Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Rose Garden - In Search of a Rose

The central part of our thinking for The Rose Garden project - the part which talks of the future - is the search for a brand new rose to re-populate The Rose Garden. It was always in our plan to find a suitable rose breeder in an attempt to cultivate a bespoke rose. 

We were clear in what we wanted.

    An "old" type rose, as white as possible and with a rich fragrance.

From a list of 20 of the country's top rose breeders, and after approaching each by email, we chose two breeders from the half a dozen replies we got. Warner's Roses and Gareth Fryer Roses. Both were local, within 30 miles of the Spode site, and both were really well repected, award winning Rose Breeders with a proven history of growing beautiful healthy roses and successfully introducing them to market.

Some preliminary research told us that developing a rose from scratch, though ideal, would be out of the question. It is an 8 year process to get a rose from seed to shop, and that is if everything goes well - as we found out on a trip to Warner's roses, there are no guarantees. 

Warner's Roses are a small - very small, as in 1 man and a part-timehandyman help - operation in Newport, Shropshire. Chris Warner, the business owner, has been breeding roses since the mid-1980's after becoming disillusioned with the state school system in his job as a secondary school P.E. teacher. Since then, the business has grown to the point where Chris is the proud owner of several international gold medal-winning roses, including the 2015 Rose of the Year - For Your Eyes Only. Chris gave us a small insight into the precarious world of rose breeding, telling us that even though his rose has the distinction of that award, it is no
guarantee of success. Rose lovers are particular about what they consider to be a rose's essential characteristics. Generally people are looking for "doubles" or "very full" roses, meaning between 20-100 petals per flower. For Your Eyes Only is an Arabian, "desert rose". It only has a single layer of 5 petals - desert roses are always like this as there is less water available. This means that although it has achieved critical success, it probably won't be a winner with the public.

Our trip to Warner's was full of fascinating facts - and Chris was a really generous tourer of his operation. We learnt amongst many things over the course of an hour that
  • Of the seeds Warners sow, 60%-70% root successfully, compared to 10% for the vast majority of rose breeders. Chris told us that this was mainly down to the system of germonation, which he shares with David Austin - individiual sowing, and heating the individual seed plugs from underneath.
  • The most common disease for the rose used to be Blackspot, but in the last 15 years, through the commercialisation, powdery mildew has migrated from New Zealand, through the USA to Europe. Warner's Roses unique focus is the production of disease-free plants, and this means a brutal attitude throughout the testing stage. Even if a plant seems disease free for 5 years, it may still fall susceptible to blackspot or mildew. Whenever disease is found, Warner's discontinues the plant.
  • Other Rose pests are Red Spider, White Fly, all caterpillars, and the most devastating of all - the
    Thrip (left) 
     tiny, slender insects with fringed wings.  Other common names for thrips include thunderfliesthunderbugsstorm fliesthunderblights, "' storm bugs "' and corn lice.
  • Chris keeps his collected pollen in the fridge.
  • He carries out 3-4,000 crosses a year, which compares with David Austin's 25,000
  • Rose Breeding is mainly about trial and error. For instance, if you cross two highly scented plants, there is no guarantee of getting a scented offspring.
In truth, there was so much information from our 2 hour trip to Warner's Roses, that it was hard to process it all. Chris told us that he's still learning new things 30 years after reading his first rose-breeding book. His passion for the process was evident, and I really wanted us to find our perfect rose amongst his many offerings. 

Unfortunately, there just wasn't one close enough to our vision, though several came close.

Here's a selection of images from a wonderful couple of hours.

Warner's Tallest Rose

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