This retired teacher grows 350 varieties of roses in his backyard

Loren Zeldin has never owned a computer or a cell phone, and he has never used a credit card, either. But he does have 350 varieties of roses growing in his half-acre Reseda backyard

It’s clear where his priorities lie.

To say Zeldin is a model of consistency would be an understatement. He has lived in the same house in Reseda for his entire 70-year life. His only job was as a substitute teacher. From the age of 22 to 55, he worked in this capacity throughout the San Fernando Valley. And then he retired, presumably to spend more time in his garden.

His roses are at their peak bloom right now and so I could not resist the temptation to pay Zeldin a visit, especially after such a rainy winter when roses and flowering plants of every description have never looked better. 

“The rain washed out the minerals in our domestic water, which inhibit uptake of the elements that plants need to reach their full potential,” Zeldin said. 

Zeldin’s garden is not limited to roses as he has a large collection of irises and many unusual plants you will not see anywhere else. One of these is the chocolate daisy (Berlandiera lyrata), whose small yellow daisies smell like melted chocolate. 

This is a backyard that deserves a prominent place on the bucket list of local plant enthusiasts. If you would like to arrange a tour of the garden, you can make contact with Zeldin at a meeting of either of the plant societies of which he is a member. You can find him at San Fernando Valley Rose Society ( meetings, held the second Saturday of each month, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Wilkinson Multipurpose Center, located at 8956 Vanalden Avenue in Northridge, or at San Fernando Valley Iris Society ( meetings, held the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Canoga Park Women’s Club at 7401 Jordan Avenue in Canoga Park. 

In Zeldin’s garden, your breath will be taken away by a mountain of Lady Banks roses. There are several thousands of them – small, yellow, and slightly fragrant, all blooming on a single specimen (Rosa banksiae var. Lutea) that was planted there in 1971. Lady Banks, a climbing rose, has a reputation for longevity. In fact, a white Lady Banks (Rosa banksiae var. Alba Plena) is regarded as the oldest rose (and largest too for that matter) in the United States. It was grown from a cutting that was sent from Scotland to Tombstone, Arizona, where it was planted in 1885. That rose has grown into a tree covering 8,000 square feet with a gnarled trunk whose diameter is 14 feet. Bear in mind that Lady Banks roses are seasonal, blooming for around six weeks at this time of year.

Fourth of July is another heavy blooming climbing rose, but this one flowers from spring until fall. Zeldin extols his Fourth of July for its capacity to act as a privacy screen. It has grown along  his property line, reaching a height of 10 feet. The rose itself is variegated in red and white, while the similarly varigated flowers of  Purple Splash, whose growth habit and size mimics that of Fourth of July, are purple and white.

While most of Zeldin’s roses live for at least 20 years, not all those he plants are a success. He is not reluctant to “shovel prune” when necessary. Veteran gardeners understand this part of gardening all too well. It happens every now and then that you plant something and care for it according to all the best recommendations and yet, somehow, it flounders. There is the temptation to nurse it along despite its inability to perform as advertised. While it is true that certain plants take longer than we might expect to establish themselves, sometimes what we plant just won’t grow or flower despite our patience and best efforts. Such plants take up valuable garden space that could be better utilized by other garden selections too numerous to count. 

Some of Zeldin’s roses look especially beautiful when contrasted with the volunteer royal blue larkspur and white, pink, and red opium poppies that sprout up among them. I was especially impressed with orange nasturtium growing in his burgundy Iceberg roses. Orange and purple present an agreeable contrast and I have often seen beds of orange marigolds planted together with purple pansies over the years.

In the midst of my garden tour, which lasted about an hour until “sensory overload,” as Zeldin describes it, set in, we came upon what appeared to be the perfect rose, a hybrid tea with the appropriate name of Lasting Love. Although Zeldin did not explicitly label it as such, after seeing its flawless shiny, dark green foliage, inhaling the strong fragrance of its unblemished red flowers, which can reach five inches across, and learning that it is immune to powdery mildew and rust – to which most hybrid teas are susceptible – I felt that is was, indeed, as perfect as a rose could get. Lasting Love is one of over a hundred roses bred by Tom Carruth, curator of roses at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino.

While discussing the qualities of Lasting Love, Zeldin mentioned that in order to fully appreciate its fragrance, like that of any other rose, it should be smelled while its flower was yet to open completely. 

“By the time a rose is completely open,” he explained, “much of its attar may have already dissipated.” Attar is the essential oil of rose petals that gives them their fragrance. Another factor in the strength of a rose’s scent is the time of day, since fragrance weakens as the day progresses and the temperature warms.

As for winter pruning, Zeldin only cuts his back by one-third to one-half of their height. He does this in January and removes every leaf, disposing of them in the trash. 

“Do not compost these leaves,” he warns, “since they carry powdery mildew and rust fungal spores.” By being conservative in how much growth he winter prunes, Zeldin gets a lot more flowers in spring than those who cut back more radically, although their spring flowers will be larger.

Zeldin does not have a sprinkler system. Instead, he moves around an attachment at the end of a hose which soaks one area at a time. Roses are not especially water needy and Zeldin never waters his more than once a week, even in the hottest weather. As for insect pests, he has utilized Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew, whose active ingredient is Spinosad, to deter chili thrips, which may decimate roses in hot weather. BioAdvanced All-In-One Rose and Flower Care is a more powerful granular product to achieve control of this insect. Be aware, however, that both spinosad and Bio-Advanced Care are toxic to certain beneficial insects and that multiple applications will be needed to achieve and maintain the desired effect.

Before leaving Zeldin’s roses, I would be remiss not to mention two of his cultivars that were developed by Jack Christensen, a hybridizer of 80 rose varieties. Christensen authored the “5 things to do in the garden” section of this column for many years; his Silverado, a mauve to purple hybrid tea, and Brass Band, an orange Floribunda, are among Zeldin’s beauties.

As to where to procure your roses, Zeldin – like most local rose growers in the know – recommends Otto & Sons Nursery ( in Fillmore, located 25 miles east of Santa Clarita off the 126 Freeway. 

California native of the week: Nine rose species are native to California and all have single pink blooms. Both California wild rose (Rosa californica) and Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) appreciate a bit more moisture than other native plants. While growing in full sun near the coast, they will benefit from partial shade in hotter, more inland environments. They make a fine natural barrier because of their nasty thorns that will keep out meandering cats, for example. Individual plants will grow in a thicket, with each individual rose bush reaching over six feet tall with a spread of ten feet. Foliage, flowers and rose hips are all fragrant and the hips (fruit) are recommended for making tea. Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) has the largest and deepest pink flowers of the native roses. On warm days, its foliage produces a migrant fragrance that is discerned at some distance. Baja rose (Rosa minutifolia) is an endangered spiny shrub with leaves that are smaller than those of any other rose species. 

Please write to me at where your questions, comments, and plant photos are always welcome.

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