Sunday, November 13, 2011

Something Old, Something New, Something Genetically Modified, Something Blue

Suntory Flowers Limited (Chiuoda-ku,Tokyo) recently announced the release in America of ‘Applause,’a rose they claim to be the world’s first blue rose. It was created by introducing a blue gene from pansies into roses. Truth be told, this rose is closer in color to mauve or lavender than blue… and is not the first rose of this color either. Here is a list of recent hybrid teas and floribundas with similar color that begin with the word blue in their name. There are at least as many with blue somewhere else in their name. And this list doesn’t even include miniatures, or climbers!

Blue for You, James, 2006. Blue Pacific, Evers, 2002. Blue Chateau, Teranishi, 1999. Blue
Curiosa, De Ruiter, 1997. Blue Light, Ryojun Ito, 1995. Blue Bayou, Kordes, 1993. Blue Chip, Warriner, 1986. Blue Friendship, Verschuren, 1984. Blue Ribbon, Christensen, 1984. Blue River, Kordes 1984. Blue Skies, Buck, 1983. Blue Glow, Cattermole, 1982. Blue Nile, Delbard, 1981. Blue Velvet, Perry, 1981. Blue Perfume, Tantau 1978. Blue River, Kordes, 1973. Blue Sky,
Suzuki, 1973. Blue Heaven, Whisler, 1971. Blue Girl, Kordes, 1964. Blue Monday, Tantau, 1964. Blue Moon, Tantau, 1964.Blue Diamond, Lens, 1963.

The hype about blue roses goes back even farther in rose history. That’s where my interests are. The following three roses are among my favorites.

Pictured above is 'Veilchenblau,' truly the first "blue" rose. It was hybridized in 1909 by Johann Schmidt in Germany. Its name means violet blue. At that time, ramblers were the rage. 'Veilchenblau's flowers are violet, fading to lavender with white stripes. Like most ramblers it is once blooming, but what an amazing display of color. It's almost thornless and has a sweet fragrance too. Over the next 30 years, about a dozen "blue" ramblers were released.

'Erinnerung an Brod' is one of the parents of Veilchenblau. It was created by Rudolf Geschwind in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1886. It has been listed as a hybrid perpetual, a rambler and a setigera hybrid. No matter what you call it, 'Erinnerung an Brod' is beautiful. The fragrance is strong. The color starts out dark crimson purple and fades to mauve and lilac. The blossoms are very double. This was the rose I chose for my father's memorial service when we interred his ashes. Erinnerung means in memory.

Similar in color to Erinnerung an Brod is Bleu Magenta, pictured below. Although the flowers are smaller in size than Erinnerung an Brod’s, they are the largest and the darkest of the ramblers. I have it plant on one side of an arch with 'Veilchenblau' on the other side. This rose was found growing at the Roseraie de l’Hay. The original name and hybridizer are unknown.

Yes, ‘Applause’ is a lovely rose. But it’s obviously not the world’s first blue rose. Before you rush out to buy the latest and greatest, do take a look down the garden path at heritage roses. I am sure you will find many an heirloom worth preserving and cherishing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It’s been ages since I post an entry on Thorny Issues. For most people, summertime is a time for kicking back and relaxing. My summer has been filled with working in my gardens most days. The amount of energy and time spent weeding, watering, edging, and mulching felt equal to Hercules’ cleaning of the Augean stables. On many a day this summer, I was wetter than the roses when I was done watering and it wasn’t from the hose.

I recently read a book, Live Life Aggressively, by Mike Mahler, a kettlebell trainer par excellence. One chapter, in particular, hit me- “Doing What You Love is Hard Work.” He talks about the process going from amateur to professional. When I started growing roses, it was all so much fun. I often joke that Der Rosenmeister Nursery is the result of a hobby run amok. But in truth, it is more the result of lots of hard work, following my passion for roses by reading everything I can, growing more varieties, old and new every year, constantly experimenting and ultimately sharing what I’ve learned with others. The work is not always fun, but it is almost always gratifying and fulfilling.

  • What give me satisfaction and joy now?
  • Tracking down old varieties that I’ve only read about
  • Seeing a rose bloom that I’ve never grown before
  • Propagating old varieties not commonly found in the trade
  • Watching someone get excited about her first rose
  • Watching a seasoned veteran get equally excited when I can offer them something they’ve been seeking
  • Looking at what I’ve accomplished at the end of a day
  • Planning new beds and new ways of displaying roses
  • Watching the faces and listening to the comments of visitors to the nursery during high rose tide
  • Taking time to smell the roses

There are two weeks left to summer for me, as I return to teaching on the Tuesday after Labor Day. This is a great time to plant roses- they will establish good root systems this fall and be ready to bloom their heads off this coming spring. We still have some gems available for sale. Please, come visit me at Der Rosenmeister, 190 Seven Mile Drive, Ithaca, NY 14850. If that’s not possible, take time to smell the roses in your garden.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rose Rustling

What is rose rustling? It’s a term used to describe the process of collecting antique roses to propagate that are growing untended. This term was made popular in Thomas Christopher’s book, In Search of Lost Roses. This can be a solitary or group event.

Who rustles roses? Old rose addicts and history buffs.

When does one rustle roses? I have found it is best to do it at high rose tide, when the roses are in bloom so you can find the plants in the landscape.

Where does one rose rustle? Anywhere they may still be found growing- along roadsides, on abandoned farm sites, or in old, preferably untended cemeteries.

Why rustle roses? The goal is to preserve the roses originally grown in an area many years ago.

