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Mother’s Day Blooms: Run for the Roses at USM

Mother’s Day Blooms: Run for the Roses at USM

The old saying “April showers bring May flowers” is not only quaint and fortunate, but it’s a delightful fact for mothers the world over, many of whom will be treated to beautiful springtime blooms as we celebrate Mother’s Day this month.

There are special local blooms, though, that are a treat not only to mothers, but to us all.

The All-American Rose Garden at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg began rejoicing in this splendor in Mid-March and April with its first and fullest flush of blooms.

“We keep the garden looking good nine months of the year,” said Loren Erickson, Superintendent of Campus Landscape. “Anytime the weather is nice, it is worth the trip.”

It’s a great way to share with your children the beauty of creation, and perhaps get them interested in gardening. Or, it may serve as a tranquil place for a mother and child to enjoy a few moments together on or around Mother’s Day.

Near the Hardy Street entrance of Southern Miss, a golden eagle sculpture called “Lofty Return” is perched on the apex of the rose garden, to welcome visitors. The garden was established in 1972 by the Hattiesburg Area Rose Society under the guidance of the late William Wicht, the first president. The plot was officially dedicated in 1974.

Erickson said there are currently 36 distinct varieties or “selections” on display in the garden. There are approximately 800 separate bushes in the formal garden. Jamerrill McGilvery is the person responsible for pruning, spraying, and mulching all of the roses on campus.

When walking the garden with your child(ren), you may want to share details of how most plants grow, and specifically, how the roses are cared for. The All-American Rose Garden is a nice learning experience for kids. Children should be cautioned, however: “No picking allowed!”

“Teach them (kids) about bees as pollinators, and how important they are to our food sources,” Erickson said.

Encourage your kids to find their favorite colors or styles. For smaller children, smelling roses can give hours of entertainment. The garden becomes a maze, and a place to play hide and seek.

Some details to share: Erickson said the roses are pruned during late winter/early spring (usually the last week in February). The roses are reduced to 12-18 inches high and cut to strong outward facing buds. The roses are cut back at least once a week during blooming season. Rose care involves pruning, pH balance with lime and sulfur, fertilizing and mulching. A slow release 5-7 month fertilizer is used in spring. In summer, an immediate release fertilizer is used as needed. Epsom salt, a form of magnesium, is added to promote lush green growth and consistent bloom color. Fungicide is sprayed for black spot. Pesticide is employed only when necessary to prevent total loss of a plant. Pine straw collected from the USM grounds provides mulch for the raised flower beds. Proper mulch retains moisture, retards weed growth and prevents disease and fungus from spreading.

The All-American Rose Garden suffered a direct hit from the tornado on February 10, 2013, and the garden was decimated. Erickson — who has been with Southern Miss for five years and has 35 years of horticultural experience — continues to design and rebuild.

When asked which selection he fancied, Erickson said, “For appearance, my favorite is ‘St. Patrick’s Day.’ It starts as a green bud and then opens to a yellow flower. For fragrance, I like ‘Julia Child.’ It has a cinnamon honey smell and a nice old-world form.”

In terms of Mother’s day gifts, “Knock Out Roses” and “Drift Roses” can be purchased from Ole Grady’s Nursery ( near Lucedale. According to Amy Hyatt of Ole Grady’s, “Knock Out Roses” grow four feet tall and are four feet wide. They will bloom all year up until the first hard frost. “Drift” roses will only grow two feet tall and three to four feet wide. Both are pruned back fairly hard in February. The roses need full sun and after a heavy bloom cycle, should be trimmed. Most mothers and grandmothers would love to be treated to a rose bush!

Erickson suggested “Coral Drift” rose as a hardy selection. Consider also the mysterious “Hot Cocoa” for your garden. The buds are rust and open to a chocolate haze with a purple cast. Welcome also the yellow, orange, and pink “Mardi Gras” to your party. “Caldwell Pink” is an “Earth-Kind Rose” that features carnation-like lilac pink blooms.

This month, follow singer Dan Fogelberg’s lead, and as his famous lyrics suggest, “Run for the roses as fast as you can” by visiting the All-American Rose Garden at the University of Southern Mississippi.


Mary C. Fairley is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. She is a retired Medical Technologist. Mary is a devoted wife and mother. Her favorite role is grandmother. Mary is an avid baseball, performance dance, and soccer fan.

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