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Growing for the Record

Couple’s bush rose to the occasion

Where Bunny and Bella go, the roses grow and grow ... and grow. One grew so tall – nearly 14 feet high — that its owners, Lia and Ken Johnson of La Jolla, have decided to see if it’s the tallest rose in the world. They are petitioning the Guinness Book of World Records for the title.

“It’s a process that requires a notary, horticulturalist and witnesses,” said Lia, who gathered them all at her home on Oct. 30 to begin the verification process. They will know if they have a record-setter in a few months.

The current Guinness Record for the tallest self-supported rose bush is 13 feet, 3 inches. It was set Dec. 5, 2005, in the garden of Paul and Sharon Palumbo of San Diego, friends of the Johnsons. “They had a tall rose bush for sure,” Lia said, “but I knew ours was bigger.”

And so on Oct. 30 (with champagne chilling in the kitchen), Lia’s hunch was proven correct. Her rose bush, officially measured for Guinness under the watchful eyes of a yardful of witnesses, stands 13 feet, 10 inches tall ... and is still growing.

Lia said she can’t account for the reason this simple $5 hybrid tea rose bought nine years ago from the Home Depot on Genesee grew so high, because all the other roses she and husband Ken tend with equal TLC are growing quite normally.

With a hearty laugh Lia insists that the only difference in the care of this remarkable rose bush is that fact that it grows where the couple’s two Maltese pups, Bunny and Nella, urinate.

“And that probably IS the reason,” said Deborah Clarke, a California Certified Nursery Professional, summoned to verify the proceedings. “Roses love acidic soil and the urine of these two female dogs is highly acidic. It’s helping to raise the PH level of the clay soil here, which is alkaline. Also, there’s a high acid drop from the Japanese Black Pine tree above the rose.

“Another thing in the rose’s favor, is that I suspect this rose was grafted from the newer root stock introduced in 1999, which was supposed to help enhance the growth. Such roses normally grow 5 to 8 feet high. The Johnson’s rose is remarkable. They’re doing everything right.”

Clark advised the group that the rose will continue to grow and bloom through January, but then it must be pruned to half its size to assure new, stronger growth next year.

Bunny and Bella promised to continue their support.