The Rose Man of Levittown

March 20, 2015 8:28 pm0 commentsViews: 239
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Bill Kozemchak holding a Double Delight rose.

Bill Kozemchak holding a Double Delight rose.

A person standing outside Bill Kozemchak’s house in Violetwood, beholding the thousand or more lustrous, fragrant roses of every size and color bursting from waist-high bushes or climbing the walls and trellises, would surely feel in the presence of some kind of rare gardening wizardry.

Mr. Kozemchak, after all, is informally known as the Rose Man of Levittown. He is a Master Rosarian, the highest honor bestowed by the American Rose Society, and is a past president of its Philadelphia branch. His roses have been awarded trophies in national competitions. Garden clubs and rose enthusiasts make yearly pilgrimages to his house.

But Mr. Kozemchak modestly dismisses any claim to special talents. To cultivate and maintain the stunning rose gardens that wrap around all four sides of his home, he has relied on simple and straightforward techniques. “I have typical Levittown soil,” he said, “which is mainly yellow clay. To amend it, I’ve added lots of peat moss, gypsum, even sand.” He uses simple twine to support the roses that climb up the walls of his house, and waters the plants with common soaker hoses laid along the roots. Although some of the roses came from England, France and Canada, he has bought roses everywhere. “Walmart, Kmart, local nurseries, the Internet, you name it.”

The secret to Mr. Kozemchak’s successful rose gardening may be equal parts technical mastery and artistic instinct. The profusion of colors, for instance, is not totally random; he has planted them to blend harmoniously with each other and with his pale blue house. The arbors and trellises which he built for his climbing roses are arranged in pairs or trios, each with a different dominant color, for a striking effect.

Mr. Kozemchak grew up in Indian Creek, where his love for roses may have taken root. “My dad always grew roses,” he said. When Mr. Kozemchak moved to his Jubilee in Violetwood, his real education in rose gardening began. “I made mistakes when I first started planting them,” he said, “like putting too much fertilizer at the bottom of the planting hole, which burns the roots.”

He is generous with the knowledge and experience he has gained, often speaking at local garden clubs as well as hosting tours. Neighbors have been known to use his gardens as settings for prom pictures. Mr. Kozemchak is happy that people take pleasure in the beauty of his roses. When asked if bypassers ever clip a few roses for use in a vase at home, he shrugs and laughs. “I wouldn’t know,” he said. “It’s not like I count them every morning.”