David Austin roses would seem to have the most extensive, comprehensive and probably expensive rose breeding program of any rose nursery in the world (I may be biased but it likely to be true!). After making between fifty thousand and sixty thousand crosses each year – one rose with another and more complicated crosses from previous explorations – in their acreage of glasshouses, those rose deemed to have potential are planted out, in rows like this in the Trial Fields (this is just one), whereupon then they are watched and assessed, weekly, and results recorded for seven years or more.
Walking through this particular field, across the road from David Austin’s family home – he can likely see this over the hedge from an upstairs window – it is clear they have a business for many, many years ahead. We can try to guess the parentage of some of these roses, which existing roses they most resemble and how they differ; bearing in mind my comments below, there were plenty of roses that I thought would make attractive additions to the David Austin canon, but only time will tell!
What we can’t say from this single viewing is how well an individual rose will perform season upon season, year on year, how well it flowers, how early, how late, in different weather conditions, how quick it is to repeat (if it does), how the fragrance performs in different conditions, how susceptible it is to drought, mildew, blackspot and the myriad ailments of roses (they spray for aphids but nothing else), to compare its performance in a cold spring against an earlier warmer season, when it loses its leaves, how the shrub grows (rounded, shrubby, bushy, gaunt, lanky, graceful, arching, compact or open, vigorous, tall, short…) and probably a list of dozens of other factors.
Red posts are placed next to those roses which perform better than others over the years (and not just this year, this one season, this week) and these might, just might, become the next introduction at Chelsea – in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019…..
Individual roses are planted out in quantity, up to 200 of them, in these rows but also as single specimens where there is space for the plant to grow and mature fully – another opportunity to assess the plant.
Time travel, row by row, in a Shropshire field….
Going back in time, so far as the breeding program is concerned at least, each year up to 60,000 crosses are made in their glasshouses (it used to be double, treble this volume but they are getting better at anticipating the qualities and traits of particular crosses, so needn’t do as many – nevertheless, it is quite an operation). Collecting the pollen from the desired roses; appropriately stripping the ‘mother’ rose flower and hand-pollinating it – and such record keeping! New named roses are constantly being brought into the mix from all over the world, to trial their potential for rose breeding while some seasoned favourites are used time and again for their reliable and agreeable traits.
Collecting seed from the resulting rose hips, processing it to break the dormancy and growing plants from these seeds – producing a flower in the first season. This single flower is judged and if has potential, it can move on to the next stage and will eventually find a place in the Trial Fields. The rest go on the bonfire. 99.5% in fact go on the pyre….
This year saw David Austin introduce just three roses, Desdemona, Sir Walter Scott and The Ancient Mariner
Some of the current stock of stellar roses –