Mable Ringling's rose garden nears peak blooming season

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SARASOTA, Fla. - This is a special time on the Suncoast: the time all the roses in Mable Ringling's rose garden burst into bloom. The spectacular display is a big draw for tourists.

2013 marks the 100th anniversary of Mable's rose garden, and this week is usually the peak of the season -- but it hasn't happened yet. The cool weather is delaying it a bit, so you still have time to get out there and see nature's big show.

The garden looks beautiful right now, but just wait. Thousands more buds are on the verge of bursting into bloom, and they'll all hit at once within the next week or so.

Mable Ringling planted the garden herself in 1913. "At that time it would have been old garden roses, mostly. They were coming to the new hybrid teas at that time," says garden curator Loretta Bestpitch.

Mable did much of the work. “They have documented that she wore high boots, a gun on her hip, and she was ready to battle all the critters that they had around here during those days."

Hers is the oldest rose garden under constant care in Florida. The life span of a rose bush is 12 to 15 years, so Bestpitch is continually replacing older plants. "What I chose for in here first of all is going to be a good Florida rose, and something that has some kind of a fragrance. And then also we want to make sure we chose something that is disease-resistant, and that is on Fortuniana root stock, which is the Nematode-resistant root stock we use in this garden."

Each rose has a story and a scent of its own. “One of them smells like making guava jelly, a fresh pot boiling on the stove, another one smells like candy lipstick, and then we have one that smells just like grapefruit, and another one that smells like apples."

Visitors swarm the gardens every day to see the spectacle. "It's wonderful, the roses are beautiful….and just imagining that this was done is pretty spectacular," says Ruthanne Marchetei, visiting from Connecticut.

Volunteer Cindy Eccher has a tip for your next visit. "Don't miss the old garden roses around the outside when they bloom, because they're the ones that often have the beautiful scents."

Bestpitch says tending the roses has taught her an important life lesson. "If you think you know everything there is to know about roses you are wrong, there is always something else to learn."

And that probably goes for most everything else in life.

Admission to Ringling Museum as a whole can cost up to $25 per person. But you can visit the museum grounds for free at any time, and stop by and enjoy the rose garden at no charge.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is located at 5401 Bay Shore Road in Sarasota, at the western terminus of University Parkway.