BILL AND RHONDA SPILLMAN STUMBLED ACROSS A CHARMING LOG CABIN BUILT UPON FIVE ACRES IN SEBASTIAN AND A BUSINESS WAS BORN. GUIDED BY A LOVE OF THE OUTDOORS AND IMPRESSED BY THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF ROSES, THE COUPLE WAS INSPIRED TO CREATE AN ENCHANTED GARDEN WHERE ROSES OF DIFFERENT TYPES CAN MIX AND MINGLE. COUNTRY CARE ROSES IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC AND TO TOUT THE GARDEN IS A HISTORY LESSON IN ITSELF.
Country Care Roses Bill & Rhonda Spillman
14070 109th Street
Fellsmere, FL 32948
Interview and Photography by Elaine Ryan
How did the concept come about for Country Care Roses? Have you always been a lover of flowers?
When I was growing up I loved being outdoors romping through woods and fields, but the rose was nothing more than a bush with a pretty flower to me. When I began growing roses, I grew the typical hybrid tea roses that are easy to acquire at local garden centers. They required a lot of extra TLC. They suffered from blackspot, a fungal disease, as well as insects. I had to suit up every weekend with a chemical sprayer, gloves and a respirator. I didn’t like to handle the chemicals, but I wanted a nice looking rose bush! It was frustrating and too much work caring for them.
I began to research the care and history of roses and came across “The Old Garden Rose”. I read books such as The Organic Rose Garden by Liz Druitt and In Search of Lost Roses by T. Christopher and how the Texas Rose Rustlers searched graveyards and old homesteads to rediscover roses lost over time. Old Garden Roses are roses that presented prior to 1867. I was fascinated by their ability to thrive on their own with little care and how their names reflected the lives of kings, generals, hybridizers, and of their wives and children.
As I read about the development of the rose and history, I was fascinated and impressed. The oldest rose on earth dates back to 815. Another great story is that of the Lady Banks Roses that were grown in the gardens in China for hundreds of years. Sir Thomas Banks of Europe sent an expedition to the Fe Tee Nursery in China to obtain plant specimens. One of the plants brought over was Lady Banks. It made its way to America and was planted in Tombstone, Arizona in 1855. It is the largest known rose, covering 8,000 ft.
Roses have been used for centuries for medicinal reasons, ceremonies, art, poetry, and paintings. I was captivated by the story of Empress Josephine who married Napoleon Bonaparte only to be divorced later because she could not bear children. After leaving Napoleon, she lived at her Chateau de la Malmaison in France, where she collected plants and roses. She collected roses from 1805-1810 and had the first large collection of roses. Because of her collection, French hybridizers developed many more varieties. I thought it was sad that there are no gardens in memory of her collection. Thus began a seed for our gardens, which I call “Lil Malmaison” in memory of her. The gardens are landscaped with Old Garden Roses, some modern roses, shrubs and perennials that do well in the Central Florida gardens. I was excited to share the gardens and history with others, as well as help preserve the Old Garden Rose.
For the inexperienced, how difficult is it to grow roses in a climate like Florida?
It is not difficult at all to grow a rose in Florida. The first important step is to select a rose that will grow well in your area. The next important step is to amend the soil. I use mushroom compost, bark chips, Canadian peat and some topsoil. I use organics as much as possible: banana peels, coffee grinds, eggshells, and oak leaves. Water the roses twice a week and give them at least 6 hours of sun.
What are your greatest challenges or hurdles in keeping your flowers happy?
The greatest challenge working with the rose is keeping them happy during the intense hot July and August the summer months. Roses have to endure high humidity, driving rains, hurricane winds and even droughts during these hot months. They are tough roses veiled in colors of elegance.
How many hours do you estimate you spend weekly tending your garden?
