This summer, two great rose minds met in the test fields at our headquarters. Listen in as Steve Hutton, president of Conard-Pyle/Star® Roses & Plants, and Alain Meilland, head of Meilland International, discuss our favorite flower.
By Jacques Ferare
In my last blog, I gave you a little history about how Meilland International works with Maison Robertet to identify the exact fragrances of Star® Roses and, in the process, learn about how to create new essences based on these scents. In this installment, I will tell you a little more about the process, and give you a chart that shows some of the roses and their defining fragrances. Some of them are sure to surprise you!
Several times a year, experts from Robertet meet with the research team at Meilland to measure the type and amount of essential oils that make up the fragrance of each new variety.
As a result of this work, the fragrance experts at Robertet have come up with a fascinating new vocabulary to define the fragrance of new roses by their dominant characteristics. They have identified more than 50 specific essences in modern roses to date. Not bad for a single plant species, and a feature most likely unrivaled in the plant kingdom.
Perfume makers describe the fragrances of the newly hybridized roses in their own words, and can chose the most original and powerful descriptions for their own future creations.
Chemists can analytically define the molecules responsible for the fragrance. These analyses are so accurate they can show the presence of new aromatic compounds as well as new combinations of known and well-defined compounds that can be replicated and used in creating new perfumes.
Rose hybridizers can use the analysis to check their breeding lines and see which fragrances have been carried from one generation to the next. This can be very important since fragrance is so critical. Some of the genes that control a rose fragrance are recessive and therefore do not necessary express themselves in the descendants of a given variety.
What does this mean to you when you go into the garden to smell the roses?
That will be the topic of my next blog. Stay tuned!
Part one (a little bit of history and science).
By Jacques Ferare
Modern roses are often characterized by their abundance of colors, flower shapes and plant habits.
This diversity is easy to observe. However, most people probably do not realize that this diversity also applies to their fragrance, which arguably may be their most important attribute. Not only are most modern roses fragrant, contrary perhaps to conventional wisdom, but generation after generation of controlled crossing and hybridization have brought about scents that existed infrequently, if any at all, in previous garden roses. In fact, we should not talk about the rose fragrance, but about the fragrances of roses, as they are as diverse as the colors can be.
The rose fragrance used in the perfume industry is well defined. Two types of roses produce what is known as the Essence of Rose: Rosa Gallica Centifolia and Rosa Damascea (the Damask Rose). The production of these two roses is centered around the Mediterranean basin, mostly in Bulgaria and Turkey. This industry is still strong and provides most of the essences used in the creation of perfumes and cosmetics. That wonderful smell is what is commonly referred to as “Classic Rose” fragrance and has been known for centuries.
However, nobody really looked seriously at the fragrance of modern roses until the early 1980s, when our partner of more than 75 years, Meilland International, began working with Maison Robertet of Grasse, France. Maison Robertet is one of the leading manufacturers of essences for the perfume industry worldwide.
The goal of their research was to identify precisely the fragrances of all new roses created by Meilland, and, in the process, discover new compounds that could be used in the creation of new essences. Over the years this work has enabled the breeder to track the how fragrance is inherited from one generation of new seedlings to the next, and the fragrance companies to come up with new compounds and combinations they can use to create new perfumes.
Check back next week to read part 2 of this series, and find out how this collaboration led to the identification of more than 50 types of rose scents.
Timing is everything, it just takes longer with roses.
By Jacques Ferare
The story of how the Drift® roses came to be is quite interesting, albeit painstakingly long, even by rose standards. It illustrates once again that rose breeding is not for the impatient and that creating a full series takes an inordinate amount of time given the genetic disparity with which creative rose breeders work.
Believe it or not, the prototype for the series was sent to our Pennsylvania location in 1992 under the lovely name of CP4589. For the record, and if you follow this blog, you know it was the same year that we received The Knock Out® Rose, which was known then as CP4642. As we know, Knock Out® went on to become the most popular new rose introduction ever released by Star® Roses and Plants, while in the meantime this great little thing was totally ignored.
