Coming up from Tesselaar

One fine day and the world’s gone to the garden centre! If one of the big box stores was anything to go by yesterday – carpark packed, people loading up potting mix, plants, pots, stakes, etc – we’ve all been busting to get into the garden.

The Vege Grower and I were surprised to be stopped by a woman who opened with “you two look like serious gardeners” and followed up with a really surprising question – how do I get rid of the barley that’s come up in what was my strawberry patch? She reckons the (well-known brand) barley straw she used as mulch has seeded all through her raised bed! She seemed intent on ‘dabbing’ on a poison so our advice to hand pull it or dig it over probably fell on deaf ears.

We weren’t immune to the bursting out of spring either, coming away with a glazed pot (been promising to repot a wisteria for a year!), a white Cosmos (99c and just the thing to set off some terracotta marigolds I got from another big box store this past week), a supposedly-dwarf Grevillea, Ignite, and another Osteospermum Blue-eyed Beauty to join last year’s plant which has got a bit leggy. And I finally got the zinnia seeds out, bit late I know, but better than never.

At the Tesselaar-hosted lunch in Auckland at the beginning of the month, we were not only treated to delicious food and the Flower Carpet Pink story to celebrate its 25th anniversary, we also got to hear about some new plants that are coming through the trial system, including one from Auckland plantsman and head of the Auckland Botanic Gardens, Jack Hobbs.

He’s crossed a pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) with the dwarf M. ‘Tahiti’ to create something with felted new growth, a bright flower with deep-red stamens that will bloom at a different time to our native trees. Jack says it looks like it’s going to be sterile.

Volcano Phlox. Photo: Anthony Tesselaar International

As well as two new Flower Carpet roses (which we were sworn to secrecy over), Anthony Tesselaar was also singing the praises of Volcano Phlox, developed from an old species found in Siberia, one of the only phlox species not from North America. The plants are proving to be disease free (no powdery mildew), tolerant of a wide temperature range (they’re being trialled in the northern US, as well as Australia) and are scented. The first plants in the range are already available in the US with more coming through.

Tuxedo is a line of dark-foliage hydrangeas – the images I’ve seen show a deep purple-bronze leaf – that grow 1m x 1m. “We want to create excitement to get people into gardening,” Anthony said. “This has a very distinct colour and will be a sensation.” Tuxedo hydrangeas are about 3 years away for New Zealand.

Something else that’s about 3 years away here – but will undoubtedly be a sensation when it lands – is a rose with the working title All in One. From Noacken Roses in Germany, which produced Flower Carpet, All in One is a compact bush that is disease resistant, has glossy foliage and covers itself in scented flowers.

The combination of disease resistance and perfumed flowers is a major breakthrough in rose breeding as genetically one has generally precluded the other.

Anthony saw field trials of the rose 5 weeks ago in Germany and was delighted. “The buds open like a Hybrid Tea rose, become more full and by the time they’re in full bloom look like a David Austin flower – and you see them concurrently all over the bush.”

He says the bushes are “a bit bigger” than a patio rose and that the flowers easily last 10 days in a vase.

“We’ve always said Flower Carpet are roses without the work, this new rose will be a garden rose without the work.”

Sweet Spot ‘Calypso’. Photo: Anthony Tesselaar International

Finally – and available now – is the Sweet Spot rose, part of The Decorator Rose stable. Single flowers with a colourful ‘eye’, the roses have been developed from work started by the renowned English rose-breeder Jack Harkness and completed by Dutch rose-breeder G Pieter Ilsink of Interplant Nurseries. Here’s a 2014 post I wrote about Helthemia persica, one of the parents used in the breeding of such roses.

I notice that the accompanying information suggests the roses will need to be sprayed to perform at their best.

“Young people aren’t buying plants, they’re buying decoration,” Anthony said. “They could just as easily buy a cushion so we have to give them a good reason to buy a plant.”

He has a theory that women become gardeners a year after the birth of their first child – and, as couples have delayed having their first child, this has meant a loss of some 10 years to the gardening industry (ie, women start gardening at 32 not 22).

When is a rose not a rose?

Went over to Hamilton yesterday to spend a day at the Rogers Rose Garden enjoying the annual Pacific Rose Bowl Festival and the National Rose Show – and although the enjoyment factor remained high, the weather was decidedly dismal with, at times, lashing rain and strong winds. And when it wasn’t lashing rain, it was still raining!

So when 2pm rolled round and rose breeder Rob Somerfield and national Rose Society publicist Hayden Foulds turned up to give a guided talk, the Vege Grower and I were their audience of two. The guys were game and so were we, the little matter of brollies being blown inside out a mere trifle.

We eventually stopped in front of Eye of the Tiger, a small bush, albeit with vigorous, thorny new growth, that the Vege Grower and I had remarked on earlier, drawn by the colours and look of the flowers. And here we heard an unusual tale.

Eye of the Tiger, a rose bred in England. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the parents of Eye of the Tiger is Rosa persica (or Rosa berberifolia) which for a while was known as Hulthemia persica and not considered to be a rose! The plant is native to Iran, Afghanistan, central Asia and through to Siberia. It has a single, open rose-like flower with prominent stamens, is thorny but doesn’t have a rose-like leaf and as you can see from the photo below the buds are something else again. It has a suckering habit.

Hulthemia persica or Rosa persica … a rose by any other name. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

But, rose breeders being what they are, some have been attempting to use R. persica, partly because of its hardiness – R. persica takes everything from drought to freezing in its natural habitat – but the plant is difficult to work with and has resisted many attempts to hybridise it. Breeders want to lose the single flowering, the thorniness, the suckering and the sterility, but want to keep that “eye” splash of colour at the centre of the flower.

This 1977 article by renowned English rose breeder Jack Harkness (who died in 1994) outlines some of the history of attempts to use the plant (it’s a little technical). Harkness Roses released three hybrids using R. persica in 1985 (Tigris, Euphrates and Nigel Hawthorne) and a later one, Xerxes, but none of them were repeat bloomers.

American Jim Sproul also took up the challenge and in 2011 released the first plants under the Eyeconic label. Jim blogs about his work with R. persica here.

Bright as a Button. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bright as a Button, a rose by Chris Warner of Shropshire, England – who has also bred Eye of the Tiger (breeding name Chewbullseye) – also uses R. persica and is an award-winning rose in New Zealand, while his For Your Eyes Only (only 30 years in the making!) has won the 2015 Rose of the Year title at the Hampton Court Flower Show. Read a personal blog about a visit to Warner Roses.