Could roses be the new tulip?

It depends on who you ask. But for those at the 16th annual Rose Festival at Christianson’s Nursery and Greenhouse, the answer is easy.

“Roses are growing in popularity,” said nursery co-owner John Christianson, who attributes that to the increase in the number of disease-resistant, no-spray varieties.

About 200 attended this year’s festival, which included speakers, a Tri-Valley Rose Society rose display and contest, and rose-flavored ice cream from Mallard Ice Cream in Bellingham.

All day long, those in attendance walked the grounds, smelling the mature roses featured throughout the display garden, shopping for new varieties and visiting the nursery’s goats.

Year after year, the annual appearance of Pacific Northwest gardening legend Ciscoe Morris is one of the many draws for the festival.

As he walked into the garden about 2 p.m., he was showered with star-struck gazes and greetings.

“It’s worth coming from Whidbey to hear him every year,” said 85-year-old Betty Meyer, who has traveled to the festival for more than a decade. “He really knows his roses.”

Morris and Christianson, known as “The Rosebuds,” shared their wisdom at an hourlong session that was filled with plenty of Morris’ trademark “oh la las.”

Though Morris said his rare plants will always be high on his list of favorite blooms, roses have a special place in his heart.

“I love roses, there’s no way I wouldn’t have roses in my garden,” he said.

Morris said growing roses “used to be a pain in the kazootski,” but he’s come to love them as more tolerant varieties have come out.

The nursery features these newcomers among its more than 500 rose varieties, a selection that Christianson vowed is the best in the Northwest.

Speaker Nita-Jo Rountree focused her session on the intricacies of Kordes roses, a German-sourced variety whose creators were the first to turn their attention to breeding out disease susceptibility.

“Rose growing is coming back because of these newer roses,” Rountree said.

But even with tolerant roses, amateur rose gardeners face a learning curve.

“They’re so picky. It makes me nuts,” said Charlene Bruno, of Whidbey Island. “It’s like having children.”

Bruno and others were able to get advice from professionals about their rose gardening woes. That’s one of the elements of the festival that make it a relaxing and hospitable place to be.

Longtime rose enthusiasts Marcia and Scott Schultz even came out to the festival to celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary.

“No other place is like this,” Dorothy Degolier of Bellingham said as she explored the display garden. “I call this my happy place.”

— Reporter Zoe Deal: 360-416-2139,, Twitter: @Zoe_SVH

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