It was a tiny white rose with five small petals and very dark glossy foliage. It performed really well in our trials in the following season, but the plant was not taller than a foot and not even twice as wide at the end of the season. Amazing when you think about it today, but at that time, in the early 1990s (20 years ago already, time flies when you’re having fun) it was considered way too small for commercial release! The trade was looking for larger shrubs, and nobody showed any interest in a miniature ground cover rose.
However, as we usually do when we look at seedlings that perform outstandingly in our difficult climate of South Eastern Pennsylvania (we did not called the trial area “Rose Hell” yet), we hung on to it for the next few years. Then in 1996, Jacques Mouchotte, the director of research at the House of Meilland, sent us a series of very similar seedlings that we dubbed “Mini-Meidiland®.” They looked indeed like the smaller siblings of our Meidiland® lansdcape shrub roses, but on a much smaller scale. Meidiland® were quite successful at the time, but one of the comments was that they were growing very big and therefore did not fit all landscape situations.
It took some time, but we eventually saw the light and became quite excited because we finally realized such roses could be very successful. (Again, if you follow this blog, you’ll notice that yours truly can be a bit slow at times). Unfortunately none of the seedlings sent that year ended up performing to the level of that original code from 1992. The idea was right, but the genetics not quite there yet. However, patience being one of the most needed virtues in rose hybridizing (and selection!), the efforts continued every year after that and finally by 2004 we were looking at five other seedlings — this time with the characteristics we were looking for.
The Drift® series was finally ready for prime time. It was pre-released commercially in the Northeast region in spring 2007. The reception was way beyond expectations. Not only did they bloom all summer, but they also proved to be significantly more resistant to black spot than originally thought, and they kept their compact habit all season in climates where plants tend to grow fairly big given the right conditions. They were also performing extremely well in trials all around the country, including that cursed area for roses known as the Deep South. So Drift® Roses were released full scale in spring 2008 — a mere 16 years after we saw the prototype and 19 years after it was created by a visionary breeder at Meilland. Today they are still gaining in popularity in a way that is not without resemblance to what we saw with Knock Out® in the early years.
… The First Time We Didn’t Spray the Rose Fields
By Jacques Ferare
It is interesting how things and perceptions change over time. I remember very clearly the first time we tried to grow our rose novelties without spraying for diseases. It was around 1992, right after I came back from the annual June meeting that Meilland International holds for their agent distributors. At that particular meeting, we heard a presentation from their German agent telling everyone in the room that they were quitting spraying roses that year in the test gardens.
At that time (which is still true today) municipalities and Lander (the equivalent of States), under the influence of the Grune (the green part in Germany) had decided they would not allow any more spraying in public gardens. This decision had a big influence on home gardeners who decided to do the same. As a result, all German rose growers had no choice but to introduce roses that did not need tender loving care (a.k.a. spraying every other week). So the whole presentation was about how they had to change their research protocols to make sure that they would select new roses for this new environment.
I thought this was the best idea I ever heard, so when I returned to West Grove, PA (Conard-Pyle headquarters), I shared this wonderful new approach to selection. The detail that I forgot (and, in all fairness, did not know at the time) is that whatever disease pressure there is in Germany is NOTHING compared to what we experience in the hot, muggy, disease-central climate of Southeastern Pennsylvania. This is why when I hear all these claims about German roses being so superior, I can’t help but take it with a grain of salt. But once again I digress. Rust, Mildews, Cercospora, Anthracnose, and of course black spot, without naming Xanthomonas and a few other exotic diseases, we get them all in West Grove. In retrospect, it is almost unbelievable that until the late 1960s we were growing roses commercially here. But I digress again.
