When Oprah Winfrey bought her 65-acre Montecito, California, property in 2001, she hadn't a clue about roses. “What did I know about a garden?” says the television personality and media powerhouse. “I would leave my apartment in the Water Tower in Chicago at 5:30 in the morning and come back at 8:30 at night, when it was dark. I couldn't understand what everyone was so crazy about.”
Myrtle topiaries border bushes of Honey Dijon and Tuscan Sun roses while adding formal structure to the cutting garden.
By everyone, Winfrey means her new neighbors in the sun-kissed coastal enclave east of Santa Barbara, where the blowsy flowers are a local obsession and the halcyon days make for a blooming season that lasts nearly all year. She discovered that acreage on her land had been set aside for roses, although none had been planted yet. “I thought, Oh boy, what am I going to do with that?” she confesses. Still, she forged ahead, turning to master rosarian Dan Bifano to create her field of flowers.
Tuscan Sun, Honey Dijon, Seafoam, and Fragrant Cloud roses are underplanted with dahlias, lilies, narcissi, daffodils, irises, and blooming annuals and perennials to provide color all year long.
Bifano, no stranger to boldface names (he has designed gardens for Barbra Streisand and Tom Ford), showed up to their first meeting with a pail filled with blossoms so he could gauge Winfrey's taste. He then devised a scheme that incorporated her favorites - peachy Bronze Star, Heaven on Earth in blushing pinks, and bronze-and-lavender Distant Drums.
A custom arbor wreathed with Sombreuil roses, an old-garden climber, provides shade and structure; Distant Drums (in foreground) is a unique hybrid that goes from beige at its center to lavender on its outer frills.
With Bifano as her guide, Winfrey got down into the dirt. She helped with everything from laying out flower arrangements to placing plants in the ground. “I'm very hands-on,” she says. “I picked the gravel. I picked the grout between the stonework. I decided which way the roses would face. Love is in the details.”
Pathways lined with crushed granite and edged with matching stonework create a neutral frame that serves to emphasize the blooms. Roses include Heaven on Earth, Distant Drums, Sombreuil, Pandora, Sunset Celebration, and Brass Band. 19th-century French cast-iron fountain.
The garden overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands in the distance, a picturesque vista that Winfrey and Bifano improved upon by creating a formal plan that accentuates the majestic backdrop. Romantic beds of roses tumble between crisp dirt paths; arches, cypress trees, and tightly clipped boxwood act as foils. Arbors dripping with Sombreuil and Pandora roses (plus jasmine, for its intoxicating scent) provide shade and harbor an outdoor dining area; a cast-iron fountain gurgles in the center.
For an additional note of fragrance under the arbor, Dan Bifano mixed in with the roses. Table and chairs, Rose Tarlow Melrose House.
Today, Winfrey can wax poetic about her favorite varietal, Koko Loko, and name roses from Yves Piaget to Bewitched. She joined a local club, Rose Buddies, and helped develop a new hybrid, Legends, in honor of her female African-American heroes. The garden is her sanctuary. “I've done many interviews with people who had to lose what they had in order to value what they still have,” she says. “Sometimes I stand under the arbor, close my eyes, and allow myself to take in as much as I can: I hear birds splashing in the fountain and literally smell the roses. This garden makes me present.”
Distant Drums, Elina, and Brass Band range from beige and yellow to variegated orange for a painterly effect.
This article originally appeared in the September-October 2017 issue of VERANDA.