Welcome to the February 2005 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see the "Site Resources Guide" box in the navigation panel at left. To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only, not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose.
in my Hybridizing Program
In 1993 I started making a few crosses in my little backyard garden, using whatever roses I had on hand. I was growing a few Austins, one or two Damasks, an Alba, several Gallicas and some Minis, including some grocery store Micros. Having only the vaguest idea of what I was doing, I simply matched up plants to give the colors I wanted to see and crossed my fingers that something would happen. I suppose thats the way most hybridizers start out, so I shouldn't be too surprised that in retrospect my early work was clumsy and lacked direction.
At left: 'Joycie' X 'Mons. Tillier'.
One of the very first crosses I made was putting pollen from the magnificent 'Tuscany Superb' onto the deep red 'Black Jade', hoping for rich color, fragrance, moderate shrub size and latent remontancy. Well, one out of four isn't bad, I suppose. (I got the latent remontancy!) Otherwise, these first seedlings were a mess in many ways: most were climbers with the foliage from 'Black Jade', horrible fish-hook thorns, a short Spring bloom period, offering sad little blooms with a dozen mis-shapen petals or less in dull blackish-red or flat pink hues. I still have one of the darkest ones growing in a shady location where it has to fight for space with Blackberries and other weeds, and still it persists. At least it has that much going for it, poor thing. I never used it in breeding, since it showed no inclination to set seed. I have no idea whether it has fertile pollen or not, perhaps I should have tried it; maybe it is a stepping stone to magic.
I'm much less inclined to destroy seedlings that I have been evaluating (seedlings with no commercial merit, but potentially useful in breeding) because of the many conversations I have had with Ralph Moore in which he says he wished he still had this seedling or that one to explore in breeding. Case in point, two years ago a friend of mine came with her husband to see the Spring flush at its peak, and they happened upon a four year old seedling in the test garden. A rather ordinary mauve-pink cupped bloom of about 40 petals, its one saving grace is the most exquisite perfume of the Myrrh type; intoxicating and unique, even among similarly perfumed roses. One sniff and my friends were in olfactory heaven, pure and simple. If I had ever witnessed a swoon, that was surely it. I mentioned that this seedling was likely going to be cleared out of the garden since it was only a Spring bloomer and not particularly Blackspot resistant. The look of horror on my friend's face said it all. "But, why don't you use it for breeding?!" she said. I hadn't considered that. In my mind I had moved on to other plants for my breeding work, and as far as I was concerned this rose was already in the compost heap.
Taking her comment to heart, I saved the plant, groomed it a bit and prepared it for use in the breeding program the following year. In Spring of 2003 I placed its pollen on another seedling I was testing that came from a cross of 'Penny Ante' (yellow blend Miniature) X Austin's deep crimson 'Tradescant'. This seedling is a tall growing HT type plant, bearing large clusters of medium crimson blooms of about 35 petals with a moderately strong, pleasant fragrance. Its foliage is a rich, glossy, deep green color that starts out deep plum when young, something I consider to be an asset. Putting pollen from the Myrrh-scented seedling on it was my first attempt to breed it.
At this point, I should describe to you the Myrrh-scented pollen parent's pedigree. It is ('Tuscany Superb' X 'Othello') X 'Souvenir du Dr. Jamain', and although I had anticipated remontant offspring from that cross, this seedling was once-blooming. It is interesting to note that contrary to what some breeders have said about the inheritance of the Myrrh fragrance, this hybrid does not come out of 'Belle Isis' or any of the 'Ayreshire Splendens' roses. In my experiences of the past twelve years working with the various Gallicas and OGR's, this fragrance can spontaneously appear in crosses using Gallicas with most any modern rose.
