I have not entirely neglected my garden reading this Winter, but I must confess that I've struggled at times to keep a high interest level in the books that I chose to read (more on that in a later blog). I did, however, recently pick up a copy of an older rose tome by noted rosarian, Rayford Reddell, titled A Year In The Life Of A Rose, and written in the ancient times of 1996. My second-hand volume, by the way, seems to be autographed by the author, and thus well worth the marked-down $2.50 price.
Mostly, this short book reminded me exactly how much rose gardening has changed within two short decades. Mr. Reddell wrote the book in a time when the AARS program reigned supreme in the rose world, annually introducing beautiful but finicky princesses who often weren't worth the trouble of growing. He wrote at a time when Jackson & Perkins and Week's Roses were thriving and turning out promising new varieties by the dozens every year. I expected, and was not disappointed, to find suggestions and advice based more on the classical formulas for growing good show roses, advice aimed at production of massive Hybrid Tea blooms grown in blessed coastal or southern climates. There were many prunning and spraying and fertilizing instructions that were used 20 years ago when the modern shrub rose class was still in infancy, but few suggestions for environmental consideration or organic care.
I respect Mr. Reddell's expertise and knowledge without question, but I did not agree with his recommended rose choices and, given my Kansas climate, I'm sure he would understand. The chapter entitled "The Future For Roses" did predict the growth of the shrub rose class and the trend for breeding disease resistant roses, but Reddell proclaimed 'Carefree Delight', in my opinion a real yawner of a shrub rose, to be the "quintessential Landscape rose." I don't think so, Mr. Reddell. And then he goes on to worship at the roots of 'Scentimental', the wine and white streaked 1997 AARS winner. Every reader here knows my love for striped roses, and yes, I do grow 'Scentimental', but the rose struggles mightily to survive for me and every year I consider uprooting and composting it. The blossoms are nice, but I'm not sentimental about 'Scentimental' at all.
The text was most fascinating to me for what it didn't predict; the breeding of Knock Out and the subsequent disintegration of the commercial rose world that we knew in 1996. There is a section in the book titled "Roses by Zones," In it, Mr. Reddell picks a well-known rosarian in every USDA Zone to glean local advice from, and, by chance, for Zone 4B he chose to repeat advice from Bill Radler, the breeder of 'Knock Out'. This was Radler pre-Knock Out, discussing winter protection and fertilizer choices in Wisconsin. Not a word about the revolution to come.
In 1962, Thomas Kuhn defined the concept of a "paradigm shift", postulating that
scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a "series of peaceful
interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions" replacing one world view with another. Within the Rose World, there have been at least 3 paradigm shifts, first with the introduction to the West of the "China Stud roses," then the breeding of the first Hybrid Tea in 1867, and more recently, with the rise of disease resistant shrub roses, like Knock Out, that bloom madly and healthy in our landscapes in a very un-rose-like manner. A Year In The Life Of A Rose illustrates that 'Knock Out 'was the catalyst for a classic paradigm shift, a change unforeseen by the arguably foremost expert of the field in his time, only five years before the paradigm shift to disease resistant landscape roses began.