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This year I've collected a lot of hips from Hebe's Lip, and while it produces more blooms than Saint Nicholas, and they set quite reliably, the sheer quantity of hips probably serves to limit the number of seeds per hip to not much more than half what Saint Nicholas does. I still regard them both as excellent seed parents, but only if you want roses which resemble it -- the thorns seem to be inherited in almost all of SN's seedlings, and the distinctively eglantine-like foliage in most cases. I'm unsure about whether they're pentaploid, which (when used as seed parents) might slow progress towards offspring which didn't resemble them. Their pollen seems to work on lots of kinds of OGRs, however, from gallicas to HPs, allowing for lower ploidy offspring.
A surprisingly good seed parent turned out to be Marbree, which makes nearly as many seeds per pollination as Saint Nicholas does. While it's clearly more like a gallica than a damask, it outproduces any gallica that I know, leaving me to wonder whether it has something like a bourbon mixed in. It was released late enough that it certainly seems possible.
Ipsilante and Hortensia have both proven to set hips reliably too, which surprised me, since both are very well reputed and disease resistant, yet have no known offspring. Ipsilante produces only a few (big!) seeds per hip, however. Pickering Four Seasons doesn't set hips with every pollination, but when it does, they grow pretty big, and it's also been overlooked (as far as I know) in breeding. As I've mentioned before, Celsiana -- neglected by breeders -- sets several seeds per hip, and I now know that most germinate, giving reasonably healthy offspring.
Among the more frequently used breeders, Alika has been giving me ~7 seeds per hip, and sets tons of them. La Reine is VERY overused as a seed parent, and it's easy for me to see why; several seeds per hip, and from what I gather, excellent chances of producing reblooming babies. Alfred Colomb has some very large hips going as well... as big as the more prolific moderns.
The drought caused my Duchesse de Rohan to abort all of its April buds, but it's coming back with a vengence in late July, giving me lots of fresh pollen to use on my Portlands and HPs. Yet another unbred beauty! I've already used it on Pickering FS, Baronne Prevost, Rose de Rescht, Rose du Roi of commerce, La Reine, Reine des Violettes, and others. It's one of my most favorite roses, being the only rebloomer which has ever smelled like a centifolia to me, and I will breed it or die trying!
Of my older babies, seedlings of Autumn Damask have proven to be very consistently tough, healthy and vigorous. It's kind of a nightmare to work with as a seed parent, since it only sets hips about half of the time, and usually produces but one seed per hip, and then there's the difficulty of pollinating it without getting torn to shreds by thorns. As a result, all of mine are OP, including what look to be a number of selfings, but almost all of them have survived, and few are sick, so even though I had considerably more germinations from some other roses, the damasks are gradually taking over the yard, just by outlasting all the others. Paul Barden once wrote that a friend had given him what was said to be a selfing of Autumn Damask, which was a dwarf version of the rose, and rebloomed. I hope that I'll be as lucky, and get some rebloomers out of it, with something to distinguish them from their parent.
Last year I focused mainly on finding fertile, chinensis-free OGRs for use as seed parents. While Tuscany Superb and Autumn Damask both did acceptably in their own ways, Saint Nicholas convincingly destroyed the competetion, producing 13.25 achenes per pollination, with excellent germination and healthy seedlings. The hips were eaten off of my Hebe's Lip, but Saint Nicholas' strong resemblance to that rose makes me think that SN may be gallica x HL, with both of them deriving their female fertility from R. rubiginosa. I've therefore brought in a second plant of HL for this spring. (I'd get more SN, but it's out of commerce in the Americas.)
This year I'll be extending my scope, and making use of what I've learned. Last year's test crosses mostly used Portlands and the occasional Moss as pollen parents, but this spring I'm adding HPs and Bourbons into the mix. My goal is to make OGR types which are reasonably disease resistant and good seed parents, traits which 19th century breeders didn't put a lot of emphasis on.
(Initially I only hoped to make a fertile Damask Perpetual, but it's becoming clear to me that, even if I make good breeding stock for them, there is little enough interest in overcoming the difficulties of breeding them that such roses might go unused. I'm now open to adding chinensis rebloom, using an absolute minimum of newer genetics, as a concession to this social reality.)
In addition to fiddling with the ancient European classes, new crosses this year are likely to include: Alfred Colomb, Ardoisee de Lyon, "Barbara's Pasture Rose," Baronne Prevost, Eugene de Beauharnais, Ferdinand Pichard, "Glendora," Gloire des Rosomanes, Hugh Dickson, Jacques Cartier, La Reine, Louise Odier, Mme. Isaac Pereire, Paul Ricault, Reine des Violettes, Rose de Rescht, Rose du Roi (of commerce), Sydonie and Vick's Caprice. We'll see what works...