Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Take A Bow Mr. Bennett

During the 1800s repeat flowering roses from China began to arrive on the sails of the clipper ships. Four of them, 'Slater's Crimson China', 'Parson's Pink China', 'Hume's Blush Tea-scented China', and 'Parks' Yellow Tea-scented China' became collectively known as The Four Stud Chinas. In time they were crossed with the Old European Roses. Like any cross of a repeat flowering rose with a spring flowering roses their first offspring did not repeat. But subsequent generations did.

From these the Bourbon roses developed as did Noisettes. China and Tea roses also continued to develop. All roses relatively easy to care for and grown widely throughout the world. The Bourbons remain today one of my favorite classes of roses along with the Portlands; the latter being the only repeat flowering class of roses found in Europe before the Asian roses arrived.

During this era an English cattle breeder named Henry Bennett introduced the record keeping and purposeful crossing of cattle to achieve desired qualities into rose breeding. Until then rose breeding was mostly left to whims of nature as hips were harvested, seedlings grown and then released into commerce without much knowledge of parentage and without intent of achieving certain qualities.

Henry Bennett purposefully took pollen from one rose to another, noted the cross and documented the results. He discovered over time that he could influence the outcome of the roses he was breeding by using certain roses again and again. The result is rose breeding much as it’s done today. The fact that today’s talented breeders can breed for characteristics such as disease resistance, stripes and shorter growth habit can be traced back to Mr. Bennett.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Go West Young Rose

As Americans moved west across their new country, many a rose traveled along in those Conestoga Wagons tucked somewhere between the family clock and frying pan used to make “Hoppin John”. Upon arrival at the new homestead they were planted, watered and left to grow under the same conditions those early settlers encountered. Over time their true names were forgotten and they became known simply as “Grandma’s Red Rose” or “Aunt Sally’s Pink Climber”. Many survive today as “Found Roses” rustled by dedicated rosarians. Names like “Charleston Graveyard”, “Angles Camp White Tea” and "Natchitoches Noisette" are as much a testament to the conditions they thrived under as to the locations where they were rediscovered.

Over time roses found their way into almost every garden. Some were grown for their beauty and some for medicinal purposes like R. gallica officinalis better known as “Apothecary's Rose” for that very reason. Their ability to retain perfume in their dried petals was just another reason to tuck them amidst the hollyhocks in the garden.

Rose hips became valued as a rich source of Vitamin C and were carried by sailors on long voyages to prevent scurvy. As recently as World War II rose hips were grown in Victory Gardens to replace the vitamin C normally found in citrus fruits which were at that time unavailable in cooler climates. I would wager a bet that the roses producing those hips were treated just like all the other plants in those hundreds of thousands of gardens grown as a badge of Patriotism. Imagine if those Victory Roses needed complicated spraying and feeding programs. I suspect they would have been used more as compost than a source for vitamin C.

Fast forward to today and my garden at home is a no spray, no chemical, no irrigation beyond what falls from the sky garden, and much like the shoes of the cobbler’s children my roses get little to no care. Roses from Species to Modern are left to thrive on their own. And they do. In fact in time I’ve even noticed roses like Mme. Isaac Pereire, a Bourbon rose that can be disease prone but I love her anyway because she bears blooms of stunning beauty and scent, has slowly built up her own immune system and now rarely gets disease.

Much like children who have to catch every cold in order to build up immunity I feel roses mature in the same manner. Even my beloved Mme. Isaac is almost always without disease now that she has gone through adolescence. Perhaps we coddle our roses too much?