The American Rose, p. 32-33 (August 1969)

Roses of Health and Vigor — My First Aim
Sam McGredy, Northern Ireland

IN THE breeding of roses my primary objective, way above all else, is the production of plants full of health and vigor. The loveliest of blooms cannot compensate for the scourge of the rosarian's twin enemies blackspot and mildew.

Next on my list of breeding priorities is color. In my opinion, every type of rose from miniatures, through Hybrid Teas and Floribundas to climbers, needs a strengthening of color range. At Portadown we are working now on new colors and color breaks.

What about fragrance? One can breed for fragrance of course, but on the way so many other good characteristics are lost. From a practical point of view, roses grown on a large scale such as in parks and large gardens, are admired for their visual effect rather than their scent. This doesn't mean, however, that perfume is not in the back of my mind when selecting breeding material.

Selection of Breeding Material

When I took over the family firm in 1952, most of the McGredy strains were played out for breeding purposes, with the exception perhaps of 'Queen Alexandra,' introduced by my grandfather and 'McGredy's Yellow.' Varieties were chosen which other breeders had found useful — Spartan (from Boerner), Crimson Glory (Kordes), Peace (Meilland), and Karl Herbst (Kordes) are examples.

'Spartan' quickly proved to be a useful breeder and though Gene Boerner was using it to a certain extent, he never seemed to realize its great potential. This wonderful variety gave me 'Mischief,' which won the R.N.R.S. President's International Trophy. Then came 'Timothy Eaton,' 'Violet Carson,' and 'Paddy McGredy.' This last named was an outstanding breakthrough in the search for a rose with Hybrid Tea blooms carried in Floribunda-like profusion.

When selecting breeding material, it is not always the most promising seedling, as a variety in itself, that will produce a first class new rose, the seedling must be chosen for its promise in further hybridization. For instance, in a line of fifty red Hybrid Teas, three may be outstandingly attractive in appearance, but these are not necessarily the plants to select for breeding. One of these fifty could have a particular quality which has been recessive in previous breeding: so that is the plant to use.

And I hold very strongly to the opinion that you cannot breed very good roses unless you start with outstanding roses: general standard of plant material must be of first quality. Commitment to such a policy allows breeders like Kordes, Poulson, Meilland and me to get so far ahead in the type of breeding material we use that it makes it very difficult for anybody else to enter the rose breeding field and to catch up on our lines.

Field Selection

Harry McKeown, McGredy's Rose Research Foreman, and I, pride ourselves in having turned field selection of seedlings into a fine art, not only in selection of suitable seedlings for our climate, but of assessing the possibilities of seedlings for warmer sunnier climes, and for breeding.

The importance of regular inspection cannot be over-emphasized. Even in Ulster's cold moist weather, field inspection of seedlings must be carried out at least once daily, sometimes twice. Incidentally in making my own assessments at Portadown, I never walk alone! It pays always to have Harry McKeown with me so that notes can be compared and we can discuss what we see. Very often my senior hybridist, Pat Judge, will come along too.

We begin by budding five of any variety that has looked promising in the greenhouse; from up to 150,000 seedlings germinated inside, we may bud some three or four thousand different varieties in the first year.

In the second year we re-bud the best of the fives in groups of twenty-five. It is then that brutal selection down to the thirty most promising varieties begins. In our daily inspections, we delete those which show flaws — like mildew or blackspot, and those which are unlikely to bloom well in the second flush, those that lost color, etc. Our first choice in trial grounds is the Royal National Rose Society's at St. Albans. Each year they receive from us up to thirty different varieties. In the following years we re-select five or six for cultivation and observation in internationally recognized trial grounds around the world.

To help us assess promising varieties, McGredy's also send out to its agents abroad, budding eyes of thirty or fifty different varieties each year. Reports are then sent to Portadown on how the plants perform under different weather conditions.

Limitations of Breeding

Space, staff and time are the three limiting factors in any breeding program. Given unlimited quantities of all three, I could do so much more to discover the real potential of rose breeding material. Also our work with pollen and seed pads needs to be in the greenhouse: this is an obvious limitation in that one can have only a certain number of varieties there at any one time.

The scientific limitations of having triploids, and diploids in breeding material does not really concern me. I feel initial crossings are the work of Research Stations and as a commercial hybridist I cannot afford to take a great number of species into the greenhouse to work into my crossings, although I do, of course, use some — looking for that big break.

Future Plans

My breeding plans for the future include particularly unusual color breaks — blue/brown for instance.

'Fruhlingsmorgen' gave me a bicolor break. It did not turn out to be a very good plant because the shrub flowered only once a year, but there was something unusual about the color. With it I bred two more generations with various Floribundas and I now have a rose banded like a Gaillardia. The bush has masses of semi-double roses, basically red, with a white eye and a white rim to every petal. I see it as one of the best breaks of my era. It is, of course, only the beginning and it will obviously be improved on by other hybridists as well as myself. This year it will be literally peppered with large flowered H.T.'s in the breeding program. As well, I am using a dozen of its aunts, uncles, cousins and sisters! By the time it goes on the market in 1971, I will have raised close on half a million seedlings in that strain.

Visitors to the St. Albans Trial Grounds will be able to see it in flower this year. It's number MACVET 661366 IRL. [Picasso?]

Promising Introductions

Floribundas must commend themselves to planners of public gardens and parks for their profusion of bloom and resistance to rain and wind.

Two recent introductions of ours which are fulfilling their promise in these ways are 'City of Belfast' and 'Molly McGredy'; winners in 1967 and 1968 respectively of the R.N.R.S. President's International Trophy, I am proud to say. The first has very color stable blooms of bright orange-scarlet; 'Molly' bears masses of pink and silver roses. A newcomer in 1969 is 'Santa Maria,' another Floribunda with masses of bright scarlet blooms.

In all gardens there has been a trend towards Floribundas — over half of McGredy's sales each year are now of this type. We put this down to the increasing competition gardening suffers from other leisure activities like golfing, sailing and motoring: many of today's amateur gardeners are interested only in the big splashes of color Floribundas provide.

Our Hybrid Tea breeding is geared to the supersized 'Paddy McGredy' type; the new yellow 'Silent Night' and pink 'Pania' are typical results of what the future holds.