By Jacques Ferare
As the season for rose evaluation is just beginning, I am reminded of the two questions people ask me the most: What is your favorite rose? And, what are you looking for when you are evaluating the new seedlings?
The answer to the first question is easy: my favorite rose does not exist yet. It’s the journey, not the end that makes this job so interesting. Maybe after I retire I may look at all the introductions and maybe one will really stand up. Not commercially, that one is pretty easy to figure out (Knock Out®, anyone?) but the one that over the years will have made the biggest impression on me or meant the most to me in my professional life.
As for the second one, I will answer the way Dick Hutton, Steve’s father and the man I owe the most to in my professional life, told me the first time we went to the fields together to look at roses. He really did not say too much, Quakers are not supposed to teach you things but help you develop a process in which you find the answers yourself. Being a young guy from the South of France, it took me quite a few years to get the message (but I digress, as usual). When I asked him the question that day, among a ton of others, it was the only one he answered and after that I always heard the same response over and over every time he was asked: A good rose is a rose that sells.
So…What is a rose that sells, one may ask? I think what Dick was trying to tell me was it is not enough for a plant to be pretty. That is the prerequisite. But it also has to be accessible to the consumer. Over the years I saw a lot of plants in a lot of species that were really nice plants, but never developed into a product that reached the end consumer. After all, at the end of the day in a commercial horticultural enterprise, one of your main goals is to make some money. In order to do that, you have to sell plants at a profit. This may sound like anathema for the plant geek community (who, by the way, I love dearly and will always respect), but for a new plant to become a commercial success, it has to be able to fit a set of criteria that is becoming more and more sophisticated ,in certain cases, like bedding plant annuals, totally industrialized. All new plant introductions these days are much more than pretty little things. That is just where it starts.
I am not saying this is right or wrong, I am just saying this is the way our industry is going, even if I sure did not realize that 30 years ago when I walked the rose fields with Dick for the first time.