Where have all the roses gone?
Are local gardeners so lazy that nurseries don’t carry them any longer?
Or is the beautiful rose, once an iconic American and British garden staple merely out of fashion?
Have roses gone the way of any plant not easy for a developer to “shrub” a plastic coated development with?
I think the answer is yes to all questions above, and I think it is sad.
I love roses. I love roses enough that once upon a time I wrote something for the American Rose Society which still exists over 15 years later on their website (Read it here on this website too! Roses-Thrive-on-Routine ).
Thomas Christopher author of In Search of Lost Roses
Read an excerpt from the book.
Question: What are “lost roses,” and how did they get that way?
Christopher: Traditionally, gardeners grew a tremendous diversity of roses—some 6,000 different kinds were introduced by nurserymen in the nineteenth century alone. Not all of these roses were available at any given time, but still, a century ago gardeners took for granted that they would have access to roses of all sorts of sizes and colors, from tiny five-petalled roses very little different from the wild species, to huge, petal-packed puffs as much as six inches in diameter.
This situation changed at the beginning of the twentieth century. The nursery industry consolidated, so that the growing of roses was handled by a few giant firms. To maximize profits, these businesses trimmed the product lines, eliminating the less than best-selling roses. Eventually, the rose growers focused on the production of the widely-popular new hybrid tea roses to the exclusion of almost everything else.
The other roses, the heritage of 2,500 years of breeding and gardening, disappeared from nursery catalogs and eventually from gardens, too. They were lost and presumed dead until a handful of imaginative rosarians made it their business in the 1970s and 1980s to search out specimens surviving in abandoned gardens, cemeteries, and other inadvertent sanctuaries. My book is the story of these collectors and their crusade.
It was this book that got me hooked on old roses. By the time I read it I already was in love with David Austin’s English Roses and the royalty of American Hybrid Tea roses like “Princesse de Monaco“, “John F. Kennedy” , “Climbing Joseph’s Coat“, and “Peace”.
But where are these and old garden roses today? Thomas Christopher might want to consider a follow-up book as roses are quickly disappearing from the American garden landscape.
A flower as American as Apple Pie shouldn’t disappear from gardens. They are regal and amazing flowers and much like your pets and children will thrive on simple and consistent routines. Has our world evolved so much that because a rose bush is not instant gratification that we can no longer grow it?
I went searching for roses this spring. Chester County has a slew of nurseries and while I could find every other shrub, roses were on the endangered species list. The only roses to be found were sorry specimens from prior seasons that should have been marked down for a rose lover to adopt, but weren’t and those “Knock Out Roses” – Knock Out Roses are apparently the evolution of the American Garden Rose and purportedly require little care. They are o.k. but they don’t give me that true garden rose feeling.
I finally had to order my roses bare root. I hated to not give local nurseries the business, but they didn’t have the stock. I don’t mind planting bare root rose, it is fairly easy – just follow the directions of the grower.
Yes, I know deer like roses, but that is why you have fences and dogs.
So yesterday when I stopped at Woodlawn Landscaping and Nursery in Malvern (the old Potters site on Paoli Pike for those of you who haven’t been there), I got to talking roses with one of my favorite nurserywomen there as I picked out some perennials. She told me how the rose industry had faltered and about Jackson & Perkins bankruptcy a couple of years, and financial issues other rose growers had experienced in this crazy economy of the past few years.
So roses are a victim of the economy too? Thanks, President Obama. My healthcare keeps going up and now I can’t find a simple pleasure like rose bushes? I wonder if the White House Rose Garden has suffered as a result? (Sorry, didn’t mean to get political but roses are an American tradition are they not? Shouldn’t someone be indignant?)
Here is an article I found that I thought was interesting:
Future generations may never know the beauty of Diana, Princess of Wales; sniff Catalina in the sunshine; or fall for Beloved.For a century, devoted gardeners have appreciated the marvels of delicate and finicky hybrid roses and referred to them by name, like pets or family. The product of generations of breeding, the queen of flowers could act like a spoiled princess because its delicate blooms offered a special reward.
In recent years, though, time-strapped homeowners have traded their big teas for compact shrub roses — utilitarian soldiers in the landscape that could cover ground without fuss.
Our desire for the carefree — no-iron shirts, no-wax floors, and now low-maintenance yards — has brought the rose industry to a crossroads.
“At some point, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Charlie Anderson, president of Weeks Roses, the only major company still creating new varieties of full-size roses. “[Landscape] roses will be all you have; the beautiful, unique hybrid teas will be gone.”
