WRITTEN BY AMY BRAVERMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARY LOU UTTERMOHLEN
assessment seems accurate. After staying up until 3 a.m.
to prepare her arrangements, by 10 a.m. Friday morning Jones, in
a salmon blouse and light pink slacks, is checking out the Merchandise
Marketplace, where merchants sell rose jewelry, rose stationery,
rose hand lotion, rose slippers, gardening gloves, fertilizer, garden
sprayers, roses by the bunch, and rose bushes. The customers are
mostly older, heterosexual couples—burly male gardener/farmer
types and their solid, demure wives—or gay couples. Women
wear rose-printed tops, pants, scarves, shoes, or hats. An excited
group in the corner checks out an Oregon hybrider’s newest
roses—one bush with large, full, light-pink blooms he’s
named Ground Zero and another with similarly lush, hot-pink blooms
called Nine Eleven.
MARY LOU UTTERMOHLEN
|Sparkling in her Stars and Stripes
costume, Jones finds a similarly garbed rose enthusiast at the
“Come as a Rose” banquet.
Jones decides not to buy any “kitsch”
in the marketplace. She leaves to lunch at the hotel café
with some ARS friends. Their discussion about roses, health, and
love—including Jones’s three marriages, two to fellow
Chicago alumni—lasts two hours, and they miss the afternoon
seminar on Josephine Bonaparte, who collected roses with the same
passion that Napoleon collected countries.
After lunch Jones finds Lew Schute,
the national chair for rose-arrangements judges, who has promised
to come to Jones’s room to critique her arrangements. The
gray-haired but youthful Schute looks at the breakfast tray. “I
like the color,” he purrs. “What if we put the cup on
its side?” He leans the teacup sideways on its saucer. “Oh,
I like that,” Jones says. Schute admires the “Voodoo”
candle holder, but it needs more height, he says. “Do you
have a platform to put it on?” The two construct a platform
out of two black trays from the bathroom—the ones that had
held the hotel’s coffee pot and mugs—and two cylindrical
containers of floral foam.
Schute’s visit increases Jones’s
excitement about the show. She skips the evening’s entertainment,
a Mississippi River dinner cruise on a paddlewheel boat, to tweak
the arrangements and open her rose box. She’s learned that
she can get into the exhibition room tonight and won’t have
to wake up at 4 a.m. to prepare her roses before the 8:30 judges’
breakfast—she’s evaluating horticulture—and the
9 a.m. judging.
A hotel security guard unlocks the
cold-storage room. “It’s not very cold in here,”
Jones says. “It should be 34 degrees.” The room’s
thermostat reads 64. She inspects a group of tall, unboxed roses,
with red, pink, white, and yellow blooms wrapped in plastic baggies.
“These are shot,” she says. “See how their outside
petals are sagging? Whoever belongs to these roses is going to be
pissed.” She points to large picnic coolers along the wall.
“Those will probably be all right.” Finding her own
cardboard box, she says, “Let’s see if any of mine survived.”
If she has one perfect rose, she’s decided, she’ll enter
it in the judges’ horticulture class.
A bellhop lifts her box onto a luggage
carrier and wheels it to her room. Jones turns to the duct-taped
package, stabbing at it with her shears and a Swiss Army knife before
finally slicing it open. After pulling out the blue ice packs one
by one, she raises the Lucite covering and picks up the Nicoles.
The blooms are slightly smashed but still full of petals, and she
places the stems in cold water in a hotel ice bucket.
She reaches deep into the box and
lifts the Styrofoam base with the rest of her roses. As the blooms
rise, an immense shower of petals—light pink, magenta, white,
red, yellow—falls to the floor. Jones’s face sinks too
when she sees the mangled stems and blooms that remain. Then she
shrugs. “As the French say, ‘C’est bien dommage.’”
