50 Shades of Roses

The Art of Growing Roses is something that I have admired from afar. If one is going to take growing roses seriously then it requires commitment, lots of time and a bit of passion. There are though greater men than me, who understand roses and all there requirements, and one of those men is legendary Irish Grower, Laddie De Jong.

I grew up an a plant nursery where many fine gardeners passed through the doors, but only one was always spoken about in revered terms , Laddie De Jong a name that sounded different to me at the time, dare I say, exotic. There are more than “50 Shades Of Roses” as very few colours have evaded rose breeders over the last 140 years of serious breeding, so getting a striking display of the colour required, wont be a problem. One important criteria is don’t be shy roses are not bashful, neither should you so plant on mass, one or two planted roses is an uninspiring display and a waste of time.

I went last week to visit Laddie at his plant nursery where he was working diligently with his assistant Roxanna. He was surrounded by literally thousands of roses. Over the last few years Laddie has finally taken up the arduous and demanding task of breeding roses, at his plant nursery at Lusk in North County Dublin, where he has some notable results including breeding first Irish rose with an Irish name “Ta go Maith” (I Am Good) a very pleasing low growing patio rose which colour is a light coral pink….He also bred a stunning red rose Called “Best Red” a bright deep stunning red.

Laddie’s roots as you can imagine are steeped in Horticulture. His father was a horticultural traveller for a Dutch grower and when he finished secondary school he went to work for legendary Northern Ireland rose growers McGredys nurseries , in Portadown Co Armagh one the biggest rose grower and rose breeders in the world. Laddie was delighted at the time “It was a glorious opportunity to learn, far better than any college if you wanted to start a plant nursery”. He was only there a short while when he got promoted to the rose breeding section.

Events moved fast, when the rose hybridist, Gordon Mullen got ill, Laddie luckily got his job. He was delighted “What an experience that was for me to get, as I am now finally breeding my own new rose varieties”. Laddie had to put off the ambition to breed roses for a long time. But a few years ago the opportunity came about in an unlikely scenario, with the recession taking hold; time became available and he was suddenly a let less busy. The time too realise his dream had finally arrived, and so he was able undertake the demanding task, of breeding roses.

Throughout history no flower has been as loved, or renowned as the rose. The Rose it seems is older than the human race as evidence point to, roses actively growing 40 million years ago, as a rose left its imprint on a slate deposit, at the Florissant Fossil Beds in Colorado. Ancient Fossils have also been found in Germany and in Yugoslavia. Roses it seems grow wild as far north as Norway and Alaska and as far south as Mexico and North Africa, but no current evidence exists of wild roses interestingly ever been found to grow below the equator in ancient times.

In 1867 the modern rose as such was born when a cross between a Hybrid Perpetual and a Tea rose was created resulting in ‘La France’, the first of the Hybrid Tea roses, and it is from this line that modern roses and such favourites as ‘Peace’ have developed.

Laddie has done a lot of experimentation on roses over the years and as a result has developed a new and very successful way to grow roses on their own roots in the traditional method they are not on there own roots.  There are advantages to be gained from this method says Laddie “most importantly they never have suckers, they are also more disease resistant, and can have stronger colour” With his system he amazingly can produce a saleable rose in just 1 year as opposed to the traditional way which takes 3 years and so it is far more economical, more than 75% cheaper. It is also healthier as well as the standard method which is a health hazard as the grafting involves one were bent over the roses all day long.

The process involves collecting the rose hips from the thousands of roses that Laddie has allowed to naturally interbreed trough the pollination of the bees. This is natural rose breeding at its best and most natural. The hips are the fruit of the rose and they ripen on the rose in late summer. Laddie gathers them when they are ripe its important to state that the chances of a new variety are less than 0.2%.

Laddie removes the seeds from the hips and sows them in January so that they experience some as frost which interestingly gets them in germination mode. Four weeks later the first leaves emerge then a further six weeks later they are assessed for what looks promising. The chosen are potted on by now six months has passed and the big decision is made, and the potential new variety, if any is selected for further test.

Most other rose breeders use a far more complex method that involves removing the petals from the unopened flowers cutting the pollen away and dry then drying it out. They then dab their finger in the pollen and then place the pollen on the rose they want to cross with, they then label the pollinated flower with the name of both the pollen bearer and the pollen receiver.

Laddie has as you can imagine the perfect prescription for managing Roses he regards them as the “Queen of the Flowers” this includes selecting varieties to suit the purpose for the planned sight for the roses is it sunny, semi-shade, seaside or inland Laddie reckons that with careful selection some difficult conditions can be overcome

Then one has to consider what style of rose is required there is quite a few styles ground cover, miniature, climbing, rambling, Hybrid Tea  (Single rose on each stem) Floribunda( many roses on each stem). Laddie advises seeking out an expert to select a variety and desired colour from the style chosen. For example I have found Compassion to be an excellent climber and Trumpeter a very agreeable Floribunda.

That done Laddie recommends one to prepare the ground properly as they could be in situ for a long time. Work invested in advance is important as the time invested as they grow over the years.  “Dig the soil where you intend to plant to a spade depth, and in the process mix in nutrients to the soil such as cow or horse manure or seaweed feed. Then get planting but first loosen the soil and mix in the enriched soil plant a little bit deeper than the size of the rose root and water well”.

When it comes to spraying for diseases etc I’m not a big advocate of anything involving chemicals I look to the natural option. Laddie though insists spraying should be done when necessary with a fungicide when the first disease appears and in between fungicides spray with a preventive spray such as phostrogen which builds there strength against fungal attack. For bug control happily Laddie suggests attacking the unwelcome bugs with a good jet of water 3 or 4 times after an attack in two day intervals this washes them off and kills most but natural predators are not harmed.

So there you have it lots of work a fabulous garden display and show stopping results if you are up for it ???

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