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JUNE 2003
Volume 95, Issue 5
 

IMAGE:  Tournament of RosesTournament of Roses
WRITTEN BY AMY BRAVERMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARY LOU UTTERMOHLEN

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A late-blooming rose expert, 78-year-old Eve Jones is a perennial on the competition circuit, showing and judging roses with the nation’s best.

Ouch!” For the second time in ten minutes, Eve Spiro Jones, PhB’46, SB’48, SM’48, PhD’53, burns her thumb on the hot-glue gun she’s using to secure Mardi Gras beads to a curved, foot-long woven branch. Standing at her Sheraton New Orleans bathroom sink on a Thursday night in April, the 78-year-old psychologist wears a green apron with a mauve rose design on the bib as she twines the shiny silver, gold, pink, purple, and green strands, barber’s pole style, around the branch.

IMAGE:  Tournament of Roses
MARY LOU UTTERMOHLEN

Jones stays up all night to prepare her arrangements, including the breakfast tray and “East Meets West.”

The beaded branch will bridge two white, mushroom-shaped containers, one large and one small, that Jones plans to fill with clusters of Nicole roses—white blooms with deep-pink tips—from her yard. She’ll enter the arrangement in Saturday’s American Rose Society (ARS) Spring National Rose Show under the “stretch” category, for designs with a smaller section stretched from a larger unit via some connecting apparatus. Although it’s the first time Jones has entered this category, she thinks the beads conform well to its New Orleans theme, “Throw Me Something Mister,” the call that scantily clad women shout to bead-tossing men on Mardi Gras parade floats.

The hotel dresser and desk are covered with props, also transported from Jones’s Los Angeles home, to use in other arrangements: For her “Voodoo” entry there’s a grotesque candle holder with dark, upward-reaching, arm-like sticks, which she plans to top with red, sparsely petalled Altissimo roses. For “Beignets and Café au Lait” she has a breakfast tray with Blue Flower Royal Copenhagen porcelain and a matching sake pitcher she’ll fill with white hybrid tea roses. For “The French Quarter” Jones packed a flat, round, beret-like black tray that will hold miniature roses. Because the Asian-themed categories come easily to her, she says, she’ll also enter “The Geisha,” “East Meets West,” and “The House of the Rising Sun.”

Tonight she prepares the arrangements’ props and complementary filler. On the floor lie curly gold wire, bamboo, palm and iris leaves, pussy willows, ferns, flowering plum and cherry, Japanese maple, copper beech, magnolia, hypericum, jointed grass, and flax. She also traveled to New Orleans with a large cardboard box, filled with five dozen roses, which she won’t open until late Friday night or early Saturday morning, when she will reassemble the arrangements in the show room on the hotel’s third floor.

On Monday Jones carefully packed the insulated rose box, lining the sides with blue ice packs and covering the bottom with a three-inch-thick Styrofoam sheet. She’d already stuck the bottom of each rose’s stem into a water- and plant-preservative-filled test tube, topped with a rubber stopper. She stabbed the pointed test tubes into the Styrofoam, each stem far enough from the others so the blooms wouldn’t touch and bruise. She then covered the roses with a deep, open-bottom Lucite box.

Despite all her care, she’s a bit worried about her roses because at the airport Transportation Security Administration officials cut open the box, even lifting the Lucite. Between that invasion and the $180 the airline charged for her oversized, overweight package, Jones was almost in tears before boarding the plane. Plus, she had come to New Orleans early, on Tuesday, to attend some of the week’s rose society pre-show events, such as Wednesday’s River Road Plantation tour. So the box has been sitting all week in a room that the Sheraton designated for cold storage, longer than she normally would leave them. Worse, in a space-saving effort she had placed the Nicole roses on top of the others, hoping they would all come through undamaged.

Jones has been caring for roses since L.A.’s 1971 earthquake forced her out of her neighborhood and into Hancock Park, where the big house she bought had 150 rose bushes. “I had to learn,” Jones says, “and I had to learn fast.” She learned, for example, that roses need at least six hours of sunlight a day. They need 32 elements, especially nitrogen for stem growth and foliage, phosphorus for the blooms and “floriforousness,” and potassium for the roots. They need to be watered every other day in dry Los Angeles, and their blooms may be covered—perhaps with a plastic baggie—when it does rain.

