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So far we have been concerned with the past and the present rose scenario in India. But the emphasis of this talk is really on future development. The new wave of rose experimentation in India, on which my philosophy of rose breeding is based, mirrors, interestingly enough, what the imperialist British author, Rudyard Kipling, wrote: 'East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet'. Without getting into the cultural veracity of this, there is no doubt that Western roses are hardly suited for the Eastern situation or, for that matter, Northern roses for Southern climates like yours. On the latter subject, many American writers have lamented on the craze for modern Hybrid Teas, even in the warmer parts of the U.S. overlooking the pristine merits of the warm climate roses of yesteryear – the Chinas, the Teas and the Noisettes.
The same trend prevailed in India too, and, it is pertinent to point out that with every generation of the modern Hybrid Teas, raised with the objective of cold tolerance in Europe or the U.S., the Hybrid Tea becomes less and less suited for the warmer parts of the world.
A separate line of breeding is clearly required and the need for such a line was explicitly enunciated for the first time as far back as 1930 by India's premier rose breeder, Mr. B. S. Bhatcharji. Much earlier, a well known English horticulturist, Rev. Firminger, who was based in Calcutta, wrote in 1904 in his 'Manual of Gardening for India' that roses belong to two well defined groups- one, the roses of Europe and Western Asia, for example, the French and damask roses, and, two, the roses of eastern Asia such as the Chinas, Bengal and Bourbon roses. I quote him: " Now, scarcely a rose of the first of these groups has been found to succeed in this country, while roses of the second group, as far as my observation goes, bloom far more beautifully in India than in England".
It is good to remind ourselves that when we talk of roses in India we are talking of a flowering season which extends from early winter (November) to spring (March). If an Indian were to write an ode to the rose, a la Thomas Moore, he would extol the first rose of winter, not the last rose of summer!!
Bhatcharji's dictum made a powerful impact on me, as did the sage observation of the great Wilhelm Kordes, of 'Crimson Glory' fame, who observed that the soup ladle would only bring out what was in the soup tureen. Which, of course, means that fresh blood is needed if real progress is to be achieved.
Before taking up this matter of warm climate rose breeding it is appropriate to mention the pioneer Indian hybridisers. The first notable one was Bhatcharji and one of his most famous roses is the extravagantly fragrant red rose 'Sugandha' which was pictured in a series of rose stamps issued by the Indian government.
Show slide of Sugandha)
Bhatcharji was a pre-Independence figure but it was the eminent agricultural scientist, Dr B.P. Pal (1906-1989) who really pioneered modern rose breeding in India. Dr Pal, who rose to become the Director General of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, in New Delhi, a premier facility, was an ardent lover of roses. In a rose career starting from a childhood spent in Burma, Dr. Pal was involved in growing and breeding roses for over 27 years. He talks in his book, 'The Rose in India', 1st edition, 1966, of how he was able to grow roses such as 'Frau Karl Druschki' and 'Climbing Captain Christy' in the warm monsoon climate of lower Burma in stiff clayey soil. Dr Pal contributed immensely to the Indian rose scene by his own breeding work and by initiating similar breeding in the Indian Agriculture Research Institute.
I am proud and honoured to have known him and to have been encouraged by him in my efforts. I cannot resist quoting what he wrote about my rose breeding work: I quote " Whereas most other breeders, whether working in nurseries, institutes or on their own, have tended to adopt what I call the safer 'bird in hand' policy, as regards the selection of parent varieties for their crosses and their objectives they set themselves, Viraraghavan appears to have agreed with Bret Harte who wrote ' a bird in the hand is a certainty, but a bird in the bush may sing'" . "May sing" is right--- I am still waiting for the song!!!
Notable hybridizing has also been done, and, happily, is still continuing, by Mr. G. Kasturirangan, the owner of India's largest rose nursery. His catalogue lists over 1500 varieties.
(Show 1 slide of Kasturi's)
In western India and in Bengal too there are many amateur rose breeders. However their emphasis is on producing more Hybrid Teas rather than taking advantage of the excellent possibility of breeding new forms of the great roses of the East. At the same time while the Kordes dictum shows the path forward, it is yet possible to develop better roses of the standard type suitable for warmth by intercrosses of modern varieties which do well in heat and thereafter selecting seedlings for performance in warmth, that is, deliberately reversing the Western emphasis on selection for cold hardiness.
I show you slides of a few of my varieties raised on this basis.
All of us are united in our anxiety that the rose should remain the world's favorite flower, but will this happen? The reality is that economic development is taking place rapidly in the warmer regions of the world, but without roses. A typical example is the otherwise garden loving state of Singapore, where obviously the people are very fond of gardening, but there is hardly a rose to be seen. Clearly roses suitable for tropical regions are in short supply.
Recently I met a horticulturist working in the botanical garden in Pattaya on the Thailand coast, who told me that they grow only one rose- a traditional but unidentified pink variety.
Obviously breeding to evolve roses for warm climates is a must.
What should be the objectives?
The emphasis has to be on creating heat resistant roses which fit happily in the modern garden along with many other flowering and foliage plants. For this we need roses with better plant habit, bushy and free flowering, with fragrant flowers, in a much wider color range than the traditional Chinas and Teas, but more than anything else, it is the foliage that is of vital importance in a tropical situation. Tropical plants are endowed with beautiful evergreen foliage and the rose must be one such. Unless we make roses with disease resistant evergreen foliage which will look good even when not in bloom, the chances of the rose being widely planted in warm climates are dim indeed. Christopher Columbus describes his first walk in a tropical forest thus: ' The trees were so high that they seemed to touch the sky; and if I understand correctly, they never lose their leaves, for I have seen them as fresh and green in November as they are in May in Spain'. (Quoted by Alexander Frater in his book 'Tales from the Torrid Zone") This is the standard rose foliage will have to attain – and not only in your benign climate.
