OGDEN -- More than 30 volunteer master gardeners were busily weeding and cultivating the Ogden Botanical Gardens on Tuesday morning, but they ignored the centerpiece of the gardens, its wide-ranging and much-photographed rose beds.
There's nothing to do in the rose beds. All but one of more than 300 rose bushes died this winter. The beds are full of stunted stalks, waiting to be dug out.
This is not normal.
Losing 20 or 30 plants is normal, but many of the dead roses dated back to the gardens' founding 17 years ago. They survived frost, snow, freezing temperatures and blizzards, but last November was unique, said Dorinda Jones, gardens director.
"In November, it was warm, and then the temperatures dropped dramatically," she said, talking about last fall when the temperature went from the mid-60s to below freezing in one day.
"The plants weren't ready for that, so they couldn't go into dormancy and they died."
The mass death of roses has happened all across Top of Utah, she said, although it depends on how protected individual plants were and other local factors.
But all over, Jones said, gardeners who are going out to do the spring pruning are discovering that there's not much to do but dig out the plant and start over.
The Botanical Gardens, at 1750 Monroe Blvd., along the Ogden River Parkway, features 11 acres of vegetables, fruit trees, flowers, waterwise gardens and other growing things laid out in spreading beds and along the parkway.
The gardens are managed by Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service, but volunteers do almost all of the work. Graduates and students of the Master Gardener Program do most of the labor on workdays scheduled for the first Tuesday of every month, Jones said.
Nadine McKay, of Ogden, and Cary Martin, of Kaysville, were digging out minute bits of weed and grass from one bed Tuesday and breaking up clods.
Other workers were bringing in wheelbarrows full of thick, black compost from the city's compost facility.
Jones said they'll eventually plant 76 varieties of annual flowers and more than 200 flats of plants, most of which were started from seed.
The destruction of the roses wasn't discovered until April 5, when the Gardens normally holds a workshop on rose pruning to show gardeners how to do their own, she said.
As workers trimmed back the plants, Jones said, they noticed that most of the stalks were black, the wood dead. No matter how far back they cut, they didn't find green wood.
Only one plant of more than 300 survived. That made the pruning workshop difficult, she said.
"That one plant got pruned about five times," Jones said, because the classes were held hourly all day.
Now that one plant stands naked, spindly but alive, amid a sea of dead ones.
Jones said the loss of the roses will hurt. Although some weddings are already scheduled and other flowers will be in bloom, people will be less likely to hold weddings there because they normally like to take pictures amid the roses.
She said replacing all of the dead roses will cost about $10,000, money the Gardens don't have. Staff members hope to collect cash or donated roses, either new hybrid tea roses or floribunda rose plants. No grafts from home plants can be accepted, however, because of the danger of disease.
To make a donation, contact the gardens at 801-399-8081 or on the Internet at www.extension.usu.edu/weber.