Annual 22: 124-126 1937
The Nurseryman's Rose Responsibility
P. R. Bosley, Mentor, Ohio
Editors' Note. — Mr. Bosley, himself a capable and careful rose nurseryman, has courageously put his finger on a very sore spot. It has long been this Editor's belief that rose varieties have been ruined by careless bud use. the temptation is admittedly strong to use every bud obtainable in increasing the stock of a new variety while the price is high and the demand strong. What seems to be needed is "a rush of conscience to the head."
That bud-selection can build up a variety, and really improve it, is well known. For example, American Beauty is normally a once-bloomer, yet by persistent bud-selection, one of the Jackson & Perkins propagators has brought it into the constant-blooming class, and at Breeze Hill there were "Beauties" all 1936 summer and fall. By bud-selection, Mr. Hatton multiplied the petals on Ami Quinard so that its status as a desirable very dark red rose was greatly increased.
What nurseryman will have the courage to offer the better roses that can follow careful bud selection? Or if he does, will the amateur pay the necessarily higher price for a better rose?
A few nurserymen, Mr. Bosley among them, are known to practice bud-selection. Many are known as quantity producers. The amateur can control as he demands, reports, and is willing to tell his experiences. We can have bud-selected plants!
Too little thought has been given by nurserymen to the improvement of rose varieties. Do you remember a rose variety that used to be ever so much finer than it seems to be grown now? Perhaps you say that that is imagination, but is it? Here is a warm hint as to how and why a rose may deteriorate.
Many nurseries have one of the less-experienced men cut branches from rose bushes that are soon to be marketed, and from these branches they cut the leaves and remove the thorns, preparing what is known as "bud-wood." A much more experienced man, known as a "budder," uses this wood in the process of producing the plants to be marketed the following year. Little or no significance is attached to the work of the bud-cutter; yet each year in his hand really rests the responsibility for years to come. He can build up or he can pull down.
For example, bud-wood of Hybrid Perpetuals is usually cut from the nice, long, easy shoots that have not bloomed. What is the result after a number of years of constant propagation from wood that has never bloomed? So-called "blind" plants are unquestionably the result of this careless propagation. So Hybrid Perpetuals have degenerated to a point where they are no longer wanted in the average rose-garden.
Certainly a nurseryman will never spoil the strain of a rose variety by too careful propagation! He can ruin the variety; he can breed to almost "bloom blindness."
We are a greedy, speedy, production-minded people, and the nurseryman is no exception. A new variety is ready for development; bud-wood is shipped to the South; plants with dormant budded eyes are too soon shipped back North to a greenhouse for the winter; propagation is started with a multiplication every six weeks, and finally wood shipped South again for summer propagation. Is it any wonder that the variety is deteriorated, that the plants to result cannot truly represent the rose, unless that rose is firmly fixed in its characteristics, as is sometimes the case? Many times those first plants are so weak that it takes another year to tell what the true character of the rose really is. How often have you seen comments in "The Proof of the Pudding"—"Will have to wait another year"?
At first, points of difference in a deteriorated variety are very small. They are like forks in a road, quite close together and yet one fork may lead you far astray. For example, I began to notice that Rev. F. Page-Roberts was just an ordinary yellow rose—a long way from the beautiful two-toned rose it is pictured. We set about to find the most highly colored blooms, and to cut bud-wood from only those very sticks. Continuing this over a number of years, Rev. F. Page-Roberts began to look like its color illustration. President Herbert Hoover has not been with us long, but already it has shown signs of degenerating. We budded 100 bushes from the best blooms of "Hoover," to find that only about six of this 100 were very superior, and from this six we began to rebuild our strain. Texas Centennial, just introduced, is beginning to show slight signs of variation, but with careful selection of bud-wood it can live with us as an outstanding rose variety. (Some sorts, like Radiance, seem so firmly fixed that all efforts to improve the strain seem useless. Many times we have found improvement on members of the Radiance group, only to find, next year, that it went back to the type again.)
The old Cécile Brunner (Sweetheart rose) has proved to be a most difficult variety to keep right. With the best type of Cécile Brunner (there are several types on the market) the budcutter will look a bush over and over, and have difficulty in finding even two budding eyes on stems that have already bloomed. Presto! The bud-cutter finds a nice long stem that hasn't bloomed, and this stem has many eyes. The budder will use these nice, long bud-sticks, and next year there are many strong-growing bushes, with plenty of blind wood for the following year. The third year the grower ships to you from this stock, bushes that have bloomed very little for him, and will bloom very little for you.
Often I have noticed a variety introduced with flourish, then slip. But after the hasty propagation is over, it may slowly force its way to the front through sheer merit. I am convinced that many a novelty rose never has had a fair chance, and that many sorts have been forced out of commerce because of careless propagating practices. Many a new introduction will develop ten to fifteen more petals after the first high-pressure propagation is over—evidence enough that nature cannot be high-pressured.
You amateurs, as users, cannot correct this condition of hasty and careless propagation, but when you have had failure with a variety reputed to be good with others in your district, try it again from another source of supply. Every nurseryman who sells you a rose ought to be obligated to grow it according to the best standard he knows. Beautiful color cuts are used to sell a variety, and certainly the customer should receive for his money a bush that will in some measure resemble it, rather than the overpropagated plants sometimes shipped.
[The Editor here takes up Mr. Bosley's theme to make two observations. The disappointed amateur can properly complain to the source from which his roses came, expecting that the truly honest nurseryman, of whom there are many, will be glad to mend his propagating methods. Or he can do a little bud-selecting "on his own," by growing a few understocks, budding them with the best wood he can get, and then practicing intensive selection, so quite surely building up the varieties he experiments with. He should not need to do this!]