You may ask: Is this possible? I have no doubt in my mind that it is eminently feasible to produce roses with outstanding foliage. A most encouraging feature of the rose world is that evergreen rose species, which will have to be the foundation for evergreen garden roses are all natives of the warmer parts of the world. Species like R. clinophylla and R. gigantea with which I am working, as well as a host of others – R.laevigata, R. bracteata, R.longicuspis, R cymosa, R sempervirens, R. banksia etc will have to be used in this hybridizing programme.
As I said, I am working with two Indian rose species – R. clinophylla and R.gigantea. R clinophylla is unique in the rose world- it is the only tropical wild rose. It exists in 3 forms, all of which have the astounding characteristic of being semi-aquatic. Like a dream come true, the 3 forms cover every kind of warm climate.
(Slide of India map)
The Bengal form, from eastern India is well adapted to humid warmth. It is found in such improbable habitats like the islands in India's great river, the Ganges, which are submerged under water for nearly 6 months. But R. clinophylla survives happily enough.
The 2nd form comes from stream margins in the dry hills of Bihar State, to the west of Bengal. Summer temperatures reach 45 degrees Centigrade and remain like that from mid May to July every year. But the species is well adapted to such heat and drought.
The 3rd form comes from a mountain, called Mount Abu in the Thar Desert in Western India near the border with Pakistan. Though at 1200 metres elevation and therefore not so hot, it can get very dry as only a desert can. In winter there are sharp frosts with day temperatures at 25 degrees Centigrade.
This is clearly a special rose adapted to a wide range of hot climates. Apart from resistance to water logging, a common problem in warm wet climates, the species has beautiful glossy evergreen foliage and flowers with a very intriguing scent-of acetone, nail polish remover. Breeding with this species, which is closely related to R.bracteata initially proved very difficult. But finally, roses of 'modern' appearance have been raised.
Ralph Moore has raised some miniature shrubs with R. bracteata, and I am endeavouring to bring in these into my clinophylla line- a very exciting prospect.
I show you slides of R.clinophylla and of some of my clinophylla hybrids. (
Show slides of R. clinophylla and clinophylla crosses)
Coming to R. gigantea, it is a giant, not only in the flower – 15cms. across, but in its growth. It can reach up to 25metres. I have many plants clambering up my very tall cypress trees. The flowers of the Indian form are creamy yellow rather than white which inspired the discoverer, Sir George Watt, to describe them as looking like golden magnolias, when seen from a distance, climbing through trees. It also has the unique feature of flowering in peak winter. Hybrids with this, which should flower in winter, will be a big help for the cut-flower growers in warm climates who would be able to cater for Christmas, New Year and St Valentine's celebrations.
Show slides of R.gigantea)
Fortunately gigantea is easier to work with, because its genes are to be found in the background of modern roses. The high centered form of Hybrid Teas is a direct inheritance from R. gigantea, as is evident even in the first generation hybrids. This apart, to quote Jack Harkness, 'as these roses embody 6 great virtues – health, beauty, vigor, scent, good foliage and remontancy, further direct use seems worthwhile'.
I show you slides of some of my gigantea hybrids.
(Show slides of gigantea crosses)
In conclusion I would like to stress again the need for an original approach. The world is getting warmer and drier. Our roses will need to adapt to such conditions, as also to being part of smaller gardens or of container gardens.
Many of my seedlings in both lines are big sprawling semi climbers. Transforming them into more manageable, free flowering and branching shrub roses, is the next task. Ralph Moore has once again provided part of the answer by stressing the intercrossing of his miniatures, which are free branching and easily propagated by cuttings, with garden roses, in order to get shrubs.
I have been toying with another exciting dream- to have 'rose trees', which will be big enough to fend for themselves in summer heat and drought. Is this possible? You would agree that it is not so far fetched an idea when one breeds with the 'chestnut rose'- R. roxburghii. Martyn Rix and Roger Phillips have observed that this species forms 5 metres tall giant shrubs, and grows in warm conditions in southern China, on the boundaries of rice fields. The Japanese rose researcher Dr Yuki Mikanagi has noted that the Japanese form of this species forms rose trees 5-6 metres high. Hybrids of R. roxburghii (R.x micrugosa), a cross with R. rugosa, and 'Roxanne', a hybrid with R. sino-wilsonii, are sizeable shrubs. R. Roxburghii is well adapted to growing in regions where winters are warm but with sudden cold spells.
Breeding with R. roxburghii, which has a naturally shrubby, densely branching habit, appears to be very promising indeed, to create rose trees of the future. Indeed, I have seen two such tree-like specimens of R. roxburghii –one, in the famous garden, Caerhays, in Cornwall, England, and the other, at Barnegat, in the garden of Stephen Scanniello. A plant of the double form of R. roxburghii plena, trained in tree form, also grows happily in Kodaikanal near our house. Move over flowering cherries!!!
Show slide of R. roxburghii.
As I conclude, I am sure that many of you are dreaming of beautiful evergreen roses. We badly require a group of dedicated enthusiasts if this dream is to become a reality.
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