Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is a Rose still a Rose??

There is a discussion among growers and retailers concerning the rose. The decline in the sale of roses, to be specific. In the past 5 years in my position as a sales rep for a grower, I have seen the number of roses I order drop by half.
Our policy now is to only sell hardy roses, (zones 3, 4, and 5). Too many customers came in with a dead rose bush, looking for a refund. They planted a grandiflora that was hardy only to zone 7. Customers don't always read the plant tag. They see the picture on the tag and they see the flower on the rose. It's a done deal.
I had one customer, a priest, that planted 3 dozen hybrid tea and grandifloras in the garden in front of his church. He came back in the spring with a garbage bag full of the dead ones, looking for a refund. How do you tell the guy there will be no refund??
You have to admire him, he had 21 of them live thru the winter! He explained to me that he fell in love with the names, Peace, Love, Angel Face, St. Anne, Maria, Martha, and Magdalene. (are you getting the theme??)
I explained to him what the beauty of the hybrid tea was-- how a smart person grafted a beautiful flower onto the hardy root stock. I showed him the graft union and explained that it was not hardy below 20° in many of the roses he purchased. It was then he realized how wonderful it was that he still had 21 of them remaining!! It was that year that we discontinued the non-hardy roses, so I couldn't give him a direct replacement. But I could show him the magic of the Knock Out® rose!
I am very familiar with the Knock Outs. I have 2 dozen of them, myself. I absolutely love them. I tell my customers all the time, you get the beauty of a rose without all the fuss! I think the Father was happy, I have seen him several times since and said hello, but not once has he brought me dead plants!
I did not know, at the time, that I was entering into a controversial deal.
You see, many rosarians and plant experts think the Knock Out rose has been the demise of the grandiflora, hybrid tea, and floribunda rose. It is their opinion that the Flower Carpet, Drift and Knock Out types are overtaking the old fashioned roses and are responsible for their decline in popularity.

I don't know that I agree. I know that there are folks who will not purchase the Knock Out, or hardy shrub rose. They want the grandiflora or hybrid tea look. You aren't going to get that with the shrub roses. Their blooms are very fragile and they do not make good cut flowers. They "shatter" or fall apart when fully opened.

Another thought comes from the fact that the old fashioned roses demand lots of attention. Many needed special pruning, (remember the 5 leaflet/ outward facing bud rule??), spraying, and heavy fertilizers to be at their best. If you grew up around the mid west, the rose cone is a familiar site to you. White styrofoam cones, turned upside down, to cover borderline hardy roses.
In current Master Gardener's courses, the use of those cones is discouraged. The Styrofoam traps heat and moisture and does more harm, than good. It is far better to wrap some chicken wire around the base of the plant and fill with leaves and mulch, mounding it up over most of the plant, topping it with some straw.
Today's gardener, for the most part, are not interested in high maintenance plants. They were popular with the generation that had more time for time intensive gardening.

Another obstacle for the old fashioned roses is the demise of some of the big growers. Jackson & Perkins is in liquidation, Weeks roses is in Chapter 11, and another major grower has switched focus and stopped growing container roses.

I grow the Knock Out® 'Radrazz'. I have several of them lining the walk in front of my home and several more in the corner borders. But I am starting to notice these plants in every cement plant holder at every convenience store! (you'll find them right next to the faded silk poinsettia bush and the petunias). 
This is the same thing that happened to the bronze leafed begonia! The overdone entrances to the suburban subdivisions were overplanted with the bronze leaf wax begonia. Soon, the begonia fell out of favor with customers. **look for new varieties of begonias that are sure to WOW, at your garden center, this season!**

Speaking with my husband about this, he said, "yeah, I miss those roses you used to grow in Memphis. Why don't you grow roses here?"  I told him I did grow roses, here in our Central Illinois!
"Where??" he asks. I tell him about the Knock Outs in the front.
"Oh. Those aren't real roses," he says, flatly. "I like the big flowery ones we used to have. Those were nice!"
Which kinda says it all. He says these Knock Outs look like "red flowered shrubs".
I certainly don't think roses are gone forever. I think plants and varieties are like fashion. It's cyclical.
Those of us that appreciate the ease of the new varieties of shrub roses, we will retire, or our kids go off to college, leaving us with more time to putz!
Will that time find you planting more old fashioned roses?


  1. Thanks for the very informative post. I don't grow roses so I know very little about them. For me, they take too much maintenance.

    That is a pretty iris in your post below. I have not been to Walmart for a few weeks. I may have to go and check out the summer bulbs.

  2. Anonymous8:53 PM

    I love roses, and had a number of rose bushes at our old house, but I got tired of fighting the Japanese beetles that swarmed and devoured them.... at this house they eat the potentelia... don't know what it is, but those beetles (and lady bugs) have taken over Metro Detroit...


I would love to hear from you and if you can leave a comment, I will visit your blog, too!