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SHAKE YOUR ROSE HIPS ONE COUPLE'S GARDEN PARTY CREATES YARD OF BLOOMS.

Byline: Carol Rock Staff Writer

SAUGUS - A passion for roses began nearly 20 years ago when Kitty Belendez bought her first rosebush at Kmart. Now the yard of her Saugus home swells with the blooms of 350 bushes.

It wasn't long before Kitty and her husband, Bob, became experts, experimenting with hybrids, speaking at flower shows and spending hours together - particularly in January - pruning their roses.

``They are just so beautiful and fragrant and they bloom all the time,'' Kitty said. ``There are so many different colors and shades and different kinds of roses. Most people only know the kind you get at the florists, which are the hybrid teas. But there are so many others; the climbers, the Austin shrubs, the floribundas, the miniatures ... they're so varied.''

Kitty, an administrative assistant for the Castaic Union School District, doesn't just putter around in the thorns. She is a well-known multiple award-winning exhibitor, writes about roses and is an accomplished rose photographer. She also credits roses with helping herself bloom.

``I used to be shy and introverted,'' she said. ``Growing roses has brought me out of my shell. We travel and speak to different groups; we do a lot of social things.''

One of her proudest accomplishments is cultivating a rose she named after her granddaughter, ``Puanani.'' The girl used to attend rose shows with her grandparents and often helped others exhibiting their blooms. She even won a few awards from her own roses.

``Puanani'' is a pale mauve/light pink bloom that resulted from a genetic mutation of a ``Playgirl'' sport rose in the Belendez back yard that not only put the young girl in the garden books, but also garnered a few trophies for Kitty.

Kitty Belendez bought her first rose at Kmart in 1985 and found a notice about the American Rose Society on the tag. Curious, she joined and six months later, received a poster with a plethora of roses on it.

``I wasn't a rose nut then, but they were having a convention in Pasadena and we went,'' she said. ``We never knew there were that many roses that existed. We were awe-struck. I was looking around and said, ooh, I have to have this and I have to have that.''

Bob Belendez was reluctant to join in his wife's new frenzy, but soon found there were many friends to be made in the garden.

``In the beginning he thought I was crazy,'' Kitty said. ``He thought it was an old-lady thing, but then he realized there are a lot of men, guys with similar interests, who enjoy roses.''

She selects the plants and he does the planting; the pruning and watering and feeding are a team effort.

``This has absolutely brought us closer together,'' Kitty said. ``We travel to different shows around the country and he is my exhibiting partner. We've gotten to know a lot of people and socialize with them outside of our rose events. It's an interest we can enjoy together.''

The couple's garden boasts nearly 350 roses, including 85 hybrid teas, 50 floribundas, 165 miniatures, 12 old garden roses, 15 Austin shrubs and a few miscellaneous varieties. Kitty says she and her husband spend more time maintaining their garden during pruning seasons - there are two, one in January and another at the end of summer - but the rest of the year it's sheer enjoyment.

``We're targeting a national rose show in San Diego on Mother's Day weekend,'' Kitty said. ``We usually trim them starting the day after Christmas, but this year we're holding out on some until Martin Luther King Day weekend. We trimmed the floribundas last weekend. It took us a half-day Saturday and a half-day Sunday.''

``Bob is the whacker,'' she said, laughing. ``I fine-tune and thin out, shaping as I go along. We spent a couple of hours just on three antique roses, trimming them back and thinning them out.

``We don't go out for eight hours at a time; you don't want to expose yourselves to the elements for too long,'' she said. ``We work for a couple of hours, then go in and have a cup of tea and rest for a couple hours. You don't want to hurt your back either. It's best done in little batches, a couple hours here and there.''

Kitty said Southern California's weather offers two pruning seasons that rose lovers on the East Coast have to miss. She said that in January bushes should be cut back significantly, noting that some of her hybrid roses that tower at 6 feet are cut back to 2 feet. Summer pruning, which she does to prepare for the group's annual rose show in October, requires that the bushes be cut back to about one-third in height, which forces a fall bloom.

``You can't do that back East,'' she said. ``The rest of the year, you just have to make sure you do a lot of watering and deadhead.''

Deadheading a rose bush means pruning off the spent blooms, so the rose bush doesn't think it needs to go to seed. Uncut, the blooms will form rose hips; trimmed properly, Belendez said, most roses will bloom continuously.

Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252

carol.rock(at)dailynews.com

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Bob Belendez, above, prunes hybrid tea roses at his Saugus home. Belendez, below, has more than 350 rosebushes in his yard.

David R. Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 7, 2004
Words:906
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