Rose breeder honoured

Tauranga area rose breeder Rob Somerfield has added another major honour to his cabinet with a Plant Raisers’ Award from the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture.

Presented with the medal at last month’s combined conference of the RNZIH and the International Plant Propagators Society, Rob’s award was for four of his roses – Scent to Remember, Pacific Glory, Looking Good and Christchurch Remembers.

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Rob Somerfield and the produce from one of his trial beds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The award is granted to a nominated person or organisation “who has raised in New Zealand a cultivar considered to be sufficiently meritorious”, according to the RNZIH website. Plants need to have been in cultivation for at least 3 years, to have been bred from seed (ie, not a sport) and to have been registered with an international authority.

“I don’t do it to get recognised,” Rob said today of his breeding efforts. “So I was quite shocked when I got a call from [RNZIH president] Keith Hammett. This one is important because it’s your peers voting.”

Rob was surprised to be told by Hayden Foulds of the NZ Rose Society that he had released 33 roses. “I didn’t think it would be so many.”

Past recipients of the Plant Raisers’ Award include Terry Dowdeswell (delphiniums, 2016), Peter Cave (magnolias, 2009), Mark Jury (magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons, 2007) and Jack Hobbs (hebes and leptospermums, 1990). Read the full list of awards.

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Christchurch Remembers, bred by Rob Somerfield. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rob, 56, has been “tinkering” with roses since 1983, turning his hobby into a business in 1998 on the back of his first commercial release, Blackberry Nip which that year won the Silver Star award at the National Rose Trial grounds in Palmerston North – the highest award for an amateur breeder. The trials are for roses that have not been commercially released in New Zealand with assessment taking place over 2 years.

“It’s hard being a nobody and trying to release a rose,” he says. “If I hadn’t had Blackberry Nip and then had a follow up [Kaimai Sunset] that was also accepted well I may not have made it. It’s almost unheard of that a breeder’s first rose is a big success.”

Since then, Rob’s Glenavon Roses, based at Te Puna near Tauranga, has won the trial’s top award six times, footing it with names such as Harkness (UK), Dickson (Northern Ireland), Delbard (France) and Carruth (US).

“When I release a rose I honestly don’t get that excited,” he says. “It’s nice to have done it, and it’s nice when they win awards, but every rose represents 10 years’ work. By the time it comes on the market I’m well on to the next thing.”

He still has a way to go to be crowned New Zealand’s most successful rose breeder – that title belongs to the revered Sam McGredy. However, Sam has called Rob “New Zealand’s great hope”, a compliment that’s underlined by a steady accumulation of awards, while Rob credits Sam as an inspiration and values the freely given advice he has received over the years.

Rob also enters the annual Pacific Rose Bowl Festival at the Rogers Rose Gardens in Hamilton, enjoying the opportunity to see what the general public thinks of his work – the awards are decided by public vote.

“I’m always pleased to win the Children’s Choice award,” he says. “Youngsters judge in a very pure way. They’re not thinking about plant health, the size of the bush or whether it will flower again. They just like what they like.”

Little Miss Perfect wowed Rose Bowl visitors in 2014 with its heavy crop of coral blooms but almost didn’t make it to release because Rob ignored one of his own dictates – colour isn’t important. The compact bush was to be mowed out when a staff member remarked it was always in bloom and didn’t have disease issues.

“For me the most important thing in a rose is health and everything else comes after that – plant size, number of blooms and speed of repeat flowering, with colour almost unimportant because it’s so subjective,” Rob says. “I try not to be affected by it. I reckon if you get the plant right, customers can decide if they like the flower. But I made the mistake of not liking the colour and almost lost a great little plant.”

Scent to Remember was named by Waipuna Hospice at Te Puna. Photo: Rob Somerfield Roses

Rose growers may pity Rob having his business in the Tauranga area’s hot, humid (and sometimes very wet) summers but he reckons it gives him an advantage.

“Anything that is healthy here will do well anywhere. Gardeners aren’t prepared to stake and spray roses so field trials let me assess all parts of the plant. It’s almost a gut feeling about what’s going to be good when you look at them in the glasshouse but you learn so much more about the plant when it’s outside.”

