Cassia Kite, M.Ed; SOUNDSTITCHING Artist, Educator: Questions for Collaborator, Kai Sacco, Horticulturist


CK: What do the parts of the rose labels communicate? (Name, classification, year?) I have no idea what these labels mean:

KS: The labels communicate name, classification and year. The name is unique to each cultivar (“cultivated variety”). For a good introduction to classification, I suggest this American Rose Society article - https://www.rose.org/single-post/2018/06/11/Rose-Classifications. The year denoted is when that cultivar was created or introduced. Once that “parent” plant is bred, the descendants will come from cuttings taken off the parent so that they are genetically identical and maintain all the characteristics that make that cultivar desirable to the breeder.

Tree Roses = also known as a standard, this isn’t necessarily a classification so much as a different form of displaying roses. Root stock is used to form the sturdy stem/trunk and then the desired cultivar is grafted to the top

Hybrid Teas = single rose on a stem, popular for cut flowers, cross between tea and hybrid perpetual roses

Floribundas = continual blooms with multiple flowers clustered together

Grandifloras = cross between a floribunda and hybrid tea

Shrubs = diverse category, typically hybrids of old and modern roses

Miniature = bred to be small and fairly contained

Old Garden Roses = roses existing prior to 1867 (the year the first hybrid tea was introduced, ushering in the age of “modern” roses)


CK: Where do the roses get their names? (or roses for any matter) Is there significance to each being in relation to Mable?

KS: Rose names must be unique so as not to cause confusion – to be an officially recognized and marketable cultivar, a new rose must be registered through the American Rose Society which serves as the International Cultivar Registration Authority for Roses. Some roses are named after loved ones or historic figures. When naming a rose after someone (like Julia Child or Frida Kahlo, both of which are currently in the garden), the person or their family must consent to the naming of the rose. Other names may have special meaning to the breeder but may also just be a clever name to copyright for their new flower. A favorite rose with a significant history is the Peace rose. In short, she was created in France on the eve of World War II, and the hybridizer sent clippings to 3 countries in hopes that she’d survive the war. She did, and at the end of the war she was gifted her name from the U.S. company that helped propagate and raise her to fame. Here’s a link to a more detailed video on her story and naming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=146&v=wktgue5-Tcg&feature=emb_title

CK: What are (if any in particular) the well-known “famous” roses in the garden that are significant to Mable’s history?

KS: Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the roses Mable planted during her time on the estate. We know she replanted frequently, likely every 5 years or less, and probably had a variety of old garden roses and whatever the popular cultivars were at the time. Her choices may also have been influenced by what performed well in New Jersey, where their summer home was located.


CK: Is there any correlation between rose color and scent? Or rose classification and scent? Genetics and scent?

KS: It’s generally thought that roses with a darker color or more petals have the strongest scent, but this depends on the cultivar. Old garden roses tend to be more fragrant since they have not been as heavily hybridized, but again there are many exceptions to this “rule.” Fragrance is a tricky topic! Scent is a disappearing characteristic of roses since it is a recessive gene. As roses are hybridized, the scent is actually being bred out accidentally. Breeding for color and disease resistance are important, but recently breeding fragrance back into roses is surging in popularity. The scent of a rose as you perceive it in the moment is also dependent on different factors such as temperature, moisture, and age of the flower. Here’s an article on rose fragrance I enjoyed: https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/rosefrag.html.


CK: How does the museum acquire the roses and/or how are specific roses chosen to be in the collection of the garden?

KS: The museum acquires roses through vendors such as Antique Rose Emporium and Heirloom Roses, among other reputable rose providers. Roses in the latest renovation were chosen for their favorable disease resistance as recommended by Peter E. Kukielski (author of “Roses without Chemicals”), Aggie Horticulture (creator of the “Earth Kind” rose list), and UF/IFAS Extension. We also assessed the hardiness and vigor of cultivars already in the garden, many of which overlapped with what was suggested from the above sources. While disease resistance was the highest priority, we also took into consideration color, size, and fragrance. As of now the inner garden (the first 3 rows around the gazebo) were designed with these hardy roses to be symmetrical and with multiple colors per bed. Below are two examples of the color designs intended for a single row (1 row = 8 beds); these designs alternate.


CK: What does a day in the life of the Mable Rose Garden Horticulturist look like? I want to hear all about your process(es)!

