It seems to have been a long time since I blogged about a current reading, but I've been skipping among several gardening books and catching up on my fiction as well. The summer heat is setting in and I'm beginning to do less and less in the garden during the weekend afternoons, but I do relish the chance to pick up my garden reading. I seem to do most of my garden reading in two seasons, at the height of summer and in the dead of winter, but I suppose that makes some logical sense.
One recent text that I'm finishing, though, is The Sustainable Rose Garden, a 2010 Newbury Books publication edited by Pat Shanley, Peter Kukielski, and Gene Waering. The book is a collection of essays (sometimes supplemented by a poem or short note), and it is beautifully illustrated. All the essays are directed at some aspect of breeding or growing disease-resistant roses, or at practices in rose culture that utilize less synthetic fertilizers and artificial chemicals.
The essays will not all be useful for all readers (chapters on Tea Roses, for instance, won't help rosarians who live in Zone 5, such as myself), but there are ideas to be gleamed from most all the writings. The big bonuses though, are essays by well-known rosarians and rose hybridizers, such as Stephen Scanniello, Viru Viraraghavan, Jeri Jennings, and Jeff Wyckoff. There is a whole lot of information here, including a great description of the EarthKind™ program where I learned that there is a small EarthKind trial going on right here in Kansas.
The highlight of the book for me, however, was a chapter written by William J. Radler, the Radler of 'Knock Out®' rose fame, titled Talking About My Work With Roses. It is essentially a history of his interest in roses, his breeding program, and a listing and description of his current introductions. It is fascinating, for instance that he does not leave the testing of blackspot resistance up to the whims of a particular summer's weather, but describes how he collects diseased leaves early in the season, drys and powderizes them, and then sprays it over the rose garden wetting down all the leaves; in essence creating a worse-case scenario of disease to test his seedings. I learned a number of interesting facts, including the revelation that the original 'Knock Out' took 11 years to get to market, while his shortest time of a rose to market has been 7 years. And I learned how 'Knock Out' got its name. The list and description of the currently-introduced Radler roses is informative, telling us which ones were sports from others or were genetically different seedlings from similar crossings. And there are numerous tidbits and advice from Mr. Radler about dealing with horticultural mistakes, companion plantings, and tips for using roses in the design of the garden.
It is comforting to know that William Radler, with six employees who help with the rose research and development, views his biggest challenge as "keeping ahead of the weeds." Sound familiar? I guess we don't need a lifetime of dedication to roses, a degree in landscape architecture, or recognition, fame and fortune to share some of the basic challenges of gardening; we just need a kinship with the soil.