Philip Heald had a problem. The Tulbaghia fragrans that had been specified wasn’t performing as hoped. Heald is the construction manager for Ladera Ranch, a 4,000-acre master-planned hometown in South Orange County, CA. The tulbaghia was one of the plants slated to anchor several key public areas of the six villages and three districts that make up the award-winning community.
“We were having unacceptable die-back in the cold,” recalls Heald. “Even when the best care is taken to spec plants that should work, there can be issues. We knew early on that we would have to find something else.”
Several alternatives were explored. They experimented with color, using other plants from the current palette that were already working well. “We tried more greens, using Pittosporum tobira and Star Jasmine that were growing well for you. We tried another tulbaghia, we had trouble with Dietes bicolor, and several day lilies didn’t work for us either,” says Heald.
“Then someone suggested we try a plant they’d read about recently,” says Heald. “It was a landscape rose called Flower Carpet. Our first reaction was ‘absolutely not.’ We needed low maintenance color and that’s not what comes to mind when you think rose. But when we heard more about the plant, we decided it was worth a shot.”
Flower Carpet was included in the next round of test plantings. The results were impressive. “We immediately liked what we saw,” says Heald. “We planted Red Flower Carpet, because we thought this would look best in the locations we had in mind. From the start we could see that the plant was a vigorous bloomer. The bush grew low, but not too low. It was compact and had a nice spread. This was very cost effective, because we could plant them 4-ft. on center and still get a full, satisfying result.”
Ladera Ranch has more than 55,000 in the ground, with more to come. Though rose beautiful, the plants have proved desert tough. They thrive in the full California sun, and with Ladera’s overhead irrigation system. To date they have shown no evidence of the black spot that plagues many other rose varieties.
The winter of 2007 put the rose through its toughest test. A freak cold snap swept over the Ladera Ranch community, plunging temperatures to icy record lows and causing horticultural havoc throughout the area. The Flower Carpet roses suffered severe shock, dropping leaves.
Phil Heald’s crew swung into action, chopping back the Flower Carpets to about 10-inches as part of their overall response to the cold crises. By late spring, any lingering anxiety was long gone. “The roses bounced right back,” says landscape architect Mike Sweeney, a principal in Land Concern of Santa Ana, California, the master planners for the Ladera Ranch landscape design. “They looked great and were in full bloom.”
For Ladera Ranch, Flower Carpet Red seemed an unlikely choice. In the end, it proved to be a rose that solved a thorny landscaping problem.