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A Visit with George Mander, Brad Jalbert of Select Roses and Jan Verschuren of Roses & Roses

A visit to my parents in White Rock, B.C., South of Vancouver on the border with the US, afforded me with the opportunity to meet with two of Canada's main hybridizers and a rosegrower from Holland who supplies Garden Centres on the Lower Mainland. It opened many new avenues of study and whetted my lust for varieties not yet on the market, unavailable in Eastern parts of the country or simply new to me in the flesh having only read about them or seen them in pictures.

Early August in B.C. was fraught with forest fires, heat and drought. When I arrived, the heavens opened for a few days, and the otherwise dry air was as heavy with humidity as an August afternoon in Southern Ontario, but it helped to quench raging fires, and the dormant grass sprang to life, even though the temperatures quickly rose again to unseasonable highs.

Shortly after 1 PM, I pulled into Brad Jalbert's Select Roses in Langley. I quelled my desire to look at all of the potted roses whose blooms and scents were tugging my eyes and nose so that I might find Brad. Walking along the rows of greenhouses, I spied an older gentleman leaning over a pot. As he rose and turned, he introduced himself as George Mander (the man who hybridized Canadian White Star(r) and Glowing Amber and the man whom I had arranged to meet here. He and I had been exchanging views and information without ever having met). He immediately started talking about collecting budwood while he was there, and we went in quest of our host. We found Brad in another greenhouse watering. And thus, we three began our tour.

Brad immediately aroused oos and ahhs with a new floribunda, a seedling from 2000 that he was planning to toss, when it suddenly sprang to life this year. This one-of-a-kind beauty is an incredibly healthy, scented, bushy, dark red with white reverse. He is offering it to the Olympic committee for the Vancouver games.

Walking through the greenhouses, around the rose fields and houses, Brad pointed out this plant and that. Another of his floribundas, the orange Calypso Dancer will be introduced in 2005, though some test plants are in people's gardens now. Janet Wood, past President of the Vancouver Rose Society, is enamored of it. It was named by contest at the Antique Rose Farm in the US. A HT with huge, very fragrant white blooms that struck my eye was Loria, named after his grandmother. A mini which was outstanding was Lavender Crystal, a Japanese bred mini he wishes were one of his own. Another of his was Graduation Day, which grows well for me here in Southern Ontario. A fragrant, apricot HT that Brad feels is one of the best in the last ten years is Marilyn Munro, not bothered by anything. The best red climber he is growing is Fryer's Crimson Cascade, which doesn't fry in the heat and is always in bloom. A Chris Warner rose which caught my eye is classified as a ground cover. It was trailing over a fence when I saw it (this being zone 8). Brad says it is immune to blackspot and definitely has a wafting scent. This lovely single is called Shady Lady. Then, there were Brad's perennial favourites like Pensioner's Voice and Lavaglut, which he has been raving about for at least the last nine years; and Livin' Easy, aka Fellowship, the best floribunda one can grow on the West Coast1.

During the tour, we spoke of propagating from cuttings. George gave Brad credit for teaching him how to do it. Brad gave George praise for having taught him how to hybridize roses. They are quick to praise each other's successes and quick to tell each other when they should toss out bad seedlings! Brad confirmed for me that even tip-cuttings do well because they are rich in growing hormones. He commented the major suppliers are listening: J&P are producing about 50% of their stock own root! Who would have thought it? But the public is demanding it. On the other hand, both Brad and George have sent well-known varieties of theirs to a US rose firm only to be told they have "No commercial value". Brad also lamented the plaintive cry of the consumer, "They're too expensive!" of his products, when his are two year plants, not one like the others; and therefore, large. Customers must learn to look at the plant quality then ask the price! He and George also have the luxury of starting cuttings and repotting them once, then twice, in one and two gallon pots. They both remarked how much larger the plants are when planted in established beds than those planted there directly. Give them a chance to grow and produce a root system before thrusting them into an established rose bed.

George, as I said, was collecting budwood of his roses, both here at Select Roses and at Roses & Roses. He has sent budwood for 10 varieties to Hortico for grafting. He has also sent budwood to Holland. There has been considerable interest in Canadian White Star(r) since Canada produced the four forty-seven cent stamps that also include Champlain, Agnes and Morden Centennial two years ago. He is also still fuming about being accused of submitting nursery-grown roses of Glowing Amber in a show. Seems someone is a little jealous of him...

