The Elusive Rose

At the time I am writing this, my roses are in full bloom and on my mind in a big way. As I’ve expressed several times before, my David Austins continue to impress. I am finally 100% thrilled that I went with this fragile event flower over the more versatile hybrid teas. When I invested in the 110 plants I have, several growers that I talked to were surprised at my choice as the Austins are known to be a short-lived cut flower. But I loved them and wanted to go for it, so I did. The plants continue to thrive in their third year with little more care than any other flowers I grow. Pruning and horticultural oil seem to keep disease at bay and aside from the Japanese beetles that have their way with the plants for a few weeks in June the plants are pretty carefree. Blossoms are stunning; they never get old and each has its positive attributes.

The Kordes roses I received from Gloeckner, as a trial for last year’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting at my farm, are also flowering now. So far, they are not any less impressive than the Austins. ‘Orange Pompon’ blooms in a spray of really large buds and one stem can be as big as a dinner plate dahlia when all flowers open. So far it is the best producer with thick long stems and plenty of them. ‘Yellow Shake’ has pretty flowers that are buttercup yellow streaked with peachy-orange. ‘Old Fashioned Pompon’ is a cerise red spray with small cabbage-shaped roses that seems to not open quite fully for me. ‘Sweet Antique’ is also very impressive with light pink old-fashioned garden rose blooms.

In their second year after planting small 4” pots, the plants look good. However, I have what is supposed to be ‘Terra Pompon’—a terra-cotta colored spray—blooming with not-fully-double, pale pink blooms that cover the top of a stem, resembling a cherry blossom branch in full bloom. I’m torn between being disappointed (terra-cotta is a great, unique color and what the heck is going on?!) and thrilled (that baby soft pillow of blooms is gorgeous!). I noticed that several were sprouting from the root stock, so I assume this is the problem. I checked with a few other growers, as a few had shared with me their trepidation regarding my Kordes trial at last year’s Regional Meeting. Both Andrea Gagnon of Lynnvale Farms and Bob Wollam of Wollam Gardens were in attendance and told of little success in their own Kordes trials. I contacted them for updates and…

Andrea said:
“Year 1 (after bare root planting): short and promising, 10-15 plants came in not true to variety, some sort of wild type, didn’t cut, planted in black plastic, drought year.
Year 2: shorter stems harvested, deer candy, plants looked fine except for unnamed variety which Alicain Carlson told me had distorting disease that could only come in from breeder.
Year 3: lost all product as ALL Kordes named varieties began sprouting from root stock.
Year 4:  ripped OUT!
Waste of money, etc. wish I had planted heirlooms.

The twisty contorted disease spread among the unnamed variety but did not appear to go to others,  never got the chance to tell as all were sprouting (or NOT at all) from rootstock.”

Bob said:
“The Kordes roses were an expensive and disappointing experience on my farm. I can’t point to one specific thing that caused them to be unproductive and not up to the beautiful standard that we saw in the Northwest. Mine are still living. They did not die and I don’t believe they ever developed a disease.  They bloomed beautifully the first spring from the quite robust bare root plants we bought, but even that fall they didn’t give the nice flush I expected. I pruned them the next winter and they came back again in the spring with less vigor. It was downhill from there. Last fall, after 4 years we mowed them down, but they are back again—no better. I’d guess our hot humid weather is to blame, but I don’t know anyone on the East Coast who’s successfully grown them. I’ve tested many plants over the years and had a number of duds.  This ranks high on my failure list.”

I also contacted Diane Szukovathy at Jello Mold Farm in Mount Vernon, Washington, as Andrea mentioned that she also was having difficulty with the Kordes roses.  Diane said:

“They are still on probation at our farm. Foliage looking good and lots of promising buds this year, but last year wasn’t great. I blamed it on the cold, wet weather, but am waiting to see what happens this year. We had issues with ‘Sweet Antique’ petals mysteriously shattering even when they looked good;  again, I was blaming that on rain exposure, but not sure. We had significant issues with petal spotting on ‘Antique Caramel’, and were planning to get a rain cover up on them this year, but ran out of time. It’s a drier year here and we just may catch the first flush free of rain—that will tell a lot. ‘Mon Petit Chou’ has been a complete bust—very promising swollen pink buds that have yet to open for us ever. Again, the last two years were nearly record-breaking for cold and wet, so can’t say for sure. Ask me in a month. My best guess is that in our climate, these roses do best under cover. I know that Peterkort Roses grows ‘Antique Caramel’ and maybe some others in greenhouse, so you might ask Sandra.”

So….I checked in with Sandra, who said:
“We grow ‘Karamel Antike’ and its sport ‘Romantik Antike’ successfully but they are indoors in our big greenhouses. I know the Europeans who grow roses outdoors have a pretty regular spray program. We do have issues with botrytis spots also. In addition, growing the way we do does not produce the large size flowers that you probably get at least from the first flush. In our climate the rain is a big problem as it trashes the flowers and there is disease.”

So, it seems, there is a possibility for success with Kordes, and I’m hoping there have been breeding advances as I received my plants several years after Andrea and Bob. I found it interesting that we all put some blame on our climates and think the other coast has it better! I will continue to update on my trial. Although, they may not be the “outdoor” cutting rose Kordes had hoped for, I think it is still worth the effort to keep trying to breed a highly productive line of long-lasting, sweet smelling old-fashioned roses. (Not asking much, right?) As a designer, I don’t think roses will ever go out of style, but I am extra thankful for my Austins in the midst of this crazy wedding season.

Becky Devlin

Roost Flowers & Design

Becky Devlin Roost Flowers & Design [email protected]