How does one rustle a rose? Well, that’s what this posting is all about.

Unlike mushroom collectors who guard the locations of their quarry, rose rustlers are more than willing to share the locations of their finds. If you don’t know any rose rustlers, though, all is not lost.

I came across my first antique roses walking with my wife through an old farm field. We came upon the cellar hole of a farmstead. Although the cellar hole was overgrown and not visible from the road, we noticed the pair of big old sugar maples standing sentinel, the overgrown lilacs, and drifts of daylily foliage. In the midst of this tangled mess, we saw some pink rose blossoms. These were not your typical garish hybrid tea type flower. They were flatter in shape and crowded with many petals of fragrant pink. Though the farm house was long gone (since at least the 1930s), the roses lived on. We collected some runners of those roses, being careful to leave most of the plants. We had found a Rosa gallica hybrid that was probably planted in the mid nineteenth century. It was obviously cold hardy, disease resistant, vigorous and guaranteed to flourish in our area.

Since then, we often go out for a drive in the car in mid- to late June exploring the local countryside. We have found antique roses growing in roadside ditches, at the edge of a forest that has overtaken a farm field, in rural cemeteries, and around farm houses- inhabited as well as abandoned. It’s one of my favorite things to do on Father’s Day.

I always bring along a good garden spade, pruning shears, (see my posting on favorite garden tools), a cooler with ice, water, newspaper or paper towels, lots of plastic bags and plant markers. In digging up runners, be sure to get as much root as possible. Wrap the roots in wet newspaper or paper towels. Put them in plastic bags. Old grocery bags work well. Place them carefully in the cooler. You don’t want the plants to wilt in the heat and sun. You can also take cuttings. More about that in a future posting. Be respectful of the site. Don’t be greedy. Leave enough of the rose for it to continue to grow. Don’t leave a mess. On the plant tag, note the location and date, so you can refer others to that site or find it again. If the rose you want to collect is in the yard of someone’s farmhouse, knock on the door and ask for permission. Tell them of your love of old roses. I have never been told that I couldn’t get a piece of an old rose. What I often did get in addition to the rose was the story associated with it- who grew it, how long it had been there, etc.

Upon returning home, pot up the runners or cuttings. Grow them on in a cool, shady spot until they have established themselves. At that point, you may plant them out. Keying them out can be quite the challenge. There are many great books on old roses, as well as organizations that promote old roses ( A visit to a garden of historic roses will help as well. I have collected gallicas, albas, centifolias, mosses and Scots roses here in the Finger Lakes region and identified many of them.

Once your rustled rose has established itself, do share it with others. They are meant to be “pass-along plants.” You are helping preserve the horticultural history of your area. I have occasionally come back to a collecting site the following year, only to find that the roses are gone due to road work, bulldozers, development of house sites, or the overzealous use of weed wackers in a cemetery. What a tragedy when a rose that was planted at someone’s grave many years ago is eliminated in an effort to neaten things up.

Rose rustling sure beats going to your local big box for roses! Give it a try and tell me what you have found.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Scots Roses

As high rose tide begins to wane, I have started to look at the incredible photos taken by my friends, Alex and Aurora Solla. I was struck by the beauty of the Scots roses. One rarely sees these in gardens anymore, although they were touted by Gertrude Jekyll, in her book “Roses for English Gardens.” These roses have been grown since at least the 1700s and are often found around cellar holes on abandoned farmsteads or rural cemeteries.

My first encounter with Scots roses was in a cow pasture at the Finger Lakes National Forest in Hector, NY between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. They had formed a thicket near an old farm house site. The farms here date back to 1790 when soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War were awarded tracts of land in payment for their services. These parcels were one mile square. The roads that formed their boundaries are still there today. Many of these farms were abandoned between the 1890s and the Great Depression, when they were purchased by the Federal Government. The roses that remain in these fields have been flourishing untended for at least 100 years!

Scots roses are hybrids of Rosa spinosissima, which had been called Rosa pimpinellifolia. These roses are single (5 petals) and found in white, yellow or pink. Scots roses, though once blooming, are among the first roses to bloom. Here in Ithaca, NY, they start to bloom in May- a welcome sight after a long winter. Their fragrance is a mix of tea rose and citrus. They set shiny currant-like hips that are chocolate brown or maroon in color. Their leaves are very small with 7-11 serrated leaflets. Their stems are covered in many short prickles/bristles. This species grows from three to five feet tall and sucker readily.

The first mention of these roses for garden use was by Robert Brown of Perth, Scotland in 1793. He offered eight double flowered varieties. By 1810, Robert Austin of Glasgow offered over 100 varieties. These roses were at the peak of their popularity from about 1820-1840 after which they were superseded by larger flowered and repeat flowering roses. In 1848, William Paul listed only 75 varieties. In 1936, Edward Bunyard listed 36 varieties. In 1965 McFarland listed only 15. While the names are lost, many more survive in gardens- both cultivated and abandoned.

Most of the Scots roses are known more by a description of their form and color rather than by name. And so, they may be called single/semi-double/double + white/yellow/blush/red/ marbled/two colored/dark colored. Mary McMurtrie wrote and illustrated a beautiful book of them, “Scots Roses of Hedgerows, and Wild Gardens.” It was first published in 1998 by Garden Art Press.

While some of the ones I have are known, named varieties, most of them have been collected/rustled on farms and cemeteries. They are as precious if not more so than the named ones to me.

The next installment on this blog will focus on rose rustling. I was just out on Father's Day with my son and wife collecting some old roses in Hammond Hill State Forest. This is the best time of year in central NY to do this.