What about perfume, that most desired of rose traits? “Unfortunately, perfume often goes hand-in-hand with poor health. If you increase the health of a plant, the fragrance goes down.

“Everyone expects red roses to be perfumed but so few are. A chemist told me that rose scents are made up of about 200 different compounds and that different noses pick them up at different rates. To me, if you’re calling something fragrant you’ve got to be able to smell it a metre away.”

Rob has been involved with horticulture all his life – his parents have had a well-known berry farm near Tauranga since 1972 – but it was visits to his grandparents’ dairy farm at Motueka that began his love of roses.

“It wasn’t a lightning bolt or anything, but I was fascinated by the roses my grandfather had, watching them unfurl a little more each day.” He was given his first rose bushes in his late teens and upon leaving school worked for a nursery to learn grafting and budding. “I would bud up plants for myself if I couldn’t get something and the plants did well enough to encourage me to continue.”

Picking up a 2005 award at the Westbroekpark International Rose Trial Grounds in The Netherlands emphasised that rose-breeding was what he should be doing. “The world really watches that one.” Cherry-red Summerfield was the first New Zealand rose not bred by Sam McGredy to win there and Rob is still considering a New Zealand release of the rose, albeit under a different name.

The plant was named by trial ground officials and Rob admits names are something he sweated over at first, although has got better and now has the help of his family. “The name is always the last thing I do,” he says. “It was the same with my kids! For roses it’s got to be something that you say once and it will be remembered.”

Looking Good is named for, and benefits, the cancer charity Look Good Feel Better. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although he still uses established descriptive terms such as ‘floribunda’ and ‘hybrid tea’ when talking to rosarians, Rob believes the general public’s demand for more blooms more often is sending these distinctions to oblivion, especially with the advent of roses that aren’t easily categorised, such as Flower Carpet.

Rob started using Flower Carpet roses, “virtually bullet-proof in terms of disease and they pack on a lot of flowers”, in his breeding a few years ago and is now working with some of the resulting crosses, several generations removed, as parent plants.

“Inspiration for crosses usually comes when I’m sitting on the tractor so I hop off and write it down,” he says. “We sometimes have family conversations around an idea someone’s had but a rose has to be something special for me to introduce it into the breeding programme.

“I didn’t start breeding roses to make money, which is probably just as well. Sam is a real marketer and that’s the difference between us. I’m a plant person and tend to want to let my roses do the talking for me. But I love being asked questions and so I guess I’m opinionated too.

“I take a lot of pride in what I release and won’t put my name to anything I’m not happy with.”

Pacific Glory. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As well as intentional crosses, the occasional sport (a genetic mutation where a plant reverts to a gene in its background with usually just one attribute changing) also turns up, such as  Climbing Blackberry Nip, which is a sport of Rob’s bush rose of the same name.

He’s been working towards a green rose – Lemon ’n’ Lime was a step towards that – and believes he may have something marketable but wants to release it overseas first. “To market overseas you’ve really got to be there twice a year and having a young family made that impossible. But the kids are older now so we’ll see what happens.”

He’s also chasing a red hybrid tea rose that combines fragrance with health and has his eye on breeding a subtle “hint of” lavender rose – the colour is big in Japan and the United States.

“I’ve always been fascinated by lavender in roses, I don’t know why. But the plants tend to be unhealthy so getting the colour I want and the health together is the challenge.

“Every year I look forward to trying to make tiny improvements or breed from something in particular – and then something else appears and I follow that. My breeding is a web of inter-related things that I don’t want to – well, I don’t think I can – stop exploring. I often wish I was a full-time breeder to follow every little inkling but in reality our bread and butter is the nursery production.

“I’m after perfection in a rose – and see so much room for improvement – but know I’m never going to get it. It’s like a drug and I’m hooked into it. I hope I can keep breeding roses until the day I die.”

A selection of Rob’s winners:

NZ Rose Trials: Gold Star of the South Pacific: Quintessential (2016), Fireball (2015), Christchurch Remembers (2014), Love Heart (2009), Sunline (2007), Pacific Glory (2006). Silver Star of the City of Palmerston North: Blackberry Nip (1998). Certificates of Merit: Purple Pizzazz (2016), Shangri-la, Jack Frost (2015), Hot Topic, Eye Candy (both 2014), Scott Base (2013), Looking Good (2012), St Mary’s Rose, Wild Cherry (2011), Lemon ‘n’ Lime, Diamond Design ( 2010), Picotee (2009), Golden Gift (2007), White Romance (2005).

