In 2006 Bindweed Farm applied for and received a research grant from the ASCFG to grow garden roses as a specialty cut flower. Through postings on the Bulletin Board and an article in the Quarterly, we discovered Erin Benzakein, a grower in Washington, who was also knee deep in roses. Bouncing information back and forth via the internet we each got a crop in and celebrated our first harvests. We found that the response to these delicate beauties was everything we had hoped for in both Idaho and Washington. The following year Erin joined us at Bindweed for our Regional Meeting and together we introduced roses as a specialty cut.
The partnership continued at the Portland Conference where Erin and I gave a presentation entitled “Beauty and Profitability: The Return of the Rose”. For those unable to attend and those wanting more information or clarification the following is a summary.
Called by many names (garden roses, old-fashioned roses and English roses), for this article I will just refer to them as roses but these roses are not the long-stemmed waxy thornless varieties that have been robbed of scent. The roses I refer to are old-fashioned in shape, large cup-like rosettes filled with swirling petals and bursting with fragrance. Even though these roses are not long lived, do not ship well and are often covered with vicious thorns, they are in huge demand. Some of the most clamored for are Austin roses, the pet project of David Austin, an Englishman—hence the misnomer “English roses”—who is breeding for shape, petal count and fragrance. Erin learned when she spoke to their US representative that they are scrambling to fill the demand for their roses, covering only 1% of the market right now but striving to be as popular here as they are in the UK in three to five years. They are launching their new line of cut roses—unavailable to growers, allowing just one farm the rights to grow them—in New York in March. Martha Stewart is already talking about them and the phones are ringing off the hook with interested designers and consumers and if Martha is interested, well, everyone is interested.
Erin also interviewed two wholesalers, the buyer at Seattle’s biggest wholesale house, and someone local who delivers to a lower-end client base. Both agree that the demand for these roses is rapidly growing. The average price per stem starts at $2.00 and Austins are capturing a whopping $3.00—that’s more than I get for peonies! Because they are so perishable both companies only special order these roses and the farthest they consider shipping from is California. Both prefer to buy locally thus giving the edge to anyone local who is growing garden  and/or Austin roses.
At Bindweed we planted ten different Austin roses and two Kordes varieties; some have proved to be excellent choices and some are definitely “event” roses, gorgeous but very short lived. Trying to get information about which roses make good cuts was nearly impossible.  Austin roses were not bred as cut flowers—David Austin was interested in creating roses that were beautifully shaped, both as flowers and shrubs, and were fragrant. In The English Roses by David Austin, an oversized coffee-table beauty of over 300 pages, there is a ten-page chapter entitled “English Roses in the House” with pages of luscious photographs and cutting ideas but no variety recommendations. Companies selling Austins are primarily marketing them as landscape material and have little or no idea what makes a good cut.
Kordes roses have been bred for the cut flower market and are sturdy, beautiful roses—long stemmed, long lived and vibrant, but most are tea roses and with the exception of ‘Buxom Beauty’ and ‘Ice Girl’, not fragrant. As part of our grant responsibilities Ralph filed an excellent report printed in the Spring 2007 Quarterly; please refer to it for planting particulars, sources and the results of our first year in production.  
We planted in rows four feet apart, in three foot increments, in holes prepared with a twelve inch post-hole auger. Our soil is a challenging alkaline clay combination that we amended by backfilling the holes with a composted soil mix. We planted nearly 300 bare roots on a crappy April day, cold and windy, making much of the dry composted soil airborne filling my eyes and mouth and leaving gaps in our deep holes—that’s farming in Idaho. Roses are vigorous growers sending out long arching branches studded with thorns; now I would recommend wider walk-rows and more space between plants—or buy leather pants. To protect new growth from desiccating winds we hilled up bark around each plants, moving it to the sides after plants were developed, filling the beds to deter weeds. In the fall we hilled up the bark again in generous mounds for the winter. The second fall we did not do any extra mulching, hoping for good snow cover, which we got, and good survival, losing less than 2%.    
We irrigate the rose beds with a drip system and have run a water-soluble fertilizer through the lines. Because our soil is so alkaline I have recently been experimenting with Epsom salts and unfortunately it is too early to report any results. We are troubled with aphids and spider mites but have been able to keep them under control using the shower method—at first sign giving each plant a good hard “shower” with the hose and a good volume spray attachment.  Occasionally I find cane borer damage that is easily controlled by cutting below the affected area and discarding the canes. Each August there are signs of powdery mildew in some of the roses, but not all have been affected and some never have.
We prune in the spring and have learned to adopt a “tough love” approach—when cutting, cut deep, and when pruning, prune hard. The first spring it took me days to meticulously examine every cane and judiciously cut each plant. This spring Ralph offered to help and at first scared me to death as he became some demented version of “Edward Pruner-hand” but when I began to harvest the first flush I found that the plants that “Edward” pruned had longer, better formed stems. I had also been cautious about cutting too much stem and discovered while harvesting the second flush that deeply cut stems produced better flowers. Rose stems should be cut at an angle about a quarter of an inch above the leaf bud, leaving the bud to form new stems.  Deep cuts encouraged the new stems to grow up to the crown of the plant before forming buds, creating long, elegant stems. Making shallow cuts created short, branchy, useless stems.  
I harvest early in the morning as soon as the dew is off, bunching the roses in the field, stripping leaves off the bottom four to five inches. The roses are then sleeved and placed in conditioned water (I use Aquaplus) and kept in the cooler at 40 to 42 degrees for at least twenty-four hours and up to three days. I discovered this cooling/conditioning process to be very helpful, adding three to seven days of vase life depending upon the variety. I would love to experiment with different conditioners, commercial and home brews, but think it may have to wait until we retire.
For profiles and in-depth information on all of our favorite roses please watch for my report in the next Winter (January 2009) Quarterly.

Rose Growers Websites to Drool Over:
Country Roses in England
The Real Flower Company
Rose Story Farm
(Be sure to look up the varieties they are growing for inspiration!)

Helpful Resources:
Roses From A to Z
(Great website filled with the most beautiful rose photos, helpful
information and tons of inspiration)
Ariella Chezar
(To see garden roses being used in amazing floral designs visit this site!)
Commercial Outdoor Cut Flower Roses,
Cut Flower Quarterly Spring 08 by Gary Pellett of Kordes Roses

Wholesale Rose Sources:
David Austin Roses
Pickering Nurseries
Kordes Roses
Chamblee’s Rose Nursery
(These guys grow great own root roses, available wholesale!)
Great Books:
The English Roses and English Roses both by David Austin
R Is For Roses by Carolyn Parker
A Year of Roses by Stephen Scanniello