A New Home For Our Blog

A warm hello to all of our fellow bloggers. We’ve truly enjoyed sharing and interacting with you over the past three years.  It is always a pleasure for us to relay stories of our travels, our horticultural passions and gardening tips we’ve compiled over the years.

Moving forward, our blog is now going to be housed within our new website.  For those of you who frequently visit our wordpress site, please update your bookmarks!  You will be able to resubscribe here.  We hope you will continue to use not only our blog, but also our entire website, as a source of gardening information and inspiration.



By Steve Hutton

I really needed this…

and this…

and this…

It’s been that kind of winter in our part of the world. But there was not much of a winter at all in Europe, and spring, also warm so far, is early. Knowing this, I took advantage in a cancellation of a meeting during the last day of my week of meetings in Holland to make the short trip to Keukenhof, the world’s most famous bulb garden.

To those who have heard of Keukenhof, the bulb that springs to mind is the tulip, one of the icons–along with windmills, wooden shoes and Rembrandt–of Holland. Typically even the early tulips wouldn’t be in color yet, but not only were they in full glory, but so were the mid-season ones. As were the daffodils, hyacinths, scilla and chinodoxa. Most crocus had already passed.

The place was jammed, which was good to see. People from all corners of the world–the languages I picked out (or thought I picked out) were English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic and a few others I couldn’t guess. Ok, we’re in Europe, but still…

My favorite gardens are a mix of restraint and exuberance, subtlety and effervescence. Whatever Keukenhof’s faults might be, restraint and subtlety aren’t among them. The colors are rich and saturated and bold, intense in the extreme. And I loved every bit.    

When I get home tomorrow, I’m hoping to see the first signs of exuberance and effervescence in my own garden. Can’t wait! It’s been that kind of winter.


After the Storm

It has been a little over a year since an EF-4 tornado hit University of Southern Mississippi’s campus causing significant damage. With winds about 170 mph, the roses in the University’s renowned All American Rose garden didn’t stand a chance. The rose garden was literally swept away! After the tornado, Star® Roses and Plants gladly offered 270 roses needed to restore the beauty of this garden. The donation included Drift® roses as well as some of our other garden roses.

Superintendent of Campus Landscape, Loren Erickson, recently reached out to us and asked if we were willing to donate more roses this year. After a natural disaster, times are tough and we are happy to help in any way we can. With the help of the community around it, the USM garden, and the rest of the campus, were able to come out of this tornado looking better than ever.


What do breeders do in winter?

By Mike Dobres

Looking West from NovaFlora’s breeding greenhouse in West Grove, PA, the iron sculpture in the foreground is a creation of the artist couple Greg and Tianna Leavit (http://www.gregleavitt.com). The form is based around a five-corned star-like structure that depicts the elements of biological creation. It incorporates seeds, cells and chromosomes and even the enzymes that synthesize DNA. I will leave a more detailed artistic interpretation of this wonderful piece for a future blog. I took this picture leaving work one evening. I have looked West across the fields hundreds of times since the sculpture was placed last summer, but I snapped this picture because of the striking alignment of the sun, its reflection in the snow and the iron star. There was something primeval about it. Perhaps being from England, it stirred memories of Stonehenge and other ancient sites. This view also inspired me to put pen to paper to write this short article about breeding flowers in the midst of winter. I am managing director of NovaFlora. We are the breeding division of Star Roses and Plants. Our job is to develop new varieties of perennials, shrubs and roses. Being located in the North Eastern United States sometimes makes breeding and growing new plants a challenge. Although fall and spring are beautiful, harsh winters and hot and humid summers get in our way. We overcome these challenges by performing much off our breeding in heated and illuminated greenhouses. With the right amount of heat and light we can turn winter into spring. This allows us to breed roses, shrubs and perennials in the middle of winter. Seedlings produced from these crosses grown out and screened in an adjacent greenhouse structure. In late spring we transplant the best seedlings in our evaluation field.

The advantage of breeding in the North Eastern United States is that we can be certain that the plants we create are able to survive the cold, heat, humidity and disease pressure that nature throws at us each year. This winter has been an exceptionally tough winter. We’ve had more than 5 feet of snow in South Eastern PA with near record lows. The picture below shows what our roses have to go through. New hybrids are tested in our rose evaluation field for a minimum of three years before being considered for market. If they can survive here they can survive anywhere. This is where we first tested the Knock Out® rose and the rest of the Knock Out® family of roses. When it repeat bloomed from summer through fall and showed no sign of black spot after three years, we knew we had a winner. We continue to use these fields to make sure our roses will perform in your gardens.

The picture above shows our rose evaluation field. Bare rose canes poking above the snow waiting for spring.

A Space-Age Greenhouse

By Jacques Ferare

As you know I travel quite a bit, and in the course of my journeys, I see many interesting things.

In February, I had the opportunity to visit a very unique growing facility.  While a greenhouse of size and automation is common in Holland or Denmark, it is pretty rare here in the US.

During a conference with a group of industry members, we toured the Salinas, California Facility of Floricultura, a Dutch company that specializes in Orchids and Anthurriums. In 2011 they built a 10 acre state-of-the-art automated greenhouse structure that functions like a plant factory by producing 5 million pre-finished Orchid plants for resale to other growers who in turn will supply the retail channels.

