GLORIOUS: Cec Gleeson loves growing roses.
GLORIOUS: Cec Gleeson loves growing roses. Rob Williams

Summer dry a tough test for rose man's labour of love

A RAINBOW of colour, hundreds of meticulously maintained rose bushes and a man in a Bunnings hat characterise Cec Gleeson's locally-famous garden.

Valentine's Day is his time to bloom and the 84-year-old rose gardener knows romance and the power of a red rose.

More importantly, he knows what kind of year-round dedication it takes to have his 400 rose plants in top shape in time for February 14.

This year, his crop is less robust than in previous years, his plants suffering under the unrelenting hot sun and with little water to share between them.

"The big struggle is to keep everything alive and give them water," he said.

"These roses need about 18 litres of water a week but when you have three or four hundred plants, you need to modify that a little bit and give it to them when they want it.

"I've lost probably about a dozen, smaller ones that aren't suited to this climate. If we were to stand out in the 41C sun, we wouldn't like it either. Ipswich is not a good place to grow roses."

Cec estimates he spends up to four hours a day in the garden, pruning plants, watering, weeding and treating viruses. His most popular variety is the Hybrid Tea rose but every bush is marked with a unique name.

There's varieties like Soul Mate, Happy Anniversary, Enchanting, Warm Wishes, Atomic Blonde, Flirtation, Love In, Candy Stripe, Remember Me, Black Magic, Fairytale Queen, Apricot Nectar, Best Friend, Christian Dior, Isn't She Lovely and perhaps, most intriguingly, a small bush named Parole.

For the Valentine's Day romantic, Sultry, Brief Encounter and Black Velvet grow side-by-side.

"Overall, the condition of the plants for this time of year is pretty good. I water them every day and rose trees are hungry, like us, they like regular food," Cec said.

"The romance of a red rose is what makes them so popular on Valentine's Day.

"At this time of year you get a flower out in the morning but once the hot sun has been on it, it's not good the next day. They are full of life in the morning."

Cec grew his first flowers in his parents' garden when he was 12 but his passion for roses took off five years ago, when his late wife Beryl died.

"The story is Beryl liked scrappy gardens, where as I like to measure where to put the plants," he said.

"She had all her favourites and it was only after she was unaware that I started putting roses in."

A member of the Queensland Rose Society, Cec is a regular entrant at gardening competitions around Australia.

He's not allowed to enter the novice categories any more, having won three years in a row.


Leaving garden behind for adventure's sake

CEC takes his passion for a red rose on Valentine's Day into everything he does, including his teaching career, bowls and travel.

When he's not tending to his beloved roses, Cec Gleeson is playing bowls or exploring a faraway land; in Australia or overseas.

"In the plast seven days, I've only played bowls six times. I've competed in Fiji, Cook Islands and Lord Howe Island," he said.

"In Ipswich at Christmas time, it's not a particularly wonderful place to be as far as weather is concerned. That's why I like going to the beach."

Cec took a teaching job at Lowood in 1959 and ended up staying for 34 years, later teaching at Silkstone for nine years.

"Lowood was a small town and I had been there so long I started to teach the third generation," he said.

"It was a friendly place. I was part of the town and part of a lot of people's lives. It was very satisfying. I felt like I was doing a good job and I enjoyed it."

Cec taught his students gardening projects, including growing peanuts and citrus. The children could take their toils home after harvest. On Arbor Day, he planted roses at the school.

He and his late wife Beryl, who was also a teacher, retired 25 years ago.

"In 1993, the government in their wisdom decided to get rid of all the old teachers over 55 so quite a lot of us stepped out," he said.

"I have managed to fill the time but I still think about being back in classrooms, taking lessons.

"The fellow that sells fish down at Woolworths was one of my past pupils, and there was another in Brassall that sells shoes. I often have a yarn to them. It was sad but I have no regrets.

"When one door closes another opens."

For Cec and Beryl, their new opportunity in retirement was travelling the world - and they did.

"The travel bug started soon after we retired and we went to see our son who was in London working for the British Telegraph. When we got home, we thought it was pretty good. From there it developed," he said.

"We had a caravan, Baby Ben, that we would have seen all of Australia in."

Now Cec travels alone, this year destined for the four islands of Hawaii and Georgia, a former Soviet Republic and part of Russia between Europe and Asia.

"We loved holidaying and going overseas. I've done 31 conducted tours. You name it, I've been. Except Alaska, I'll go there next year but I'm not going to Bali. I'd like to see more of Russia too and I've not been to Malta and Sicily. I've never got around to counting how many countries I have been to," he said.

"One of the highlights of travelling for me is going to an old English pub, but when you order fish and chips, be prepared to have mushy peas and when you have roast beef, be prepared to have Yorkshire puddings.

"The beers on the end are always the boutique beers and you end up paying about nine pound a pint.

"I was once told I was too old to hire a car in London but I still got one. I nearly had to paddle a canoe."

Cec said his fascination with the rest of the world began when he was at school.

"When I went to school we learnt about the British Empire, about history and geography, we could rattle off all the kings and queens of England. I can go and see all these things I was talking about," he said.

"When I get home, I get the impression how lucky we are in Australia."

Tips for travel

  • Get a window seat, it's always nice to see what's underneath but don't worry about being the first on the airplane;
  • Have a scotch;
  • Don't take too many clothes, but I always take about 20 pairs of underdaks - they don't take up much room.

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