The Old Garden rose does not require high maintenance or much of my attention. It is the weeds that require so much work. It is Mother Nature’s way of covering the earth. I am outside by 8:00 am taking pictures of birds perching on trees limbs, butterflies on milkweed, and rosebuds showing off in the morning light. I go inside for the evening when the mosquitoes chase me in or when there isn’t enough light to pull another weed.
Which season is the most favorable for the health of the roses?
Roses thrive in moderate temperatures between 65-80 degrees. The cooler temperature of the soil allows the rose to uptake the nutrients and thus blooms more. As the temperature rises, photosynthesis decreases and the rose bush stops the heavy production of flowers. It will struggle to stay hydrated and goes into a survival mode until the temperatures cool down.
When did you purchase your property in Fellsmere and how did your garden grow to the wonderland it is today?
I was interested in investing in some land in Central Florida. I announced to my husband, Bill, that we were going for a drive to look around. He did not object and we spent the next three weekends looking around the Sebastian area. Bill picked up a real estate magazine outside of a grocery store and found a log home on five acres for sale. I wasn’t really interested because the land had a house on it and I didn’t want another house.
We made an appointment with the real estate agent and drove up from South Florida the next weekend. As we drove up the long drive, we spotted a log home that looked a bit out of place. We opened the front door and stepped into the rocked floor entrance. As we eyed a rock fireplace, our eyes gleamed at each other with a sentiment of, “Whoa! This is something special!”
A young couple had built the log home from a kit with logs shipped in from Montana. It was their dream house, but it was no longer practical for them due to the location of their work. Bill and I walked outside to an unfinished barn. He looked at me and said, “We have to buy this.” The house was built on what used to be a citrus farm. We later purchased an additional five acres next to the property. Bill and I were still working in South Florida. He was a property manager and I taught school. We made the trip up every weekend with a car full of trees, shrubs, and plants to begin landscaping. I can remember some of those trips in which the trees had a lot more room than I did in the vehicle!
Your work is very clearly a labor of love. I was struck by how your roses were personified and each was referred to as “she”. As intimately connected as you are to each flower and petal, what is the most rewarding part about working with your roses?
It is so satisfying and rewarding to research the background of a rose, purchase it, plant it and take care of it as it reveals its beauty and charm over time. As the years have passed, I walk through areas that have grown and changed and taken on their own look with paths, the growth of the perennials, the butterflies, bees, and birds. It makes me smile.
There is a very definite distinction between roses post-1867 and their predecessors, “Old Garden Roses”. Will you give us a brief history as to why this is noteworthy and why you have focused your work on the Old Garden variety?
Old Garden Roses referred to wild rose species found in nature on their own, as well as roses before the hybridization of the rose. Their colors are more subtle, light pinks, soft yellows with delicate petals. Their growth is more relaxed and whimsical. The modern rose has tight scrolled blooms with bright colors that have been bred into them over the years. As hybridizers searched for color and form disease was introduced into the rose when crossed with disease-prone specimens. Today, there are many hybridizers working to breed roses that are disease and blackspot resistant.
To share your garden with others is to impart beauty and introduce a place of serenity. What inspired you to open your doors to the public?
Gardens are meant to be shared. The rose and its history have endured over time. It is a story that is thousands of years old that needs to be told. What better way to tell the story than in a garden? I enjoy sharing a little piece of history with others.
What are your hours of operation and what can visitors expect to find?
The gardens are opened on the weekend from 9-4. We keep a small selection of roses available for sale.
If you were not doing what you do today, what could you see yourself doing instead?
That is a hard one to answer! I can’t imagine…
Give us three personality traits or quirks that have contributed to the success of your garden and roses?
Simplistic, nature-loving, and nurturing.
Is there anything else you would like to share or impart with us?
Create a garden. It doesn’t have to be large. It can be a small area that holds a few favorite perennials, herbs, shrubs and of course, a rose. In a world filled with electronic communications, gadgets, and little time, I am reminded of a quote: “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” -Mahatma Gandhi, India
Originally Published on Vero Home Life & Design