Sunday, May 13, 2012

America triumphs over Knock Out!

Along with many other rose lovers, particularly along with those who like "old" roses, I occasionally go into a funk about the state of the rose industry, curse the day Bill Radler first thought about producing 'Knock Out', and mourn the loss of inventory at the local nurseries.  If you're not familiar with the issue, this link, titled "The Rise and Fall of Our National Floral Emblem", explains it pretty well.  The article was originally in the American Rose Rambler in 2010. 

The outlook has been particularly depressing this year as I wander the local stores and see only Knock Out's and shrub roses.  Two prominent local nurseries, who were faithful up until this year, stopped carrying Hybrid Teas, Floribunda's, Grandifloras, or Climbers at all.  It is as if  'Peace' and the AARS awards never existed.  Even the cheap container roses at the big box stores look more decrepit and lonelier than normal, mere memories of the roses I love.

But yesterday, on a trip to Home Depot to buy some spray paint, I found hope amidst despair.  I was wandering by the garden center roses (I still can't resist) and couldn't help but hear a woman exclaim, "Look at this 'Knock Out', Tom."  What a great color and so full of petals!"  "Oh, and it has a great smell too!"  

There, among a great sea of single-flowered  'Rainbow Knock Out's and 'Knock Out' itself, this shopper had spied a single misplaced plant of large-flowered climbing rose 'America', and recognized it for its uniqueness among the heathens.  Although I'm not a fan of 'America', Mrs. ProfessorRoush loves the rose, always has loved it, and I grow it although it struggles here in Kansas.  In fact, I've lost a couple in tough winters, but my latest has held on four years and, trimmed like a shrub, seems to be vigorously protesting my attempts to restrain it.

In a flash, I think my fellow shopper has shown me the future of roses.  It's not that the American public innately prefers the likes of  'Knock Out' and the Drift roses and other landscape roses.  It is that the rose industry made prima donnas of roses, commercialized them, branded them, weakened them, and cheapened them.  Perhaps it is a good thing that the AARS winners are being shunned.  Mostly, they sucked.  Blackspotted, cold-sensitive, thorny-caned monsters, we are not rejecting roses, we're rejecting what they have become.  We're rejecting novelty color and bling for dependability and health.   'Knock Out' is popular because anyone can grow it south of Zone 3 without care.  The fact that 'Knock Out' has no fragrance, simple blooms, and a mild color doesn't matter.  What matters is that 'Knock Out' is healthy and doesn't die.

So now, I'm thinking differently.   The breeders and nurseries have simply been taught a lesson.  Yes, there will be a period of turmoil in the rose-growing world.  In the interim, hard-liners, like myself, will turn to smaller specialty mail-order nurseries and the public will just have to put up with they're offered by Big Box.  But after that period of time, breeders will again improve the flowers and add scent back to fair rose, and increase the numbers of petals while keeping the rose bush healthy.  And we'll have new roses that we love.  Different roses, but better roses for it.  And the rose industry will rise again.  We won't forsake the rose for marigolds and snapdragons.  The world is not that crazy.


  1. Sounds like your betting on the come.

  2. Who knows how many new gardeners may be germinating because their success with Knock Out roses makes them realize that they, too, can have some pretty color in their yard without having to replant annuals every year?


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