The original garden was a bit smaller than the current one, and none of the rose bushes planted by Mable have survived, but replacements have been selected from hybrid perpetuals, China tea roses, hybrid musk and other varieties available during that era. “Always in the helter-skelter color pattern like she had it,” Bestpitch said.
There are 317 named varieties among the 1,200 rose bushes. They range from small Red Home Runs to Old Timers with blooms as large as one’s head.
Now beginning to emerge from major cutbacks made during January and February, the roses will reach their peak by Mable’s birthday, March 14, and maintain it into April, although many bloom year-round.
“Full bloom will be dazzling,” Bestpitch said, adding that the scent will be, too.
Museums have guards, but how about these rose bushes?
“My red flag goes up when I hear, ‘You take this one and I’ll get that one,’ ” Bestpitch said. “Usually they’re taking pictures, but it has happened.”
Not far from Mable’s roses grow the epiphytes — air plants — at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
The Selbys, Marie and Bill, arrived in Sarasota a few years earlier than the Ringlings and had as much money — think mining and oil, as in Texaco — but kept a much lower profile. He was a hunter, fisherman and rancher. Marie was a devoted gardener and, like Mable, a charter member of the Founders Circle. She, too, had a rose garden.
Their home, however, was much simpler, a two-story Spanish-style built on seven acres bought in 1921. The Selbys also had a 3,000-acre ranch near Sarasota where they raised purebred Angus cattle.
Bill established the Selby Foundation, supporting education, the arts, youths, libraries, health services and the elderly, a year before his death in 1956. Marie continued living in their home; she died in 1971, leaving her property to the community as a botanical garden. After consultation with the New York Botanical Garden, the new board decided to specialize in epiphytic plants.
Good choice. Of the 200-plus botanical gardens in the United States, only one, the Selby, concentrates on epiphytes, plants that grow on another plant without taking sustenance from it. The Spanish moss draping trees in the South isn’t a moss but an epiphyte, as are a large number of orchids.
Most visitors begin with the Tropical Conservatory, oohing and aahing their way through the brilliant orchids and eye-catching bromeliads. It and seven other greenhouses hold more than 20,000 plants. Thousands more are outside on the grounds with its huge banyan trees, koi pond and shady paths. Few exit through the Garden Store without being tempted to take home an orchid.
To see Mother Nature’s natural gardens, head across Mr. Ringling’s causeway to Lido Beach, where you can rent a kayak and glide through cathedrals of mangrove tunnels.
Just don’t forget to smell the roses first.
Wells is a freelance travel writer who blogs at www.travelonthelevel.blogspot.com.