Pacific Rose Bowl Festival: 2016: Christchurch Remembers (Rose of the Year, Best Floribunda, Children’s Choice, Best NZ-raised Rose), Sunline (Best HT), Double Fragrance (Most Fragrant). 2015: Looking Good (Rose of the Year, Best Floribunda, Best NZ-raised Rose, Children’s Choice), Double Fragrance (Best Climber). 2014: Love Heart (Rose of the Year), Picotee (Children’s Choice), Little Miss Perfect (Best Floribunda). 2013: Wild Cherry (Rose of the Year, Best Floribunda, Best NZ-raised Rose, Children’s Choice). 2012: Climbing Blackberry Nip (Most Fragrant, Best Climber), Star Quality (Children’s Choice).

Most of this article was first published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.

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NZ Rose Trial Winners

By Hayden Foulds

Quintessential, a free-flowering, healthy pink rose has taken the top award at the New Zealand Rose Society International Rose Trial Awards in Palmerston North.

Rob Somerfield with his award-winning rose Quintessential. Photo: Hayden Foulds

Bred by Tauranga’s Rob Somerfield (Glenavon Roses), Quintessential not only received the Gold Star of the South Pacific last weekend, it was also the pick of invited guests who voted it the best-looking rose in the trial before the awards were announced.

“It’s been a favourite of mine for a while” Rob says of the rose, which will be released in New Zealand within the next two or three years.

Rob,  who now has seven Gold Stars, also received a Certificate of Merit for the patio rose Purple Pizzazz.

Purple Pizzazz, bred by Rob Somerfield. Photo: Hayden Foulds

The Nola Simpson Novelty Award went to Eye of the Tiger, a single yellow bloom with a striking red ‘eye’ bred by Chris Warner of England and entered by Tasman Bay Roses of Motueka.

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Eye of the Tiger. Photo: Hayden Foulds

 

Wanganui rose breeder and grower Bob Matthews (Matthews Nurseries) won a Certificate of Merit for an un-named cluster-flowering pink rose with very good health.

This unnamed pale pink rose bred by Bob Matthews is showing great health characteristics. Photo: Hayden Foulds

Matthias Meilland, a member of the renowned Meilland rose-breeding family of France, presented an interesting lecture on how new roses are developed and commercialised around the world and spoke of the importance of rose trials for testing and promoting new rose varieties. Mr Meilland planted a Peace rose (bred by his grandfather) close to the trial beds in the Dugald Mackenzie Rose Gardens, part of the city’s Victoria Esplanade Gardens.

The New Zealand Rose Society trials are now into their 46th year and test new varieties from New Zealand and international rose breeders and are assessed over two years by a panel of 20 judges. Those roses which have gained an average of 70% are recognised with awards to reflect the consistently high performance they have achieved during the trial period.

If you’re interested in how new roses do in your part of the country, get hold of a copy of the New Zealand Rose Review – this year’s edition includes reports on 91 newer-variety roses, the most ever.

Produced by the New Zealand Rose Society with leading rose nurseries and breeders advertising their latest releases, the full-colour guide also features the favourite roses of NZRS members, as well as the winning roses from trials in Palmerston North and Hamilton.

The New Zealand Rose Review 2016-17 is $9.50 (including postage). For purchase details go to the New Zealand Rose Society website or contact the society’s secretary, Heather Macdonell, phone/fax 06 329 2700.

Pacific Rosebowl 2016

Just back from an afternoon in Hamilton, helping judge the Pacific Rosebowl entries in the Rogers Rose Garden, and then attending the afternoon tea and prizegiving – and would like to thank those I sat with for making feel so welcome.

Best Hybrid Tea: Sunline, bred by Rob Somerfield (Glenavon Roses, NZ). Sunline (1995-2009) was the world’s highest-earning racing mare of her time. She retired from racing in 2002 and was put down in 2009 after suffering a debilitating hoof disease. Some months later, Rob said, her owner phoned asking if it would be possible to have a rose named for the horse.

