By Jacques Ferare
I met Jim Sproul, the hybridizer of the Eyeconic® roses, for the first time a few years ago, after he started to send us some of his novelties for unsolicited evaluation. He did not do this to force his materials into our research, but because he did not know how we handled these things. At this point, we were still grafting our novelties, which meant we did not begin to observe the new roses until the following year. I quickly forgot about this (strike number one for the Director of Research) until the following spring when I noticed a very bright, stunning red, compact shrub at the end of one of our rows. It had a code number which told me it was not one of our varieties.
After further investigation, I found out that it was a seedling from Dr. Jim Sproul, sent from his home in from Bakersfield, California. Sproul sent us this bright red shrub rose, along with a few others, the previous fall. At that point, I had never heard of Jim or his breeding program. The only thing I knew was that this was a very promising rose. So I called him, introduced myself, and told him we were interested in looking at any other seedlings he had, because we really liked this red one. We met in our fields a few weeks later, and he agreed to send us some new material.
In the summer of 2008, we grafted ten more seedlings from Jim, including three of his new “Hulthemia” hybrids — a very unique rose species that he had been working with for more than 15 years. I have to confess that at that time I had no clue what a Hulthemia was, but Google is a great resource. From what I found on the internet, the idea looked interesting, but again I quickly forgot about it because there was nothing extraordinary about them except that the single flowers looked more like anemones than roses (strike number 2).
We had our first good look at Jim’s roses in the spring of 2009. This is when the light bulb finally went on, and it was a one thousand megawatt one! No strike number three after seeing these wonderful, absolutely unique roses and how they performed that summer for us. There sure was nothing like that on Google! Two of them looked especially good, and they never lost their “blotch” at the center of the petal, which is the trademark of Hulthemias (even in the 100-degree summer heat that we commonly experience in our fields). That, coupled with the fact that they bloomed profusely all season long and had a very nice, dense plant habit, made us decide to fast track these for introduction in 2010. This was also the year we moved all our research into own-root production, and they performed well on their own roots as well. We were sold. By now I also had learned a lot more on Hulthemias, thanks to Jim’s deep knowledge and passion for the topic (along with my initial Google research). All we needed was a catchy name. We held an internal contest among our employees to find something worthy of this new series. The winning name was suggested by Kristen Nemeth, our New Plants Coordinator, my faithful assistant and fellow blogger on this site. As a result you will find Eyeconic® Lemonade and Eyeconic® Pink Lemonade this spring at a retailer near you.
These roses are maintenance-free in the climates of the Western U.S. and Canada. They will need tender loving care (a.k.a. spraying) in the black spot prone parts of the country East of the Mississippi and in the South. For more details check the new introductions page on our website.
In the next few years, look for more Eyeconic® roses to be released, with different colors, plant habit and improved disease resistance.
And the red shrub, you may ask? Well, we introduced it as well in our 2012 catalog under the name Thrive!™ Thrive!™ is a strong and healthy descendant of The Knock Out® Rose and is hardy to zone 5. It is also available at a retailer near you. You may be hearing more about it in a future blog.
Jacques Ferare is the Director of Research for Star Roses® and the VP for New Product Development at The Conard-Pyle Co.