The flagging economy has compounded the rose industry’s troubles.
Two years ago, rose giant Jackson & Perkins, which had annually shipped 10 million bushes nationwide, filed for bankruptcy protection. Many of the hybrid roses the company created — such as Diana, Catalina and Beloved — may soon disappear from the mass market as the supply of those bushes dries up.
“Roses are viewed as an extravagance, and they’re still trying to shed that stigma,” said Seth Taylor of Capital Nursery…..The annual wholesale value of California’s rose crop dropped 55% to $27.20 million in 2010 from a high of $61.05 million in 2003, according to nursery industry expert Hoy Carman, a retired UC Davis professor.
“The whole nursery industry is down,” Carman said. “In 2008, sales just plummeted.”
Said Adams of the Rose Society: “Roses are not the first thing homeowners think of when they want to plant a garden. Competition with other choice plants is fierce…. Most major rose growers have gone bankrupt or consolidated with other wholesale nurseries…..Jackson & Perkins, acquired by J&P Park Acquisitions Inc. of South Carolina, no longer develops and grows new roses. Before bankruptcy, the company farmed 5,000 acres in Wasco with 20,000 bushes per acre. Without buyers, many of those bushes were burned.
Once a breeder goes bankrupt, its roses usually disappear with it. Rose patents — good for 18 to 20 years — may be sold, but budwood and mother plants are lost. Many Jackson & Perkins roses are now on the endangered list.
“Some will be preserved,” Anderson said. “But a lot of varieties were lost; there was no budwood to collect [to create new hybrid bushes]. Most will just disappear into the ether.”
When is the last time any of you planted a rose bush? I don’t think there is an app for that, so when is the last time you really dug in the dirt? As in planted things yourselves? Gardening is a primal thing to be sure, a connection between you and the land and it doesn’t have to be all perfect and chemically induced lawns, either.
I know I am a little dotty when it comes to gardening because I love to do it. Not for other people, just myself. It gives me peace and satisfaction. The easiest way to inner peace is a simple walk or cooking or gardening I think.
Roses are a part of every garden I have ever had large or small. Granted I will never have the amount of roses in my garden that I grew in my parents’ old garden (read this June 1997 Philadelphia Inquirer article where I was interviewed about rose growing – Rosy Outlook ). Pardon me while I ramble like a proverbial rambling rose, but wow I still remember shortly after my parents sold that house the new owner ripping out and tossing over 51 different rose bushes so he could have a look that was more developer “shrubbed” and predictable (and someone else would take care of it.)
I am making a plea to all you gardeners who are left: if you have some sun, plant some roses. Don’t let real roses disappear. You don’t have to plant dozens, just try one or two. After all the rose is iconic enough to Americans that it has a parade, and it is still the state flower of New York, and last I checked the White House still had a rose garden, so aren’t they worth saving and trying again? Not those landscaper roses that have taken over, but a real rose, with that real rose smell and regal appearance? And did you know that roses are a working flower too? Don’t believe me? Check any wine producer and let them tell you about how they plant roses in the vineyards. They have this canary in the coal mine role – grape vines and roses are susceptible to the same diseases.
My final word on the topic is yet another article, fairly recent, that I found about roses and life:
By Sherry Young, Deseret News Published: Thursday, May 23 2013
In frustration with all the roses in my yard I once wrote an article titled “Roses have thorns — and thorns have roses.” It sprang from a quote by writer and novelist Alphonse Kerr, who observed, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses.”
As a beleaguered gardener, I wrote, “My yard is filled with roses. Now, during the third summer learning curve for tending to them, I bear scars on my arms and legs from trying to figure out their perfidious nature.”
Today I stood looking around my yard, now sadly devoid of many of those beautiful plants. One by one they expired…
Whatever the cause, only a few remain to waft the air with their perfume this June. It is a great life lesson to deal with the thorns because at least there are roses.
As I stood looking, I had mixed feelings about the plight of those roses. It was actually a relief I didn’t need to prune them and feed them and chase away the aphids, but on the other hand I was sad to miss their beauty.
Life is like growing roses. If you don’t plant you won’t reap, if you don’t tend to responsibilities they may fade on you. Some varieties are hardier than others, and even among the same varieties there will be differences. Part of their success and beauty will be where they are planted.
Well, I do go on — parallels everywhere…“A garden is a thing of beauty and a job forever,” advised British actor Richard Briers
Enjoy the first day of summer. And remember, life is all about stopping to smell the roses. But we have to plant some first.