So, first thing I did when I came back from that meeting was to tell Dick Hutton that we should quit spraying our fields. Right now. Right then. Dick, being Dick, did not say anything and so I took it as, well, he is OK with it. So I went to the crew that took care of the field at that time and instructed them not to spray anymore. At that time we were on a 3-week spray schedule. At the time, we were monitoring mostly Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, and that cycle was long enough to differentiate the decent ones from the bad ones.
Of course, back then, selecting for disease resistance was in its infancy, and the result did not take long. By Aug. 1, there was almost nothing to look at. Everything was defoliated, except for a couple of Rugosas, and a couple of new ground cover roses from Meilland. Knock Out® and Drift® Roses were still either on the drawing board or in the very early phases of their existence. Needless to say, the other folks at Conard-Pyle were not too happy with me, so we resumed spraying. But, the damage was done. That year, instead of the 20-25 potential new seedlings we usually selected to move forward, we barely had 5 – all of which were shrub roses. The main one to come out was a red ground cover that became Fire Meidiland. We also introduced a couple of the Rugosas. But in terms of the “traditional garden roses” — you can forgetaboutit! Nothing. Nada. The genetics of those plants could not stand up to the disease pressure. This was a great eye opener for me at the beginning of my career. Thankfully, we were ahead of our time. Dick knew it, but bless his heart, let me make the mistake. Because we both knew it was the right thing to do, and eventually we would be proven right.
The following year, we started to segregate shrub roses in a true no-spray area, and kept the “regular” field sprayed, although at a much reduced level. And finally, in 2000, we switched to completely no-spray conditions. Eight to ten years later, thanks to the vision of Meilland and Bill Radler, breeder of The Knock Out® Rose, we evaluate all roses under no spray, the way they told us so, but more importantly, we can now bring to the consumer all kinds of roses — including Hybrid Teas — that will finally withstand the “Rose Hell” concept that our German friends developed way back when my hair still had color.
It’s not often that you get three great rose minds together in the same place, but that’s exactly what happened recently at Conard-Pyle Co. headquarters.
Steve Hutton, president, Conard-Pyle, Jacques Ferare, vice president of licensing and product development, Conard-Pyle, and Alain Meilland, president, Meilland International, spent some time examining the roses in the test fields in West Grove, PA. The test fields are home to hundreds of roses that are left to fend for themselves – no irrigation, no spraying, no TLC. The best performing varieties may someday make it to market, but only if they can survive what Steve Hutton calls “rose hell.”
Doug Hall of Organic Gardening and Ginny Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer also visited and interviewed these three experts on what makes a standout rose. Here are some photos of the day, plus, click here to read Ginny’s report.
By Steve Hutton
Last week I joined my Conard-Pyle colleague and fellow blogger, Kyle McKean, for a couple of days with P. Allen Smith at an event in Little Rock. Twenty-four garden bloggers from around the country got together to tour some local gardens and to spend one day visiting Allen’s stunning Garden Home Retreat. Kyle and I were there to talk about Conard-Pyle’s rose introduction program, focusing on our 80-year relationship with the storied French rose breeding firm, Meilland International.
Kyle and I first saw Allen’s two acre rose garden about a year ago, as the first roses were being planted. At that time, the garden’s bones were in place — beds laid out and hedged with boxwood, garden structures and gates in place, pleached oaks surrounding the entire garden.
What a difference a year makes! All beds were fully planted and the roses had just finished their first flush of bloom. Outside the garden and on a slope leading down to it a large bed was being prepared in which masses of Drift® Roses and companion plants would soon be installed. Inside the garden a wide range of shrubs, perennials and annuals were integrated in a painterly way with several dozen different varieties of roses. I told the guest bloggers that in my view Allen had succeeded in creating a model rose garden–one in which roses were less than 50 percent of the plants in the design. For me, this is a key factor in any successful rose garden. Roses are plants, not museum pieces, and are at their most striking when they are creatively combined with other types and colors of plants, not set off by themselves as if they had no fit companions.
