Last week I visited Conard-Pyle way down in West Grove, past Longwood Gardens, which is my usual marker for "a long ride." Alain Meilland of the famous French rose-breeding family was visiting with Steve Hutton, CP's affable president and CEO, and they invited me to walk the trial fields with them. I'd done this once before with a group of garden writers, and it was worth doing again!
That's Alain on the left, Steve on the right. They walked up and down the rows of mostly unmarked roses, which are set out on this hill and basically left to fend for themselves for up to seven years. Whichever rose is still standing - and more, actually looking healthy and producing beautiful blooms and foliage - is considered a winner and could wind up "introduced" by CP as a new variety. This is how Knock Out got its start, and it's possible we were looking at the next in that wildly successful series.
Steve mentioned that of the seven Knock Outs, he'd like to disown 'Rainbow.' It hasn't measured up to the others. He also mentioned that one doesn't need to deadhead Knock Outs. How about that? Just the weekend before I buzzed all my KOs, thinking I was speeding the reblooming process along. Duh!
We lingered here at 'Francis Meilland,' a rose that will be in the public marketplace next year. Named for Alain's late father - the guy who brought us 'Peace' - it's already racked up awards in Europe and recently won the AARS - All-America Rose Selections - honors. Though it's hard to see in the sunshine of this photo, it's a beautiful hybrid tea with above-average disease resistance - yes, they're breeding them nowadays - and a color variously described as ballet pink, shell pink or pearl pink. You get the idea.
It was such a fun day. Sorry to enjoy the suffering of plants - Steve calls this field "rose hell" - but it's for a good cause: our back yards.