You may ask, how is this related to my topic of predilection, roses?

First, to say this place is impressive is an understatement, but it is in fact very similar in concept to the “pot rose” plant factories that are very common in Northern Europe, which I had the pleasure to visit when they were built in the 1980’s and 90’s.  These factories produce mini roses for grocery stores by the millions, and this facility is built on the same concept.  Every week 100,000 young in vitro plants go in and 24 months later 100,000 4½” pots come out. They can achieve this by using space-age climate controls and robots that move and space the plants around the greenhouse.  The main difference with the pot roses is that it takes them more than two years to grow the orchid versus the 18 weeks it takes for roses.

Secondly, it was built on the site of a former customer who was growing The Sunblaze® Roses in the mid 1980’s, then liners of The Meidiland® Roses in the 90’s, and finally some young plants of The Knock Out® Family of Roses before it closed its doors in the early 2000’s when the company refocused its business east of the Mississippi.

Last but not least, the facility is run by a gentleman who used to be a good customer of mine when I was selling florist roses in the 1990’s. Back then, our main market was the cut flower growers who at the time were the dominant industry in the Salinas and Watsonville area. This is when I met Don, and except for the grey hair he has not changed a bit. It was nice to see how well he is doing managing this huge high-tech facility, which is quite different from the fairly low-tech environment of growing cut flowers.  I am very happy for him that he found a challenge that equals his talents as a grower.

I rest my case.

Until next time.

A Family Tradition of Breeding Exceptional Roses

 By Jacques Ferare

If you read this blog often, you may already know that I have the opportunity to visit with Alain Meilland at his house in Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera once in a while. It is always a pleasure to visit Alain and to learn from his deep knowledge of all aspects of the rose business: the good (new varieties, exciting breeding directions, launching Drift® Roses in Europe), the bad (Europe had very poor weather in all of 2013 affecting everyone’s sales), and the ugly (rose diseases, old and new). Because he has such an encyclopedic memory, (and some of today’s issues are nothing new to him), I particularly like to talk to him about the ugly — even though he does not enjoy it as much as the other topics. In most cases, he has the documents to prove the information he shares, some even date back to the 1950’s.

You can tell that Alain wants to make sure that the knowledge is carried on. That’s why more and more he brings Matthias, his oldest son, along in our conversations. Matthias is a fine young man, now in his early 30’s, who after training in photography and filmmaking has joined the company.  He came on board full time about a year ago to take over the all important photo library, and now he oversees all the P.R. and marketing efforts. We are in fact working with him rather closely on a lot of projects, including the most recent one where we are helping Meilland launch the Drift® Roses in Europe. Matthias is also a budding rose breeder, and he and his wife carry the tradition of breeding roses on the old family grounds where it all started. He even has his almost 5-year-old son help with the crosses.

It is exciting for me to work with Matthias (pictured above with his father) as he brings a lot of enthusiasm, a deep knowledge of the business as well as a fresh perspective that I am sure will bear a lot of fruits in the years to come. He is also a good listener, not bored by the old rose stories that I tell him every time we meet, and kind enough not to mention that he’s heard these stories more than once. He also doesn’t hold a grudge about the fact that, in the States, we chose not to introduce the rose bearing his name (Matthias Meilland is a very nice red floribunda) while we introduced both his siblings (Anthony Meilland, a yellow floribunda, and Sonia, the florist rose who was the ultimate best seller in her days).

It is always a pleasure to go back to my hometown in winter when it is at its most picturesque — after all winter is the time of the year when the European nobility “discovered” the French Riviera in the mid 1800’s to escape the weather in Northern Europe. They were the first snowbirds.  Maybe a topic for another blog post?


The Fragrance of Desire

By Mike Dobres, Ph.D

Roses are not fragrant: Myth or Reality?

Anyone who has read the entertaining book “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan will be familiar with the popularly held belief that modern roses have no fragrance[1]. Is this true, or is it a myth perpetuated by those who use it to sell books of doom and gloom? If it is true, why is it true? Is it a shift in consumer preferences, or has it always been true? Among older roses, were they all fragrant? Or to quote Bruce Springsteen, is it a case of “Glory Days.”

An article by Steve Jones, master rosarian of the Santa Clara rose society in California confirms that as far back as the early 1900s, people were complaining about the loss of fragrance in roses, and that the loss of scent has been repeatedly bemoaned by authors ever since[2]. For example, N.F. Miller in the 1947 American Rose Society Annual wrote:

“There is no use kidding ourselves, most modern varieties furnish but faint traces of the glorious perfumes that used to permeate old time gardens”.

But go to any good garden center and you will see that consumers still have plenty of choices to purchase fragrant roses. They can still buy most of the fragrant classics such as Mr. Lincoln or the Peace rose. Or if they choose, they can purchase any of the modern varieties with vastly improved disease resistance but often with little or no fragrance.  It’s curious though, that despite the writings of Mr. Pollan, consumers tend to choose disease resistance and low maintenance over the rather problematic, yet fragrant roses of old. Why is this?  Well, perhaps because modern roses such as The Knock Out® Rose look great, flower repeatedly and require minimal care! Many consumers simply don’t have the time or desire to spend hours spraying their roses to protect them from the ravages of black spot, rust or powdery mildew.