Sunline in Rogers Rose Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Best climber: Indigo Knights, bred by Chris Warner (UK). Accepting the prize was Ben Pratt of Tasman Bay Roses, the New Zealand agent for Warner-bred plants. Tasman Bay Roses was started by Ben’s parents, Nigel and Judy, in 1966.

Most Fragrant: Double Fragrance, selected by Rob Somerfield (a climbing sport of Deep Secret).

And then came …

Best Floribunda, Children’s Choice, Best NZ-Raised Rose & NZ Rose of the Year: Christchurch Remembers, bred by Rob Somerfield.

Christchurch Remembers. The rose will be widely available next winter. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rob wanted to name a rose for the city but didn’t want to do it too soon after the fatalities in the 2011 earthquake. He also sought – and was given – permission by Mayor Lianne Dalziel to name the rose, which won a Gold Star of the South Pacific at the National Trial Grounds in 2014, as a memorial to the 185 people who died in the February 22 quake.

The Grand Old Man of Roses, Sam McGredy, was in attendance, tootling about in a golf cart to view the blooms. Daughter Kathryn McGredy presented the Sam McGredy Award for the Best NZ-Raised Rose, while another daughter, Clodagh McGredy, presented the Pacific Rosebowl for the NZ Rose of the Year.

Kathryn McGredy presents Rob Somerfield with the Sam McGredy Award. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rob Somerfield receives the Pacific Rosebowl trophy for NZ Rose of the Year from Clodagh McGredy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 

Pacific Rose Bowl Winners

Rose breeder Rob Somerfield of Te Puna, near Tauranga, has done it again – taking out the Rose of the Year award at the recent Pacific Rose Bowl Festival in Hamilton with Looking Good, a pink floribunda that will go on sale next year and will also support the cancer charity Look Good, Feel Better.

Looking Good, bred by Rob Somerfield, and winner of the Rose of the Year award at the 2015 Pacific Rose Bowl Festival. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Looking Good also won the Best Floribunda, Best New Zealand Raised Rose and Children’s Choice awards, the last a favourite of Rob’s because he reckons youngsters judge in a very “pure” way. They like what they like. Read an interview with Rob about his win here. As you may recall, Rob won the top award at the Rose Bowl last year with Love Heart.

Best Fragrance: Caroline Bay by Mike Athy (Gisborne), another of his purple-hued blooms. Read an interview with Mike here.

The Pacific Rose Bowl Festival is decided entirely by public vote. Early next month the results from the National Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North will be announced; these are decided by a panel of rose judges.

Winners, various

Pacific Rose Bowl Festival, Hamilton

Love Heart by Rob Somerfield. It was photographed in the rain, but it actually much redder in person. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rose of the Year: Love Heart by Rob Somerfield, Te Puna (entered by Glenavon Roses, Te Puna), red.
Best Floribunda: Little Miss Perfect by Rob Somerfield, coral.
Best Climber: Love Knot by Chris Warner, UK (Tasman Bay Roses), red.
Most Fragrant: Loving Care by Mike Athy, Gisborne (D&S Nurseries, Takapau), purple.
Children’s Choice: Picotee by Rob Somerfield, pink and white.

Rob took the Rose of the Year award last year with Wild Cherry.

Despite the rain on Rose Bowl Saturday, Rob Somerfield was out in Hamilton Gardens looking at blooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 NZ Rose Society National Spring Show, Hamilton

Champion of Champions: Solitaire, grown by J Barnett, Waikato Rose Society.
Champion Decorative Bloom: Joan Monica, C Lovett, Waikato.
Champion Exhibition Bloom: Solitaire, J Barnett.
Champion Full Open Bloom: Paddy Stephens, J Lusty, Matamata.
Champion Small Stem: Raspberry Ice, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Large Stem: Playboy, M & M Brown, Canterbury.
Champion Display Vase: Silky Mist, V Forshaw, Northland.
Best Exhibit in Section 4: D & H White, Northland.