From the Styrofoam she pulls a test
tube holding a short stem with a dented but full peach and yellow
bloom. “This Polka might be all right,” she says, removing
the test tube and placing the stem in a Sheraton coffee mug filled
with ice water. Four or five more Polkas join the first. A few white
Crystalline also are salvaged, along with some white Pillow Fight,
a filler shrub. But as she pops most of the test tubes from the
base, more petals fall. There is no perfect rose, and there are
too few to complete the ten arrangements.
“I shouldn’t have tried
to fit so many in the box,” Jones says. “And I really
shouldn’t have put the Nicoles on top. Oh well, live and learn.”
She reaches to the floor and grabs two large handfuls of petals,
which would look lovely scattered on a wedding aisle but do her
little good now. She brushes the petals to her face and kisses them.
“I love the way they feel,” she says, “like a
After tossing the petals into the
garbage, the mourning is over. Jones places an 11 p.m. room-to-room
phone call to Lynn Snetsinger, an exhibitor friend. “Oh, you
need shears?” Jones says into the receiver. “Well, I’ll
make you a trade. Do you have any roses I can use?”
By the time Jones finishes snaking
roses from sympathizers, brushing the petals with panty hose to
bring out their natural sheen, and fitting the flowers into seven
arrangements, it’s 7:35 Saturday morning. The only blooms
of her own to survive the night are the Nicoles for the stretch
design and a Crystalline, a Pillow Fight, and a miniature, the three
of which she fits into the sake container on her breakfast tray.
She changes into her black judging
skirt at 8 and by 8:30 is at breakfast. At 9 the judging begins.
She joins her team of two other judges and two clerks, who will
put ribbons on winning roses and pluck the top performers for the
next round. She and her team tour the contestant tables, silently
jot their favorites on a piece of paper, and hand them to the judge
chair. Their picks join the other teams,’ and the process
continues until they’ve whittled down a winner in each category.
By 1 p.m. it’s over.
Although Jones’s arrangements
win some second-place, third-place, and honorable-mention ribbons,
she considers her performance a continuation of her losing streak,
which stings a bit harder because it’s a national show. Strolling
around the trophy table she sees that Lynn Snetsinger has won a
half-dozen trophies—as has another exhibitor whom Jones and
other participants gossip about as a show-off.
Returning to her arrangements, she
reads the judges’ comments, which frustrate her. On “Voodoo,”
which won third prize: “Color combination of red and black
incorporated theme!” But “base overpowers design.”
Well, she notes, Lew Schute had helped create the base. On “Throw
Me Something Mister,” which received no prize: “Didn’t
conform to requirement of stretch design.” She has no idea
Later, when she’s had time
not to sleep but at least to order a bowl of chicken soup in the
hotel lounge, she considers the psychology of her loss. “Whenever
someone isn’t realizing their dreams it’s because they’re
holding onto some old negative thought they’re afraid of,”
she says. Perhaps, Jones conjectures, if she won as many trophies
as the gossiped-about winner, she’s afraid that people would
dislike her too.
After the soup, Jones heads back
to her room to dress for the “Come as a Rose” costume
banquet. She reemerges smiling behind a red glitter mask and red,
white, and blue top hat and vest. She waves a wand of silver foil
stars. “I’m Stars and Stripes!” she says, a miniature
rose variety. An elderly man wears his old Army uniform, dressed
as the rose called Veteran’s Honor. A couple wearing pajamas
hit each other with small white pillows—they’re Pillow
Fight. A man in boxer shorts, a white robe, and boxing gloves is
a Knockout rose. With varieties like Tropicana, Swamp, Tiger Tail,
Fairy, Baby Blanket, Chili Pepper, Butterfly Kisses, Black Magic,
Carrot Top, and Pink Poodle, the revelers may as well be at a Halloween
At 10 p.m. Jones retreats to her
room for a bath and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow there are
more seminars and an awards dinner, and Monday she’ll head
to Shreveport to tour the American Rose Center’s gardens.
On Tuesday she’ll fly home, tend her bushes, and prepare for
the rest of the six-week spring showing season. For the fall national
show in Washington, D.C., and next year’s spring national
show in San Diego, she says, she’ll ship her roses UPS rather
than bring them on the plane. And she won’t toss extras on