But can you have the best of both worlds? Are there modern disease resistant roses that look good and smell good? Yes indeed there are – if you know what to look for. A great example is the Peter Mayle® rose, bred by the House of Meilland in the 1990’s in Provence, France. This rose is both disease resistant and very fragrant. If you want something that will really stand out in your garden then try a modern disease resistant yellow rose such as Julia Child which was bred by Tom Carruth and introduced by Weeks in 2004. More recently, our breeding partners in the USA and France have given us even more disease resistance and fragrance.  In 2011 we introduced the Milwaukee’s Calatrava™ rose, bred by Will Radler, creator of The Knock Out® Rose.  In 2013 we introduced the Francis Meilland™ rose bred by the House of Meilland. Both of which are amazingly fragrant!


So yes, modern roses are indeed fragrant. You just need to know what you are looking for. So next time you are at your local garden center, take time to smell the roses, and perhaps you can have the best of both worlds!

Closer to home, I am excited by NovaFlora’s recent progress in the breeding and development of fragrant disease resistant roses. NovaFlora is the in-house breeding company of Star® Roses and Plants. We are working hard to introduce the fragrance from some of the classic roses into The Knock Out® Family of Roses. Rose breeding being what it is, however, it will be several years until these hit the market. Meanwhile, here’s a more comprehensive list of other disease resistant and fragrant roses from Star® Roses and Plants:

Dee-Lish® ‘Meiclusif’ – Meilland International, 2014
Francis Meilland™ ‘Meitroni’ PP#19970 – Meilland International, 2013
Bolero™ ‘Meidelweis’ PP#17841 – Meilland International, 2005
Liv Tyler™ ‘Meibacus’ PP#13860 – Meilland International, 2000
Elle® ‘Meibderos’ PPAF – Meilland International, 2005
Eternal Flame™ ‘Meifacul’ PP#18918 – Meilland International, 2007
Milwaukee’s Calatrava™ ‘Radfragwhite’ PP#22988 – Will Radler, 2011
The Sunny Knock Out® Rose ‘Radsunny’ PP#18562 – Will Radler, 2008


Mike Dobres, Ph.D is Managing Director of NovaFlora LLC, the in-house breeding company of Star® Roses and Plants. In addition to breeding roses, NovaFlora breeds a broad range of perennials and flowering shrubs, many of which will be available at retailers in 2014.

[1] Michael Pollan The Botany of Desire (2001) Random House, hardcover: ISBN 0-375-50129-0, 2002 paperback: ISBN 0-375-76039-3

Roses for Autism

 By Jacques Ferare

A great idea that I thought was worth sharing. Perhaps a model you can use to reinvent your business?

This is a bit different than what I usually blog about, but after watching this video sent to me by a good friend, I couldn’t resist sharing it. It is the story of how a florist rose greenhouse in Connecticut reinvented itself while doing good at the same time.

I personally know Tom Pinchbeck, the owner of the place as he used to be a customer of mine back in the days when I was peddling florist roses a couple of centuries ago so it seems. He looks a bit older than when I was working with him, but so do I for that matter. Anyway, this is a great story, and I admire Tom for what he did.

I hope that you will enjoy it too.

Roses for Autism

An Afternoon with Laurence Arene

By Allison Hess

Last month I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Laurence Arene, a breeder from Meilland International.  Laurence was visiting Pennsylvania to tour our rose fields.  On the last day of her trip, she had several free hours before her departing flight.  What better way to pass the time then with a trip to the enchanting Longwood Gardens?

A longtime fan of the well-known arboretum, I was thrilled to be asked to show her around the gardens.  Now if you’ve ever been to Longwood Gardens then you know that it’s quite possible to spend all day there and still not cover the entire grounds.  The Conservatory alone houses 20 unique gardens, including a personal favorite of mine – the Waterlily Display.

With not a minute to waste, I was determined to show her all of the major highlights.  Map in hand, we began our tour with the indoor gardens.  Laurence was drawn to the vivid colors and interspersed waterfalls, fountains and pools that make up the East Conservatory.  Once outside, Longwood stretches out across 1,000 acres of gardens and woodlands.  Strolling through the grounds, Laurence shared with me her great appreciation for nature and sense of peace she feels walking through a garden.  It was a sentiment I could relate to completely.

Our garden tour would not have been complete without a stop at Terrain, an independent garden center in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania – a mere 15 minutes from Longwood Gardens.  On that gorgeous September afternoon we opted to sit outside for lunch.  After our meal together, we browsed through the shop.  Looking around at the diverse container gardens and whimsical displays, Laurence paused to ask me if all garden centers here were like this or if Terrain was special.  I let her know that Terrain was indeed very special.  Of the countless times I’d been there before, each visit was still a unique and memorable experience.  That day was no exception.  It was the perfect way to end an afternoon spent with such a captivating member of the horticultural community.