The Champion Vase – Silky Mist grown by V Forshaw of the Northland Rose Society. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Miniature Roses:
Champion of Champions: Chelsea Belle, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Decorative Bloom: Chelsea Belle, D & H White, Northland.
Champion Exhibition Bloom: Stephanie, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Full Open Bloom: Amore, S Gare, Waikato.
Champion Small Stem: Chelsea Belle, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Large Stem: Sweet Dream, J Walker, Northland.
Champion Display Vase: Little Jackie, S Gare, Waikato.

Thanks to Hayden Foulds of the NZ Rose Society for the Rose Bowl and National Show results.

Bay of Plenty Floral Designer of the Year

Designer of the Year: Francine Thomas 1 (Tauranga), Pat Nairn 2 (Tauranga), Berwyn Pollard (Te Puke) 3. Francine now goes on to contest the national Designer of the Year title in March in Rotorua.
Other design categories: Stumped (Natalie Meredith 1), Celebrate the Season, novice (Janice Downer 1), Rustic Romance (Natalie Meredith 1).

Natalie Meredith’s interpretation of the Rustic Romance theme – each designer was given a set of three wooden boxes that had to be used in the final work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Find contact information for a Floral Art Society club in your area.

Roses are, er, green

While chatting to rose breeder Rob Somerfield at the weekend I mentioned seeing his “green” rose in the NZ Rose Society trial grounds in Palmerston North early this year. Yes, he said, he had created a green rose – and it had only taken him 23 years to get there!

Last year a regional conference of the World Federation of Rose Societies was held in Palmerston North and naturally enough included a visit to the trial grounds. Rob’s green rose, with the breeding name Sompounamu, won the People’s Choice award as voted by conference delegates.

The as-yet unnamed green rose bred by Rob Somerfield. The plant was photographed towards the end of its second flowering in pretty arid conditions. I’m publishing it because it gives an indication of colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Lime buds open to lime-green blooms which deepen in colour as the blooms age. Small to medium grower with matt green foliage,” the trial grounds webpage says. “To be released in the near future.” Rob adds that it’s a good picking rose.

He is holding back a New Zealand release because he’s working towards a release in the United States, a market whose PVR rules demand it be there first “but it’s hard sitting on it”, he says.

Lemon ‘n Lime planted with a purple penstemon. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The new plant is one of the parents of Lemon ‘n Lime, a yellow-green that won the Rose of the Year title for Rob at the Hamilton rose trials in 2011.

Meanwhile, look out for his new Little Miss Perfect in garden centres in November. “It grows very small but flowers like a floribunda – it’s a real patio rose that has large flowers.” Rob trades as Glenavon Roses.

Rosa chinensis viridiflora. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rosa chinensis viridiflora is commonly called the green rose and has been sold commercially in England since 1856, although is thought to have been in cultivation for maybe 100 years before that. The unusual little blooms are made of sepals rather than petals which means no pollen and no hips (so no hybridising). Read more here.

You may see images online of emerald-green roses, perfect blooms. There are also step-by-step instructions available on how to “create” such a bloom, which generally means standing the cut stem of a white rose in a container of green-coloured liquid!

Winners – Pacific Rosebowl Festival

Te Puna rose breeder Rob Somerfield has come up trumps at the Pacific Rosebowl Festival, held in Hamilton last week – his Glenavon floribunda Wild Cherry was named New Zealand Rose of the Year, Best Floribunda, Best NZ-Raised Rose and Children’s Choice.

Wild Cherry won a Certificate of Merit at the National Rose Trial Grounds in Palmerston North in 2011 and was released to the market this year. Rob describes the rose as “producing masses of cherry red blooms with a silver reverse”.

Wild Cherry, pictured at the trial grounds at The Esplanade in Palmerston North.

Other winners at the Rosebowl were:

Best Climber: Cherry Kisses (seems to be an “in” name, doesn’t it?, described in one catalogue as pink-mauve, in another as “compact“, bred by Doug Grant of Auckland and released in 2004); Best Hybrid Tea: Modern Miss (pink, bred by David Benny of Southland and awarded a national Certificate of Merit in 2004) and Most Fragrant: Ali Mau (a pink floribunda bred by Rosen Tantau in Germany).

The NZ Rose Society puts out an annual Rose Review which provides a handy guide to how some popular new roses do in the country’s various climate and soil conditions.