When chemical engineer Rich Rosen was 26, he found himself driving to a presentation on roses by a Minnesota rose club.
“I thought, ‘What are you doing? It’s going to be a bunch of old women chewing on little lady-finger-type food. I’m going to be so out of place,’” said Rosen, 58, now a well-known name in the world of daylilies.
Instead of feeling like a misfit, Rosen discovered a passion that would influence the rest of his life, including his 2010 move from Austin, Texas, to one of Frankfort’s finest homes on the Corner of Celebrities.
When Rosen and his wife, artist Anna Marie Pavlik Rosen, were married in 1980, their maid-of-honor gave them a rose plant, and Rosen took on the responsibility for making it bloom.
“I did everything wrong,” he remembers. “But it bloomed.”
That rose opened him up to gardening, then a rose show, which evolved into an obsession.
“There are men and women of all ages who maybe work in an office all day, and when you get home, you don’t want to sit in the easy chair,” he said. “You want to get out and play in the dirt, and that was me.”
He enjoyed roses for several years but then discovered that the rose industry is tightly controlled by a few corporations. After attending and judging several rose shows, he’d seen it all. But just as his interest in America’s most romantic flower waned, the “dazzling” daylily – with 70,000 cultivars – caught his eye.
“To this day, and I’ve been gardening for about 25 years, I have yet to go to a daylily garden where I didn’t see something different,” he explains, adding that daylilies are 10 times easier to grow than roses.
His garden, one of two Frankfort stops on the 2012 Blue Grass Hemerocallis (Daylily) Society Garden Tour, is the perfect example of variety. Hundreds of daylilies surround the elegant Georgian Mansion built in 1913 by Graham Vreeland, who founded The State Journal in 1912. The 417 Wapping St. home, called Garden Hall, was designed by Churchill Downs architect D.X. Murphy, and its gardens, carefully tended by several owners, have long been admired by downtown pedestrians.
“The previous owner had possibly a more beautiful garden, it may have had more impact from the street, but mine is more interesting,” Rosen says, explaining why he ripped out several rose bushes and more common flowers.
Since buying Garden Hall in April 2010, Rosen has filled its garden beds with daylilies. Small signs give their names: Sweet Tranquility, Betty Ford, Timeless Majesty, Fizz, Coffee to Go and A Little Crabby to name a few. He even has a couple named in his honor by daylily hybridizers including the Brookwood Richard Rosen and Little Rich.
“Some cultivars bloom just a foot off the ground, and others reach over your head,” Rosen said, describing their variety. “Typical daylily form is a round open face with six petals. One can also find long, narrow spider forms and double forms that look like pom-poms.”
But it’s the color patterns that really get him going.
“On one end of the spectrum are soft pastel cream, peach, pink and lavender. On the other end are dark reds and purples bordering on black. And in between are vibrant purples, reds, yellows, oranges and hot pinks. Now imagine these colors put together with contrasting midribs, veins, eyes and ruffled edges, and you start to appreciate the jaw-dropping beauty of daylilies.”
Debbie Monbeck, whose Switzer Road home is also on the garden tour, says Rosen’s garden is “like a little oasis in downtown.”
She said he’s the best thing that could have happened to the local daylily society. He’s the board member elect from Region 10 to the American Daylily Society, with which he’s held posts in the past.
“He’s very knowledgeable,” Monbeck said. “He’s willing to help anyone … I’m so glad he moved to Frankfort.”
How Rosen and his wife ended up in Frankfort is one of Rosen’s funniest stories.
Officially, he’s is a retired engineer for 3M and a co-owner of his family’s Minnesota business, Rosen’s
Diversified, the nation’s fifth largest beef processing company. Unofficially, he’s a master gardener, and in Austin, Texas, his flowers were drying up.
“I ran out of water in Texas, and my wife wanted to move back to Minnesota,” he said, explaining that Pavlik Rosen loves cold weather while he loves long days and mild temperatures for gardening.
They agreed to split the difference and move to a state in Climate Zone 4. Kentucky stood out as the best state, so they narrowed it to Lexington, Louisville and Frankfort. Then they toured Garden Hall. Sold.
Rosen’s wife loved the big historic home for her art studio, and he loved the spacious garden for his daylilies, art sculptures and other plants. It was an easy decision.
Walking through the garden on a recent morning as Pavlik Rosen tended her vegetable plots – she has her spaces, and he has his – Rosen stopped to take it all in.
“We just love Frankfort, and I just love this garden.”
Blue Grass Hemerocallis Society Garden Tour
What: View seven gardens from Lawrenceburg to Mount Sterling Saturday, and from Danville to Georgetown Sunday. Some are commercial and sell daylilies, and others are just passionate backyard gardeners. A complete list of the gardens on tour is at www.daylilyfans.com/bghs.
When: Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Frankfort locations (to be viewed July 1):
Rich Rosen and Anna Marie Pavlik Rosen, 417 Wapping Street
Debbie Monbeck, 2700 Switzer Road
Blue Grass Hemerocallis Society Flower Show
What: Hundreds of cultivars will be on display, and there will be a good selection for sale.
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: the Mall at Lexington Green.
Admission: Free and open to the public.