeding out the scent, the rose life is extended.
On the streets of Quito, roses are $2 a dozen. Roses adorn the hotel lobbies in mass arrangements. There are flower markets and rose sellers tempting you at every turn.
I traveled to Ecuador to attend my niece’s wedding. When I arrived at the wedding venue, Hotel Mama Cuchara, I was astonished at the breath-taking bounty of the roses in pale peach, apricot, pink, white, and orange.
My appreciation of roses and the growing of roses is forever altered.
Now, did you know you can look for the source of roses and flowers you buy? Many local retailers buy flowers from Ecuador. The roses on a 20” (50 cm) stem are only identified as red, yellow, purple, light pink, white, and hot pink, so you won’t see the lovely Nina.
Some are part of a cooperative, Rainforest Alliance Certification, assuring you of sustainable growing conditions and worker protections. Florists also sell higher-quality roses and do ask your florist where they are grown. I’ve always appreciated being able to buy flowers at the grocery store as I consider them food for my soul. Now I am going in search of more beautiful Ecuadorian roses.