In August of 1998 I had the honor and pleasure of visiting America’s top rose hybridizer, Tom Carruth, in southern California where he has created some truly unique roses for the joy of millions of gardeners. His keenly planned, and sometimes playful, swaps of pollen between two willing parent roses, have given us living gems like ‘Scentimental’, ‘Flutterbye’, ‘Gracie Allen’, ‘George Burns’, ‘Fourth of July’ and the sleek cool ‘Stainless Steel’. As an amateur rose boinker myself I was profoundly awed and inspired by the sight of 26 THOUSAND tagged pollinations ripening in one half of a vast greenhouse at the Weeks Roses headquarters in Upland, California. It was a thrill to walk with Tom between the seedling benches filling the other half, seeing the often gorgeous and deeply scented first blooms of his newest creations, and to hear their widely varying parentages.
Tom is a gracious host who made sure I got to prowl through a few unique nurseries for exotic tropical Salvias and Ruellias to plant in my Tampa customers’ gardens this fall. He saw to it I experienced fabulous private and public gardens, including those at Balboa Park and the legendary Huntington Botanic Garden. His own garden is a soothing composition of bamboos, herbs, roses, subtropical perennials, pools, and a stunning assortment of variegated perennials, defined and linked by paths and boardwalks. And I was a sponge, soaking it all in.
One memorable high point in a week of many was our visit to Weeks’ growing fields in Wasco, California, nestled in America’s farming capitol, the San Joaquin valley....600 acres of roses, a psychedelic profusion of hundreds of colorful rows extending to the horizon! He took me to several acres where many hundreds of his own creations are grown for open-air testing, their having survived his rigorous and ruthless culling process in the greenhouse, his keen eye and mind discerning flaws that often eluded me until he’d point them out. It was a thrill to walk with this amiable and talented man down those rows, me holding his breeding records and together looking up the parentages of roses we found especially attractive and/or interesting. Since Tom breeds specifically for fragrance (the main reason I became obsessed with roses) I had to sample them all, sneezing now and then, delighted at the intensity and quality of scent he often achieves. By using roses like ‘Westerland’ and ‘Autumn Sunset’ and ‘Gourmet Popcorn’ and others, plus some of his own hybrids, Tom is creating a very eclectic family that includes Hybrid Teas, Miniatures, Shrubs, Climbers plus many that defy classification. Some of the fine yet nameless, number-coded roses I saw that memorable day will no doubt in the future enjoy acclaim and commercial success.
Both Tom and Weeks vigorously support amateur rose breeders, (one reason he invited me) and Tom pointed out some of their hybrids growing next to his in that testing field. And so it was a special thrill on this trip to submit to Tom one of my own mild-climate hybrids for stage 1 commercial testing in the Weeks greenhouse! And while the odds are slim mines will “cut the mustard”, he reminded me that ‘St. Patricks’ and ‘Sally Holmes’ and ‘Baby Love’ plus many others were bred by amateur back yard rose boinkers like me.
Back in his minivan, we drove further, passing thousands of roses till he stopped and pointed out one bright row of roses, saying that it marked the beginning of what lay before us....OWN ROOT ROSES as far as the eye could see! Weeks is growing own root roses on a vast scale: Hybrid Teas, Shrubs, Climbers, his own hybrids, Floribundas and more, having sold 600,000 last year as cold climate gardeners continue to discover own-root roses’ advantages of longevity and vigor. Tom knows how prejudiced I am towards own-rootedness, and had saved this moment for near the end of my trip. It is a joy to learn that thanks to Tom and Weeks Roses, own-root roses are once again becoming mainstream as they were early this century, no longer coveted solely by a “fringe group” of fanatics!
I saw and experienced so much in that intense week that in a future article I’d like to share more, especially the highlights of visiting some excellent private and public rose gardens growing in a climate new to me, one that is neither Denver nor Tampa yet with elements of each. So imagine my surprise at seeing odd juxtapositions like mild-climate Teas and Chinas and Noisettes and even Gigantea Hybrids (like ‘Belle of Portugal’) growing several yards from cold hardy Mosses and Hybrid Perpetuals and English Roses! I’d always heard it was rose heaven there; now I know why.