RHA Newsletter 8(1):
A BREAKTHROUGH IN ROSES
R. J. Hutton
(Reprinted from American Horticulturist)
"I have misjudged two American bred roses; one was 'Angel Face' and the other 'Sea Foam.'" Thus spoke Alain Meilland as we sat on the terrace of his home overlooking the vast greenhouses of his rose breeding establishment. Discussing roses with Alain is one of my favorite and most stimulating experiences. All the more so on this occasion with two 'Sea Foam' rose plants budded as trees off to the side of his terrace.
Alain continued, "'Angel Face' was a color break and is still the most distinctive mauve. 'Sea Foam' is one of those yet to be appreciated genetic breakthroughs that is as important to the breeder as it is to all who plant and enjoy outdoor roses." I interrupted Alain to ask why he used the term "outdoor" when he is most accustomed to using "garden" roses. His answer, "Because 'Sea Foam' is so much more than a garden rose. It belongs most anywhere in the landscape. It doesn't lose its leaves to blackspot and it laughs at mildew; this alone gives it hardiness seldom seen in modern roses." All of this was not news to me, but when one hybridizer admires the work of another it is always interesting to find out why.
'Sea Foam' first appeared in our fields at West Grove as CP 6333 when we received budwood from Ernest Schwartz of Kingsville, Maryland. The buds were received July 17, 1957 and the plants grew and bloomed for the first time in July, 1958. As a test rose CP 6333 did not stand up and shout, "Here I am!" At the same time it was one of those novelty cultivars which made itself known from the very beginning, but not in the customary way of an 'Angel Face,' 'Mister Lincoln,' or a 'Sonia.' With most roses it is the flower which draws your eye—color, form, size and occasionally all three. 'Sea Foam' caught your eye with rich green foliage, almost like holly, covering long arching canes tipped with an inflorescence of fully double, pure white blooms. When we see such quantities of first year bloom on a plant of semi-prostrate habit we quickly take notice. In southeastern Pennsylvania blackspot is always a problem, so when CP 6333 still had all its foliage in September there was cautious excitement among us.
Eighteen years later this new cultivar which was named 'Sea Foam' and was issued U.S. Plant Patent 2163 is still a distinctive rose novelty and an unusual plant for a myriad of landscape uses. My own first uses of 'Sea Foam' were in the sand less than 100 yards from the ocean at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We wanted plantings which were as carefree as possible; among them were several juniper, tamarix, sophora, ilex, craps myrtle and 'Sea Foam' for all summer color. One plant caught drifting sand, another detoured boys and dogs, and a tree 'Sea Foam' became an eye-catching cascade of green and white.
Depending on conditions and treatment 'Sea Foam' grows two to three, at most four feet high with arching canes sometimes reaching six to seven feet. A single plant covering this amount of space can form an impenetrable barrier with wide application for control of animals, pedestrians or vehicular traffic. Several departments of highways have used 'Sea Foam' as a bank cover to add interest and color accent in plantings. It is ideally suited to highway rest areas for control of foot traffic and to catch blowing litter that soon disappears under the lush foliage.
Used as a broad low hedge around parking areas, entrances and driveways of shopping centers, and landscaped industrial sites 'Sea Foam' fits perfectly. It can be used as a single specimen among other plants to add interest of texture and form in all seasons.
There are many uses for 'Sea Foam' in the home landscape. With tremendous effect it has use on country estate or city lot. . . As a carefree all-summer show, I do not know another plant which can do so much. Add to this its hardiness to winter cold and wind, resistance to sunnier sun, drouth or gully-washing storms, you have a shrub for any of the fifty states and most of Canada.
'Sea Foam' was not an accident. It was produced by Ernest Schwartz after some very careful planning. Its parentage is 'White Dawn' x 'Pinocchio,' which is at first glance not particularly impressive. Ernie's first crosses were good but not what he hoped for—they lacked the "quality" that sets the truly distinctive roses apart from all others. And in order for a new rose to be a success, he knew it had to be better than all the rest and yet distinctively different. Ernie then sowed self-seeds and they produced several hundred plants to watch. Out of these, one had the luxuriant holly-like foliage and growth he was looking for. This seedling showed no signs of mildew or blackspot; unfortunately the blooms just were not good enough. He then crossed this seedling (for its growth and disease resistance) with the best one from the original cross (for the quality of bloom he needed) and produced 'Sea Foam.'
An amateur hybridizer, now a retired automobile mechanic, Ernest Schwartz is a rose enthusiast and opera buff. His love for plants began very early in life. His parents were in the florist business, growing mums, carnations and other flowers for cut bloom. Ernie's main job was delivering flowers driving the Model T. At the time, all of the dirt was wheeled out of the greenhouse and replaced each year—naturally his interest turned to the truck rather than the work of carrying on the florist business. At the age of 26 he entered into a partnership, and continued as a mechanic until retirement a few years ago. He now spends most of his time growing vegetables, fruits and hybridizing roses—he does them all well. When weather prevents some form of gardening he enjoys opera from records or radio and shares his hybridizing experiences with fellow members of the Rose Hybridizers Association.