So, what of the 2003 cross using the Myrhh-scented seedling? I made only a handful of pollinations and so, I got only a modest number of seeds from this cross (labeled 23-03 in my records). However, about thirty of them germinated. Most were discarded because the blooms were unattractive or scentless, but two were kept. Both are very vigorous seedlings with dark green semi-glossy foliage, and both gave me three flushes of bloom in the first year. Thats a good sign. Both of these seedlings are large cupped blooms of smoky crimson-pink and both have an extraordinary rich fragrance that is obviously inherited from the pollen parent; not entirely Myrrh, but a blend of that and other rose fragrances. Both of the 23-03 seedlings will be placed out in the test garden in 2005 for further evaluation.
And so, I am grateful for a friend's insightful comments that warm Spring day, and I will continue to use this seedling in breeding for fragrance. In fact, during the 2004 breeding season I put pollen from this seedling onto 'The Yeoman', a rose well known for its ability to produce richly scented offspring of the Myrrh type as well as 'Lilian Austin', another fine breeder.
At Right: Ralph Moore's "0-47-19"
This experience is a reminder to me that ties in with Ralph Moore's comments about wishing he had held on to certain seedlings to use years and decades later to pursue previously unconceived goals. So, I would say to aspiring hybridizers out there, don't be too hasty in discarding your selected seedlings, for some of these, unworthy though they may be as commercial roses, may have the raw ingredients you seek to make that next leap towards your long term goals. Who knows, I may even try that original 'Black Jade' X 'Tuscany Superb' seedling in some crosses. (Note: there were two other seedlings from that cross that I kept which are pink, large-flowered roses that grow like true Gallicas, making five foot suckering shrubs. I am still using one of these in breeding, since it has shown the ability to give remontant, fragrant offspring in unusual smoky-crimson hues.)
I found the 2004 seedling crop to be a most interesting group, not because there were plenty of especially nice seedlings, (although there were!) but because of how I changed my approache to the culling process this year. I would say that out of the 300 or so seedlings that I saved and potted on, approximately one-third are plants saved for potential use in breeding, not commercially viable varieties. More than ever before I found myself selecting seedlings that simply had better vigor or nicer foliage than their siblings, and it didn't matter to me whether they had flowered yet or not. In fact, many of those seedlings saved as potential breeders won't flower for the first time until Spring 2005. I think this was a subconscious effort to heed the remarks and suggestions of a number of more experienced breeders who have said that every hybridizer builds up a collection of breeding plants that come from their own breeding program. In this way, the hybridizer can engineer stud plants that have combinations of varieties with traits unique to his own goals and desires. I think of one particular cross from which I have saved about fifteen seedlings this year. The cross was (R. wichuraiana X 'Floradora') X 'Out of Yesteryear'. The seed parent is the famous Ralph Moore rambler used extensively in his Miniatures breeding program, which he has generously allowed me to work with. (It is known as “0-47-19” in his breeding records) I saw this cross as a step in the production of vigorous, hardy climbers with clusters of medium sized OGR stle blooms. In the right combinations, (R. wichuraiana X 'Floradora') will produce offspring with wonderful fragrances, including that famous "green apple" scent that many R. wichuraiana offspring inherit.
At left: "42-03-02"
The cross is recorded in my book as "42-03", and as I said, about fifteen seedlings were potted up into gallon pots awaiting their first bloom in the Spring. The selections all have excellent vigor, shiny, healthy foliage and varying degrees of thorniness. Although I did say that none of these flowered in their first year, I should mention one of the seedlings that did bloom. "42-03-02" began blooming within eight weeks of germination, with seven petaled blooms about 1.5 inches across, in a medium purplish-crimson color. After watching this seedling's growth for the Summer, I came to the conclusion that it is in fact a selfing of the seed parent and not a hybrid of 'Out of Yesteryear', since it looks like a shorter, bushier, everblooming version of the seed parent in every way. Plus, it has an excellent fragrance that can be detected many feet away from the plant. No matter how carefully you are to remove all anthers from the bloom you are pollinating, sometimes pollen escapes and fertilizes the bloom. In this instance, I can't say that I regret this accident, since this seedling has been selected for further breeding, and I have hopes that it will be of great value as a breeding plant. It sets seed readily and some open pollinated seed has been collected for germination this coming season. It is important to remember that serendipity and happy accidents do play a role in rose breeding.