ROSE NEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
WET SUMMER THREATENS ROSE WORLD
VETERAN rose grower Colin Gregory admits this summer’s wet weather has brought the horticultural industry “to a standstill” and growers could need to reassess how they grow, sell and market their product to succeed.
A turbulent summer in the UK has seen consistent rainfall and strong winds hinder rose growers across the region as many have struggled to cope with the sudden weather changes.
With more than 32 years of experience Colin believes this year has been one of the toughest on record and fears it could be a sign of things to come.
He said: “We seem to be having these challenges year in, year out. Sometimes we can have four seasons in one month. I think we have to be more adaptable and be prepared for the unexpected out of season.”
Established in 1997, Colin Gregory Roses of Weston Hills grows more than 250 varieties from specialities like this year’s rose of the year, Moment in Time, to the more traditional species such as climbers, ramblers and Old English.
However, Colin admits he could be forced to grow a smaller selection of roses as the uncertainty surrounding the weather means he can’t always guarantee sellable stock.
He continued: “I think as a director I’m going to have to sit down and reassess not just the position of how we grow, sell and market roses but also consider a lot of varieties we grow and ensure we can grow the best of the best varieties.”
This year’s selection has been heavily reliant on fungicides and insecticides to survive and if the wet weather continues more will be needed to keep the fragile stock alive in the coming weeks.
Colin hopes for a period of good weather towards the end of the summer while he still has product of sufficient quality to catch the tail end of the busy selling period.
THINGS ARE LOOKING ROSIER
Among gardeners, roses are known as the aging celebrities of the flower world. Instead of the chemical peels and injectable fillers that keep Hollywood stars looking like starlets, roses must be doused with fungicides and pesticides and pumped up with fertilizers. Even in nature, a rosy glow does not always come naturally.
But at the New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, Peter E. Kukielski is trying to change that. The curator of the botanical garden’s Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Mr. Kukielski is in the vanguard of a national movement to identify and promote rose varieties that will thrive without chemical intervention.
Since arriving at the garden in 2006, he has led a horticultural revolution, weeding out most of the 243 rose varieties he found when he got to the Bronx and introducing more than 600 new ones. Modern roses are the product of hybridizing, in which strains are mixed to create new varieties; that effort has focused on the beauty of the roses, not their toughness.
“Roses have existed on earth for 34 million years,” said Mr. Kukielski, surrounded by some of his charges under a beating sun. “The genetics of roses are intact, but our meddling has messed them up. One of the things that got left behind was disease resistance.”
Since his campaign began, the use of fungicide, once sprayed liberally to eradicate black spot, a common disease of roses, has fallen by 86 percent.
Another payoff of his search for hardier varieties is a longer season. The Bronx garden typically had two dazzling months. There was a colorful splash in June, and a second display in September. But the garden now puts on a show seven months of the year, blooming from May to November.
The transformation of the one-acre rose garden has coincided with an increased awareness about the risks of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in general. Some local governments and school districts have stopped using them entirely, while consumers have increasingly turned to organic products.
The shift was not easy. When Mr. Kukielski first approached growers, the reception was anything but warm. “Some people slammed the door in my face and others laughed,” he recalled.
Taking a cue from the high-stakes testing now so dominant in public education, Mr. Kukielski, who with his crew cut and beefy arms, looks more drill sergeant than rosarian, uses a 10-point rating scale for his roses, compiling data points like form, color, fragrance, foliage, duration of bloom and, most important, hardiness. He evaluates every rose in the garden once a month. Twice a year, he enlists volunteers to conduct their own evaluations.
“I may give the plant an 8, but if everyone else is giving it a 5, it’s obviously not a strong plant,” he said. “I might have given it an 8 because I love it so much. This evaluation system takes all the emotion out of it.”
In 2006, only 23 percent of the roses scored a 6 or higher, Mr. Kukielski’s threshold for a rose variety to remain in the mix. Last year, 87 percent scored a 6 or above. He has achieved that while rapidly expanding the number of varieties — currently at 693 — and scaling back on chemicals. His staff sprays sparingly for pests like spider mites and rose midges, but the formulations are lighter than in the past. Fertilizers are organic, with fish emulsion a favorite.
One rose variety that will soon be shown the wrought-iron gate is a hybrid tea rose named About Face. The blossoms are lovely: golden-apricot on the inside, pink outside. But the foliage has black spot and withered leaves carpet the ground beneath the bushes. “It’s a beautiful bloom, and it has a great name, but it’s not what we need it to be,” he said.
Nearby, Mr. Kukielski is conducting an even more radical experiment, part of the National Earth-Kind Rose Research Study, which was begun by Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service to find especially vigorous rose varieties. Two years ago, he planted 32 rose varieties in a small plot, gave them some initial water and then let them fend for themselves. “We’ve used no fertilizers, no sprays, no water,” he said.
The varieties, which have names like Carefree Beauty and All the Rage, have mostly thrived.
Mr. Kukielski empathizes with home gardeners who become frustrated when the roses they plant do not match the lush photographs they see in the mail-order catalogs. He blames some hybridizers who for years have put their energy into achieving a particular hue or form without concern for how well the plant will fare in the garden. “People tell me that they can’t grow roses, and what I tell them is that it’s not your fault,” he said. “A lot of the roses out there are not meant to succeed.”
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