In addition to a superb garden on a majestic hillside overlooking the Arkansas River, the choice of rose varieties made its own statement. Allen’s focus at The Garden Home Retreat is on sustainable living, and we helped him select varieties that would not need chemical sprays in order to thrive. The “modern” portion of the rose palette (Allen wanted to emphasize three centuries of roses in America) was therefore comprised of varieties of the Knock Out® and Drift® families of roses, as well as disease resistant traditional roses from Meilland International (the breeders of the Drift® series) and Bill Radler (breeder of the Knock Out ® series).
Our day at The Garden Home Retreat was a warm one, but when the sun went down we ended it the perfect way–with locally-sourced ingredients given a southern accent and transformed into a very special meal.
By Jacques Ferare
The House of Meilland, or Meilland International as it is known in the trade, is in Southern France, and has been in business even longer than we have at Conard-Pyle. The century-old business is still owned by the Meilland family, and has seen ups (mostly) and downs (a few) over its remarkable history. I could, and probably will, write more about this later.
Conard-Pyle has been involved with Meilland since the 1930’s, a partnership which has brought a long string of popular roses to the U.S. and throughout the gardening world. Beginning with the Peace rose in 1945 and continuing to more recent introductions like the Drift® series of groundcover roses. Over the last 30 years I have been fortunate to be a part of this very unique relationship that has brought American gardeners a lot of great varieties over the last eight decades.
I had my first encounter with Meilland International back in the late 70s when I was in college. At the time, the company was experiencing an extraordinary growth spurt. I did not know it, but this was the era when they almost single-handedly created the cut flower industry in South America while being one of the dominant players in Europe.
I was working on my Masters thesis at the time. I was researching the status of the cut rose industry on the French Riviera. As surprising as it may seem, there was such a thing as a vibrant cut flower industry there before the oil crisis of the mid 1970s, due to the perfect climate and a great consumer demand after World War II. When I did my research, it was at the tail end of that golden era where growers could make a good living harvesting two crops of flowers a year. But I digress.
So I visited a lot of these growers, the local horticulture research stations, the flower markets, the wholesale florists, and of course the most famous place of all, the headquarters of Meilland International. At that time, Meilland was located in what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, Cap d’Antibes, which also happened to be located less than 5 miles from where I grew up. They had their main offices there, as well as their breeding and testing greenhouses for cut flowers. Their breeding and testing for garden roses was 100 miles away in the heart of Provence where it is still located today.
I was very familiar with their location, having gone by it countless times growing up, by bike, then by moped, and later by car. It felt very strange to finally walk onto this property that was known by the locals to be a very important place in the world of flowers, especially since their next door neighbor was the Barberet-Blanc Company, who was the number one carnation breeding company in the world at the time.
I don’t know if that first visit left an impression on them, but it sure did on me. It was a remarkable operation, on top of its game, and things were humming the day I was there. It was mid-spring and the greenhouses were full of magnificent roses of all colors and shapes. Sonia, Kyria, Prive, Red Success, Visa just to name a few. These names probably don’t mean a thing today, but these were the roses that dominated the fresh flower market during that period. All were in full bloom in the greenhouses among thousands of seedlings that were competing to become as popular one day. The gorgeous scenery both outside and inside the greenhouses was distracting, and it was difficult to concentrate at times. But what impressed me the most that day was that their General Manager took the time to show me around and give me a complete tour of the facility. He also made sure that I would spend some time with Alain Meilland himself, who personally explained in great detail the history of the industry in the area, and how his family was such a big part of it. He also gave me a perspective on the whole cut flower industry worldwide. I ended up spending more than one hour with him that day, and being totally under the spell of his charisma and passion. Both men were also genuinely interested in my research, which was focused more on the economics of Horticulture, and they provided me with a treasure trove of information that made me look really good at graduation time. Prior to the meeting, I thought I’d be lucky if I spent an hour there. I ended up spending most of the morning and almost missing my next appointment.
When I left, I remember thinking that I would not mind working with these people after I graduated. Little did I know what was in store for me.