Magazine 1(5-6): 5-6 (November-December 1933)
Novelties and Why
J. H. NICOLAS
IT HAS been a favorite pastime to criticize the number of new roses coming out each year. All kinds of accusations and imprecations have been thrown at the hybridizers for "forcing such trash on the trusting public." A prominent rosarian writes:
There are far too many roses being produced in the world, good, bad, and indifferent. We cannot begin to digest one-tenth of the annual crop of novelties, and in consequence many of them are hastily judged inferior and discarded. I have looked over the novelties of this year again wondering why in the world the originators ever sent them out. I am getting so weary of seeing the same thing year alter year. When will introducers realize that they are rapidly producing a state similar to colic in the amateur's stomach for roses? For my own part I can tell you this, that I shall steadfastly refuse to plant any rose which has less than fifty petals.
Fancy the elegant Ophelia, the graceful Mme. Butterfly with fifty petals! Nonsense! The most beautiful roses of the day are the "Ophelia Group" (Ophelia, Mme. Butterfly, Rapture, Edith Nellie Perkins, Editor McFarland, Joanna Hill, Comtesse Vandal, Sunkist, and the like, and none has over thirty petals).
Another correspondent writes:
When I was in the fields at ———— two days ago, I boiled over about similarity. These foreign growers are shoving in Pernetiana variations which are so like each other that the amateur would need to have a color-scale to tell the difference one from the other!
We ought to gain in rose use, and I don't believe we are going to gain by shoving out the same kind of stuff all the time. I believe I could pick out in my garden this afternoon twenty roses from three to twenty years old that are better than any twenty we are now putting out. The trial-grounds sing the same song.
If we are to get anywhere we must make the new things different and enough different to make them desirable. The hybridizers, I think, need to have their heads pounded together.
Why blame hybridizers when nurserymen—or some of them—are responsible for the glut? Novelties, either American or foreign, reach the consumer through commercial growers and distributors. These are the final judges of what to propagate, and the nurseryman above mentioned evidently made an error of judgment, scattering his powder at sparrows instead of concentrating on a fine cock pheasant. Such a nurseryman is doing more harm to the popularity of the rose than all the hybridizers so much criticized. But even then I do not think these criticisms would be justified if conditions making for that yearly avalanche of "new" roses were understood.
Roses are essentially local, but some people are expecting them to be all universal. They expect a rose originated in Timbuktu to be adaptable and good in the mountains of Podunk and the alkali of Death Valley! And because that rose rebels under strange conditions, they blame the hybridizer! Even Radiance, perhaps the most widely adaptable rose of all, is not universal; it is not even good everywhere in the United States, and it simply refuses to perform in Europe.
Rose nomenclature comprises about 16,000 names, which means, barring probable duplications, about 15.000 varieties (Simon & Cochet listed 11,000 names in 1906, and new ones have been added at the rate of around 230 a year). This number of roses and novelties is necessary in order to find varieties suited for every nook and corner of our earth, but none has yet, or ever will be found to be top-notch everywhere. One thing is fairly sure: Every novelty is good somewhere, and has its admirers at its point of origination. European hybridizers have a patronage mostly regional; they cater to the taste and desires of their limited clientele, and it generally is the clientele who decides whether a seedling must go out or not.
Continental Europe, excluding Russia and Scandinavia, has 1,687,470 square miles as against 3,026,789 in the United States. It is divided into numerous countries, each surrounded by high tariff walls and otherwise prohibitive regulations against its neighbors. France and Germany, the two largest of those countries, are each considerably smaller than our state of Texas, and Belgium is smaller than Maryland. Each country has its national aspirations, ideals, and notions of what constitutes a good rose; soil and climate conditions also have their peculiarities and are important factors in rose-behavior. Rose-loving people of each country are satisfied with their home-bred roses; they seldom go abroad for their roses and therefore are little familiar with the foreign varieties which may or may not be better than their own. It takes several years for a foreign rose to force itself outside of its national boundaries.
Rose-breeders are contented with their home patronage; they are not concerned with the performance of their roses abroad, and by the time these have been tested and propagated, the control is out of their hands and they receive no financial reward; therefore why should they breed for a general world-use—something positively impossible scientifically, horticulturally, and genetically?
The conditions in America are different. Rose-breeding is still in its infancy, except for florist varieties, and, until hybridizing becomes more general, breeding garden roses for territorial sections, we have to rely upon foreign productions. Commercial growers import foreign varieties for testing, well aware that only a very few will prove useful. That test often goes on at but one place; and a rose outstanding at one point may be but a mediocrity a comparatively short distance away. This testing is an expensive service rendered the public by the nurseryman, and the standard of a nurseryman should be gauged by the quality of the stuff he digs out of the foreign morass, not by the number of ''novelties'' he brings out each year; but the nurseryman speaks only for his section. No amateur should undertake ''testing'' novelties unless he is fully prepared and willing to sustain disappointment and be a good sport about it. Then no judgment should be passed and published until the third year after planting; nothing is more insane than to hear self-called rosarians judging in June or July a rose planted in April! Were we to be limited to American-born roses, our list today would barely comprise fifteen varieties, at least ten of which are escapes from the greenhouse.
As long as we depend on foreign roses, we must get them all, and it is only through a long and costly process of elimination that one can expect to discover that "rara avis'' suited for our own local conditions, forsaking the idea that any will prosper in every one of our three million square miles! Duplications and similarities, of course, there will be, here superior, elsewhere inferior to their prototypes; many of those "duplications" of bloom are on a better plant and this alone warrants their dissemination. Color prejudices must not crop out ("Breeze Hill needs a stick of dynamite to enthuse over a pink rose''; it is a fad among the socialites of Cincinnati to taboo red roses), and we should be broad enough to admit that a rose may be good even if we do not like the color.
Even if garden roses were extensively bred in America and we were independent from Europe, no rose could ever be produced that would be at its best everywhere. Whether American-born or foreign-born, roses will remain localized. Is there one flower, shrub, or tree that can be grown successfully everywhere in America? Why ask that from the rose?