Cecilia Lucy Daphne Panton (later nicknamed Dee) was born in West Australia and grew up loving all plants, especially roses. She married an American sailor toward the end of World War II; and like many new Aussie brides, she found herself emigrating to America with a small child in tow.
In 1949, the new family bought their first home -- a newly built one-bedroom house in a small suburb of San Diego called Chula Vista. Dee liked the area, because the climate was similar to her home in Australia and the people were so friendly.
The first week in her new home, Dee bought a rose tree. That was the first green thing to be planted in the barren front yard. For the next 30 years she worked at turning that hard adobe clay soil into something that would allow her to grow all kinds of plants, from shade plants and cactus to bulbs and orchids and, of course, she had to have more and more roses.
She became a member of several local gardening clubs, including the newly-formed San Diego Rose Society. Among her new friends was the president of the SDRS, 'Jean Kenneally' -- someone very special to this newly transplanted Aussie girl with a love of roses.
After two more children, a divorce, a second marriage, and various jobs -- ranging from sales clerk at the local 5 & 10-cent store and bakery worker -- she was still first and foremost a gardener, spending many hours with her roses. It was her love of roses that took her on an excursion to Visalia, California, in 1971 to see the little roses, called minis, being grown by Ralph Moore.
It was love at first sight. Dee fell head-over-heels for these small treasures of the rose world. With the friendship and encouragement of Mr. Moore, she learned all that she could about growing and propagating these beautiful miniatures of her favorite flower. It wasn't long before an idea took shape... a backyard rose nursery.
She told her new husband, 'Herbie', about her dream; and he surprised her by saying, "Yes. You should try it." She opened her little business, Tiny Petals Miniature Rose Nursery, on April 29, 1972. In the beginning, the nursery consisted of only a couple of picnic benches and a small hothouse, which was a Mother's Day gift from Herbie.
Her first roses were Ralph Moore minis, of course. He was the only person in the rose industry who would give Dee a license to propagate roses. After all, she was a raw beginner and a 'woman'. At that time, no one thought that a woman could become a successful nursery"man". Most people in the industry felt that there was little hope for the small nursery with the small roses in the small town in Southern California run by a "woman".
The garden editor for the San Diego newspaper, named 'Ada Perry', wrote a nice story about the new, little nursery that was "a wonderland of little roses" and people began dropping by to look and buy Dee's minis. A local restaurant owner, 'Madeline Spezzano', put business cards for Tiny Petals next to her cash register, with a cup of fresh minis every day and more people started coming. Dee rented a booth at the 'Del Mar Fair', and suddenly she had hundreds of enthusiastic customers and lots of referrals.
As her business began to grow, Dee decided to try something new -- hybridizing. She loved the form and color of some of the bigger roses, so, why not try to get those same characteristics into a mini rose. With that thought in mind, she began puting mini pollen onto her favorite hybrid teas and floribundas. What she discovered was that the crosses of the minis and the bigger roses produced approximately 90% miniature rose seedlings. Best of all, the big rose characteristics for form and color were showing up in these seedlings as well.
Over the next 14 years, Dee created some of the finest miniature roses in America, naming many of them for her family members and rose society friends. Before her death in 1987, Dee had over 80 patented minis, including 'Jean Kenneally', 'Rosy Dawn', 'Cheer Up', 'Pucker Up', 'Herbie', 'My Sunshine', 'Cuddle Up', 'Always A Lady', 'Little Carol', and 'Punkin'.
Dee also left more than 150 test roses which were still being evaluated for introductions. That great collection and the nursery were entrusted to me by my mother, with a special list of friends that she still wanted to honor with namesake roses.
Mom wanted her dream to go on. It has. After almost 28 years, Tiny Petals still continues to operate out of the same little, backyard nursery. My partners, Dick and Carol Sparks, and I continue to introduce "new" Dee Bennett roses each year, from her huge collection of seedlings.
Mom never saw the blooms of some of those last seedlings before she died, but among that group of 150 tests were some of her best roses, including 'Irresistible', 'X-Rated', 'Luis Desamero', 'Ultimate Pleasure', 'Violet Mist', 'Yantai', 'Sweet Revenge', 'Grace Seward', 'Leslie', 'Rita Applegate', 'Old Fashioned Girl', 'Quiet Time', 'Elizabeth Abler', 'Kay Denise' (named for Mom's great-granddaughter), and the one that I named for her... 'Mother's Love'.
There are local, district, and even a national trophy to honor Dee Bennett; but I think that what would give her the most pleasure is the knowledge that her creations have made such a difference to the world of roses. Dee Bennett proved that she was a great hybridizer and nursery "woman".
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