The Not So Secret Garden
The passers-by on Highway 674 stopped so often at the sight of Clarence and Karen Prevatt's roses, the couple finally had to do something. So they created a local chapter of the Tampa Rose Society. "They had so many questions," Clarence says of the drivers who stopped and knocked on his door. "We thought there was a need." It has been three years since the Prevatts moved to Wimauma, and the rubber-neckers still stop. But they haven't caused any wrecks."Not yet," Clarence says. "Thank God." The couple founded the rose society's South County Group because all the Internet sites and cable stations in the world can't teach a person how to grow roses. That's something you learn from other growers, face to face, asking questions and getting answers. It's how Clarence finally started getting good 20 years ago. His flowers make for striking scenery on the main road through Wimauma, where the view is mostly produce stands and gas stations. A hedge of 10 red Knockout bushes lines the front yard along the highway. The easy-to-grow roses are there to filter dirt and noise, but they don't block the view of more than 225 fragile hybrid tea rose bushes in exquisite bloom nearly year-round. Clarence can't say how many varieties he has; if you want to count, each plant is carefully labeled. He walks along the rows of towering bushes heavy with blossoms - pale yellow, hot pink, multi-color swirls. This one is Rhapsody in Blue, that's Let Freedom Ring. "They've got all kinds of crazy names," he says. Without the labels, "I'd forget what they are." Some, there's no forgetting. Like the big daddy, the top banana, Uncle Joe. Yes, that's its official name. "It has more than 50 petals, more than any other rose out here," Clarence says reaching for a robust red bloom 4 inches across. "I won a three-state show with this. It was Queen of the Show; Florida, Georgia and Alabama, the Deep South District of the American Rose Society." Clarence is competitive, like most of the men involved in rose-growing clubs. And he loves a winner. But Uncle Joe isn't his favorite. That would be White Success. "It's just so pretty," he says. "So white." The most fragrant? Bolchoi. Its perfume sometimes overpowers the garden. A rose lover can't help but be a little romantic, so when Clarence had the opportunity to create his own hybrid, he named it for his own sweet flower, his wife of 37 years. Karen's Pink Lace is, of course, an award-winner. It came from a popular variety called French Lace that the couple had growing when they lived in Culbreath Isles in Tampa. The flowers were always white until the bush threw a sport, a pink bud. Clarence clipped it and had a guy graft it onto Fortunia stock. Karen's Pink is bigger and more fragrant than the original, he says. Clarence is retired. A Hillsborough County commissioner from 1963 to 1972, he owned C.E. Prevatt Funeral Homes in Tampa for 40 years. "I've always had a liking for roses," he says. "I guess maybe it was the business I was in. We handled a lot of roses and flowers. "People didn't care what Grandma looked like, but don't mess up the flowers!" It doesn't seem as though Clarence is truly retired now. He and Karen travel the world judging shows for the American Rose Society, and he spends 25 to 30 hours a week tending his garden. Karen, a lawyer at Morrison & Mills in Tampa, still works full time. She helps with the roses on weekends. Growing roses is great for a marriage, she says. "It's a wonderful thing to keep you together." But it's not easy. In the summertime, there's the wind and the rain blowing hard across Lake Wimauma behind the house, thrashing the bushes. And this time of year, Clarence has to spray for disease, fungus and pests. It's a half-day's work that may have to be repeated every three days. And now there's that maddening new pest, Chilli thrips. "We hope they die a miserable death," Clarence says, looking disgusted So, why not, you know, maybe grow something a little easier? He looks truly baffled by the notion. "Growing something easy wouldn't be any fun."