Okay, I'm just going to say it. Somebody's got to say it first, so I will.
I absolutely hate the Knockout series of roses.
Well, okay, I don't absolutely hate them, I just regret their existence on the earth. And I don't really hate Knockout's existence, per se, I simply resent what they've done to the marketplace for roses and to local landscaping in general. Oh fine, I do hate them. Be honest with me, won't you? Don't we all?
Too much of a good thing is almost never a good thing. The American electorate recognizes the fact and rarely gives either political party full control of Executive and Legislative branches at once. If they do, they quickly realize the error and correct it, as we saw yesterday on Election Day 2010.
So it is with Knockout and its cousins Double Red Knockout, Pink Knockout, Double Pink Knockout, Sunny Knockout, Rainbow Knockout, Blushing Knockout and whatever other Knockout deformities there are to come. Bill Radler is a genius as a rose breeder, and he may indeed have, as one website said, "single-handedly brought rose genetics from the 20th Century into the 21st Century," but he also may be partially culpable in the recent bankruptcy of a number of large rose-breeding companies. Don't get me wrong, Knockout is a great rose. It is certainly disease-free, hardy, self-cleaning, and it blooms and blooms and blooms. It's just that in its original form,"red" Knockout is really a kind of a dark, dark pink, not anywhere near crimson red, and so I find the color clashes against my preference for bright, clear colors in my landscaping. It also has no fragrance and thus, to a real rosarian, lacks a soul. Unfortunately, Knockout is becoming so ubiquitous around town that it is about to join my common, oft-derided trio of Stella de Oro, gold-tipped junipers, and purple barberries as the fourth member of an uninspiring contemptuous landscaping quartet planted everywhere we turn our gaze. What is wrong with professional landscapers that leads them back repeatedly to those four plants? It is so bad around here that I recently noticed that the little traffic dividers and parking lot planters in the newest commercial development were reddish-pink Knockout's as backdrops to the lower-grown dayglow-orange Stella de Oro's as far as the eye could see. Yuck. I turned my Jeep away and hightailed it to more soothing vistas.
I didn't see the tsunami coming until this year, when every local box store had nothing for sale but own-root Knockout's of various types and when the local independent nurseries were reduced to selling Knockout alongside the various normal smattering of Hybrid Teas and Grandifloras. And although all these commercial establishments were just in competition with each other to sell the most Knockout's, and although it seemed like many of them had a lot of Knockout's left over on sale at the end of the season, I've got an uneasy feeling about where the trend is leading for next year.
I'm already on the fringe of the rose gardening world with my preference for shrub and Old Garden roses, so I really detest being shoved farther towards eccentricity as rose fashions change. I can't help it: the graceful ladies that I love have better scent and form and even though they're a little more diseased and older than the newer Knockout harem, and although they don't clean up after themselves but need me to help them get rid of their spent old parts, I loved them first and always will. Yes, I do grow a couple of the Knockouts; the bright red Double Knockout and the Double Pink Knockout, and I have another Radler rose, Carefree Sunshine that somehow, inexplicably, isn't listed as one of the Knockouts. But all three of them are just "there" for me, nothing special, needing no care, no spraying, no pruning; just plain boring. I need the variety of bloom form, I need the heavenly scents of myrrh, musk and lemon, I miss the need for my expert care by my Old Rose gals.
In a well-discussed GardenWeb thread entitled "In Defense of Knockout," one contributor wrote "Some of you are just snobs. Admit it." Okay, I will. I'll go even further. I'm declaring a class war against the new vanguard of Knockout's. Go ahead, feel free to call me a "cultivarist," a term I just coined to describe those who are bigoted against certain bourgeois rose cultivars. Or better yet, join me. We can wear the label proudly as we fondle and sniff our 'Madame Hardy' blooms.