KS: During the summer I spend about 5 hours a day tending to the rose garden. Much of this time is spent doing usual upkeep – removing old flowers, leaves with fungal infections, trimming out dead or diseased canes, and weeding. Once a week I spend a morning checking the irrigation system and assessing our rose’s health using Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is about noticing pest and disease issues and making informed, sustainable choices. I have 84 bushes I look at and assign quantitative values to in regards to their leaf coverage (looking at overall fullness and vigor), pest issues (thrips and weevils), and disease prevalence (blackspot, Cercospora, Botryosphaeria). Our IPM data goes back 7 years, so we can see disease cycles and predict what preventive measures may be taken to keep the roses healthy. I also spend quite a bit of time doing research – looking at rose cultivars present in other southern rose gardens, different rose pests and how to manage them, and information about different tree species. One of my favorite parts of the job is working with the Education department to provide people with workshops about the environment and sustainability. A favorite workshop was a collaboration which featured Syd Solomon’s work and a look at how he was inspired by Florida’s unique ecosystems. I also collaborated with our Marketing department to do educational Instagram and Facebook live stories about different aspects of the grounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV7A83duB3c&list=PLctJhityCmSn-rglKx-fr-yHdqsXrU-Gy

Prior to the pandemic I also worked regularly with volunteers on assessing tree size and health for all trees on the property. If you’d like to take a virtual tour of our trees, check out this link - https://theringling.treekeepersoftware.com/. Clicking on the pink dots will show you pictures and a brief summary of facts about the species. With some exploring you can also find out the ecobenefits of our urban forest, as well as how much an individual tree contributes to those benefits. For a lesson on how to maximize your use of TreeKeeper, you can check out this tutorial - https://www.ringling.org/discover-trees-ringling-using-treekeeper. With over 2,000 trees on the property we’re still working to update each one, but we’re slowly making progress!


CK: When is the best time of the year to view the roses in full bloom?

KS: Around mid-April is when the garden is at its height. This is due to a cut back down 6-8 weeks prior, which requires pruning the bush to 1/2 - 2/3 of its original height


CK: What is your favorite rose and why?

KS: This is a difficult question, primarily because it depends on what characteristic I value most which varies by the day. For disease resistance, Ducher makes me beam with pride. She's not disease-free, but she has minimal black spot and is constantly pushing out new growth. By far she’s been the most impressive cultivar of the replanting, though her small, white, lightly scented flowers are unassuming. When it comes to form and structure, Perle d’Or has a charming whimsy to it. Though not always pronounced, many of the young flowers will have apricot petals that curl under which is unique. She’s also a favorite of the bees since she has such an open center. For color, Grande Amore has a vibrant velvety red. It’s a stunning beacon that can be spotted from across the garden. She’s also very angular in how her petals manifest, adding to her striking appearance. While many roses in the garden have a light to medium scent, the McCartney Rose is a showstopper. She’s a Barbie pink rose with a strong fruity scent. I’m hoping to replant a few more of her in coming seasons. 


CK: Are there specific tools you use and what are they used for? I am curious about your tools in relation to the stitching tools I use and the musical elements- just looking for a connection between the two processes (for example, I assume we both use cutting tools of some sorts).

KS: My most favored tool is a pair of needle nose pruners which are perfect for dead heading and clipping small canes, routine care for the newly renovated garden. Equally as important is a spray bottle of 70% isopropyl alcohol, which I use to spray my pruners between cutting each bush. People often see the roses as beautiful objects, which they are stunning but they are also alive. Like any living thing they can be impacted by disease or pests, anything from scale that sucks on canes, weevils which munch on leaves, or fungus which can cause tissue necrosis. Sterilizing equipment can help prevent transfer of disease from bush to bush and even from branch to branch on an individual bush. Bamboo stakes and twine are helpful to start young bushes off right – if someone is leaning, we want to make sure to correct it early to prevent a lopsided mature bush. Bypass pruners are good for a range of work, especially when working on thicker, tougher canes. Overall the tools of the trade are pretty standard, but like any art it’s about how they are wielded.

CK: What health benefits would one have in being around, in the rose garden and roses? Are there medicinal/psychological/mental health benefits?

KS: Being outdoors and having improved health (mental, emotional, and physical) have a strong positive correlation to one another. Environmental psychology as a field of study explores how humans are impacted by exposure to the natural world, and there’s quite a bit of support for the therapeutic effect of spending time in natural areas. I’ve had volunteers tell me that, despite issues occurring in their lives, they had to show up and work in the rose garden “because it’s [their] therapy.” To me the major health benefits of working in the garden relate to learning to be attentive and present in the moment, as well as the repetitive nature of pruning. There’s also the added benefit of caring for a living being, making their blooms hold a sense of pride for how you assisted it in creating beauty. Especially now I’m becoming more cognizant of the importance of gardens and outdoor space as people are navigating our new world in the midst of a pandemic. Seeing a vibrant flower elicits hope and is a brief respite that allows us to meditate on new growth and moving past hardships.