Now a consulting rosarian who receives weekly advice-seeking calls from around the nation and editor of the Pacific Rose Society’s monthly magazine, Jones has almost 900 rose bushes, including “all the different classes of rose,” she says—floribundas, climbers, hybrid teas, miniatures, shrubs, and old garden roses (OGR).

Although the OGRs are her favorites, they’re fragile and don’t exhibit as well as hardy hybrid teas, for example. The center petals of a good exhibition rose, she explains, rise to a tall point. Its outside petals rest above or at—never below—the horizon, and the inner petals form a spiral. Its general shape is triangular, its foliage is proportional to the bloom’s size, and it has no blemishes.

For years Jones was interested only in the roses she enjoyed, not whether they exhibited well. “I love the mauves, the browns, the tans, the off colors that some people would never have in their gardens and some judges won’t even look at in a show.” She joined the ARS for its monthly magazine, which offered useful rose-growing tips, but she thought the local society members, people who knew the names of different roses, who awoke at ungodly hours to prepare for shows, were haughty.

Ten years ago, however, Jones received a phone call from Louis Desamero, a well-known rosarian looking to start a new local chapter. She told Desamero that she didn’t “do well in groups,” that groups tended to dislike intelligent people, and that she had a generally unfavorable view of rose growers. But he persuaded her to attend a meeting of the Tinseltown society, and to her surprise she liked the other members, including a woman who had given up orthopaedic surgery to play bass in the L.A. Symphony and several other M.D.s and Ph.D.s.

In 1996 the head of the Tinseltown group asked Jones to take the national judging exam in San Diego. She was the only Tinseltown member who had been an ARS member long enough to qualify, so she attended the two-day class and passed the test to judge horticulture—the roses themselves as opposed to arrangements, which are judged not only on the roses’ quality but also on the designs’ creativity and how well they conform to a given theme. (She passed the arrangements judging exam two years ago.)

But “they don’t let you judge if you’ve never entered,” she says, and she had to learn rose names to exhibit. She began studying 3,000 of the 20,000-plus rose names, and in 1997 she entered the San Fernando Valley’s annual show. After the judging was over she noticed some of her roses missing from their designated places. “Have you looked at the trophy table?” a friend asked. “So I went to look, and there, smack in the middle, high up on top were my French Lace,” which had won Best Floribunda. Of her 32 entries, 30 won ribbons or trophies. “It was really a kick,” Jones says. “I just walked around on air for a couple days.”

That kick sparked feelings the longtime psychologist—who, though retired, practices rebirthing and breath therapy with at least one patient a day and teaches a weekly class at West Los Angeles City College—hadn’t experienced in years. “I realized I hadn’t competed in anything since high school,” Jones says. “It’s been a lesson in patience, humility, and sportsmanship.” Since then she’s brought home at least one trophy from every rose show she’s entered—about 15 a year—though she’s hit a slow streak recently and hasn’t won a big prize in her last few shows.

After that first win, her confidence grew. Already an experienced columnist—from 1954 to the late 1960s she wrote a syndicated column, “Parents’ World,” for the Chicago Daily News—she began writing a column for the Tinseltown Rose Society’s monthly magazine, an ARS award winner. Over the phone, at society meetings, and at local rose shows, other experts began debating the columns with her.

At a Tinseltown meeting three or four years ago the gray-haired, 4-foot-113/4-inch Jones stood her ground against a 6-foot-plus man who argued with her use of the word “auxin”—which she remembered from her Chicago biological-science sequence—to describe the substance that determines stem and leaf growth patterns. When she wrote about soil sickness, one well-known grower argued that it didn’t exist—an ongoing debate. The same grower also disputes her suggestion that jetsam will heal roses of a fungus that causes the disease amalaria. Competing, learning to stand up against world-renowned experts, and her incessant gardening, she says, have kept her young.

Youthfulness matters to Jones. “I’m convinced decrepitude is preventable,” she says. She avoids unhealthy foods and takes almost 70 pills each day—30-some at night and even more in the morning. Just as she sprays her roses with minerals, she gives her body niacin, Vitamins C and E, and many other supplements to make up what her diet doesn’t provide. Taking magnesium, she says proudly, helped bring her bone density from osteopenia levels eight years ago to the 95th percentile for a 30-year-old today. Aside from a few wrinkles and swollen feet after standing for too long, Jones is a picture of health, with “the same energy level as when I was in college.”

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