He has made arrangements with a wholesale rosegrower, Jan Verschuren, to graft his budwood on R. canina. Jan prefers R. canina currently. R. canina is what was used there before WW2. The original canina was notorious for suckering. There are new canina selections since then. R. canina cv. "Inermis" is the most widely used variety. Much less suckering takes place, but it still suckers. R. canina cv."Heinsohn´s Rekord" is regarded as the very best for Hybrid Teas (Jan agrees out of experience). R. corymbifera cv. "Laxa" or R. dumetorum cv. "Laxa" is more and more being grown on Europe´s mainland. It was always used as a rootstock for Great Britain only. Because it suckers little and is, therefore, a cheaper way of growing roses, the mainland now also grows more and more on Laxa. However, Laxa is not as winterhardy as R. canina. For treeroses, R. canina cv. "Pfänder" is the best one (his family has a well established R. canina cv."Pfänder" weeping treerose of The Fairy in their garden at home surviving at some -24°C unprotected, its budunion up in the air). Cheap fast production for big box stores has opened a market for multiflora cutting rootstocks for treeroses in Holland, but they have little winterhardiness. He also points out that R. multiflora is softer and the grafts a little more likely to be weak during the first year (Brad had one of George's Canadian White Star break right at the bud union; it can happen in a strong wind). Multiflora is much faster in production, but has a shorter lifespan than canina. Brad's experience is roses grafted on R. canina suckered freely2 and didn't produce as many basal shoots as R. multiflora or own-root roses. However, Jan points out that multiflora was shipped to Sweden because they had guaranteed snow cover in their winters. All other parts never wanted multiflora because of its frost susceptibility3. Obviously, there is great debate going on here concerning the relative merits of various rootstocks.

What was really outstanding about Jan's rose fields were that they were only sprayed every week to ten days with feed-grade baking soda (finer than the kitchen variety stuff and, therefore, dissolves easier) and were absolutely clean! No rust, mildew, blackspot, aphids nor downy mildew! This last is a genuine fall-off-your-chair surprise. This time of year, baking soda really proves itself. His treatment works out to 8 grams (1 teaspoon) baking soda to 1 L water and 3 drops of liquid soap4. With so many blooms on the plants in the field, I asked Jan about nipping his roses in the bud to increase the bushiness of his crop, as Chris Pieper does on his highly automated farm outside London, ON. Jan said that it didn't seem to matter much. I wonder if that has to do with the considerably longer growing season on the West Coast (Cnd zone 8 vs 6b; US 8 vs 5), but Jan feels it is a very dubious proposition labourwise, and doing it by machine, doesn't take into account roses growing to different heights. Cutting leaves is cutting the lungs of the plant away. He does not think it is done in Holland except for tulips.

George and I left Jan's rose fields with bottles filled with well water, sweating in the afternoon heat. I can still remember the twinkle in his eye. What an outstanding afternoon I spent with three rose-smitten individuals, all with the gift of gab. (Is that prerequisite in Rosedom, do you think? What of the propensity for talk of the likes of George Piagowky, or Jerry Twomey, or of our Editor, Harry McGee? Or is it merely the passion, the enthusiasm, for roses welling up and gushing over where given the opportunity to speak of them. No matter. What a pleasure!). And thank you George and Brad and Jan for taking the time to speak to a relative newbie in the world of rose production.

1. Jan Vershuren commented after reading this that a much tougher one with leathery leaves, which he finds surpasses Livin´ Easy in disease resistance, is Zambra, but Livin´ Easy definitely is a good performer.
2. Jan notes: the first year the roses are in his field, it is important to remove the suckers properly, never by pruning them off as this only increases the problem. Always break the suckers off, thus taking off all the dormant eyes with it. Problem solved. In the following year, he only sees a few plants making suckers in his potted roses, and when again removed properly, the suckering is gone.
3. This has always been a hot topic for Jan. Another former local grower here lost his crop on multiflora when temperatures went down to minus 24°C. "I should have put more straw on" was his thinking... Jan hills up his budunions in fall and sleeps easy, even with minus 24. In his opinion, multiflora is never as winterhardy as R. canina selections are. As his father mentioned when he said to him that all growers use multiflora in Canada. " What?! Are they backward there?"
The name Verschuren is closely related to rosegrowing in Holland. They are rootstock specialists. They produce seed, stratify and produce rootstock (±6,000,000/ yr); and are only a medium size rootstock grower! Combined with Germany and the huge rosegrowers, competition is immense. Out of the competition, the best emerges because of the scale in which things are done there. The scales are different in Canada: here, rose production is done on a hobbyfarm basis.
Multiflora is easy to grow; that is why it is used here; that is Jan's conclusion. When he met Otto Palleck, the just retired Ontario rosegrower, Palleck said, "What? You grow on canina? That is the best rootstock there is, but we cannot get No.1 quality here...." That was most likely not his only problem, as seed germination with canina requires 2 years of stratifying. Brian Minter told Jan initially when he started out doubtfully here with canina rootstock, "Do the best you can and grow the best product possible, and you will succeed" Now, Jan has customers who are coming back raving to buy more. His treeroses did not blink their eyes at the cold last winter.
4. Jan uses a non-ionic sticker/ spreader instead, but he thinks that Safer´s aphid product could maybe substitute perfectly. He has, however, no experience with it, though he has always wanted to double-check it, but never got around to doing it. The cheapest way is dishwashing liquid. The spreader sticker/dishwashing liquid/Safer´s is the aphid-killing component in the golden mix.

Many thanks to Roses-Canada for kind permission to reprint this article.

Steve Elkerton
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