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More than 200 roses to view at test garden

KENNEWICK -- What's your favorite rose?

There are zillions of rose varieties, but my favorite has always been "Peace." When you shop for new roses from a catalog or at a nursery in early spring, it's difficult to tell from pretty photographs whether you'll like the variety once it's growing and flowering in your garden.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but seeing the real thing is even better. I recommend that you visit the magnificent Rose Garden in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden in Kennewick. They don't have every rose variety under the sun, but they do have more than 200 varieties for your enjoyment. This garden is a treasure for would-be rose shoppers who want to check out rose varieties before they buy.

On display at the Master Gardener Rose Garden you'll also find the current year's All-America Rose Selections winners, as well as recent winners. The All-America Rose Selections, or AARS, group is a nonprofit association with the primary goal of introducing and promoting the best of the best new rose varieties.

In 1938, AARS established a program for testing roses to encourage and challenge the rose industry to develop better roses, roses that are more disease resistant, easier to grow and more beautiful. "Peace," my favorite rose variety, was honored by AARS with its selection in 1946, the year it was introduced. That's before I was born!

This year, for the first time in 20 years, only one rose was honored with the AARS distinction. "Easy Does It" is the only 2010 AARS winner. It's a distinctly different floribunda with ruffled petals and double rich mango-orange, peach-pink and ripe apricot flowers. It's a gorgeous rose with a mildly fruity fragrance. Plus, the plant is disease resistant and vigorous.

Just what does it mean to be an AARS rose winner? AARS rose winners go through two years of extensive testing in 15 test gardens nationwide. "Easy Does It" excelled in 15 categories including overall beauty, disease resistance, and ease of maintenance.

The AARS red-rose logo designation means that "Easy Does It" should be easy to grow for gardeners around the country.

Local gardeners might wonder if the any of these test gardens expose roses to the types of conditions found in our part of Washington. The answer to this question is a resounding "yes," because one of those 23 test gardens also is right here in the our Master Gardener Demonstration Garden.

Each year, the local Benton Franklin Master Gardener group receives about 200 roses from AARS. The roses are planted in test beds and evaluated for two years before being removed to make way for new "contestants."

Take time this week to tour the Master Gardener's Demonstration Garden and seek out the Rose Garden and the Rose Test Garden so you can enjoy the more than 600 beautiful roses planted there. It smells wonderful. After your visit, you can thank the Master Gardeners by helping them win the "America's Best Rose Garden" competition sponsored by AARS.

This nationwide competition's purpose is to identify the best public rose gardens in the United States. The top garden will be presented with a plaque, $2,500 and national recognition for our local garden.

It's easy, just go online at www.rose.org/votenow and click on the VOTE button. Look for Washington's "Master Gardener Demonstration Rose Garden" and vote for it.

* Marianne Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.

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