While a lot of us have been praying for rain over the past few months, for avid rose grower Max Atkins, the big dry has lead to a bumper season.
The former Shoalhaven mayor and Limousin stud owner, believes this year is “one of the best growing seasons” he’s ever had.
And he puts that down to one thing - the dry - the lack of moisture and humidity meaning the bane of rose growers’ existence black spot is almost “non existent”.
“The roses are simply stunning,” Mr Atkins said, who has more than 180 planted on his Yatte Yattah property.
“Spring is of course the best time for roses and this year’s display is just sensational,” he said.
“They are coming up to their best at the moment.
“All roses are different, some come out weeks in front of others but at the moment the garden is a sea of colour.
“Roses are also good in autumn, but the spring flush is definitely the best.”
Put cow manure on after winter pruning. My secret is to mulch straight after with a leftover silage bale. One that has gone half rotten makes the best mulch. Nice and moist and really smelly.Max Atkins
And it couldn’t be better with the major Illawarra Rose Show just a week away.
Mr Atkins, who tasted considerable success in the show ring with his prizewinning cattle including at the Sydney Royal, where he showed for 25 years straight, has followed on in the same vein with his roses, picking up a host of awards.
“I don’t show roses at Sydney, it’s too hard,” he said.
“You aren’t allowed to bring entries in when the gates are open. So you have to bring your roses in in the middle of the night and the come back and collect them in the middle of the night.
“It’s just too much from down here.”
The now 82-year-old contents himself with the local shows where he has won numerous awards at Berry, Nowra and Milton and the popular Illawarra Rose Show.
“I remember when I sold out of the cattle stud in 2012 you [Robert Crawford] asked me what I was going to do,” he said.
“I remember saying I was going to grow roses and you thought it was a great joke. Everyone did.
“But you should all see them now!”
His passion for roses stems back to when he was a youngster.
“We used to go to the Sydney Show and in those days, you stayed for the full length of time at the showground - up to 14 days,” he said.
“I was always interested in roses and back then there was always three rose days at the Royal.
“Being at the show you were always looking for something different to do, so on rose days I would go up to the horticultural pavilion. I always had a notebook and would write down the class winners and champions every year.
“From those early days I got ideas and when we sold the cattle I could concentrate on them in earnest.”
There are no Limousin cattle on the 286 acre Willow Park property now, Mr Atkins has to be content with a local dairy farmer’s black and white cattle and his three large rose gardens.
“We always had roses around the home, but we fenced off a huge area and have a wide variety of roses planted,” he said.
There are ground covers, landscape, pillar, ramblers, climbers, drift, shrubs, floribunda, miniflora, Australian breeds and, of course, hybrid tea roses.
And while the success has been nice, he says it doesn’t compare to the winning with his beloved cattle.
“It’s not the same status I suppose,” he said “it’s an interesting hobby but I miss my cows.”
What is the secret to a good rose?
Mr Atkins said it depends what you are looking for - a backyard rose is different to an exhibition rose and different again to a florist rose.
“If you are after a show rose, you want one that has good form, a high pointed centre that keeps it’s shape. It can be any colour but red is preferable.
“If you are after a garden rose, you want something that puts on a good show. David Austin look lovely in the garden. Floribundas produce lots of flowers but not as big as exhibit roses. Roses these days are a multitude of colours, except blue. And a rose that produces a good perfume. Breeders and nurserymen know the first thing anyone interested in roses is after is a lovely smell.
“A florist rose needs to keep its bud shape for a long time. They are in a vase for a long time and the amount of perfume is not necessarily an issue.”
The secret to success?
“If you are close to the sea, humidity can be a major issue and you will have to spray a few times to combat black spot,” he said.
“While black spot won’t kill your roses it depletes the leaves and looks terrible. The main thing is to have the roses healthy for vigorous growth and they will mostly fend for themselves.
“You really need to learn when to spray. Don’t always go by books. They can say to spray every two to three weeks but if you get to know your climate and if it is dry, you don’t need to spray. If it is wet and humid you will need to spray.”
As for fertilising Mr Atkins uses cow manure after pruning in winter.
“I put cow manure on but my secret is to mulch straight after with a leftover silage bale,” he said.
“One that has gone half rotten makes the best mulch. Nice and moist and really smelly.”