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Dream Roses

Jerry Twomey, creator of the Dream Rose explains what it takes to qualify as one of his easy to grow new rose varieties.

Jerry Twomey, Creator of Dream Roses: Sam McGreedy was the great breeder out of Northern Ireland and he's now retired to New Zealand and Sam used to repeat, "Give me a plant and I'll put a flower on it." And it's easy enough to put a tea bloom on an excellent plant one or two generations, if you can do it.

Allen: There are those who believe growing roses has become too difficult, but one plant breeder has decided to do something about it. Jerry Twomey has applied a lifetime of plant breeding to create a new, healthier rose called the Dream Rose. It's more disease resistant and designed to help garden enthusiast spend less time caring for their roses and more time just enjoying them.

Jerry: Essentially I've been breeding to improve the plant on roses. What has happened to the flower is that the show people have dominated the publicity, they wanted a single bloom on a single stem, the high tea, they could nurse it and baby it. So the plant breeders, to meet that demand or that artificial demand, bred for blooms only. Now in plant breeding you get what you select for. And they would spray in the greenhouse, spray in the field, until roses have got to be difficult to grow, to put it mildly. The average person said, "I had bad luck last year with my roses." It wasn't bad luck it was just bad plants.

Allen: Jerry, what is different from your breeding program and those, lets say from Canada or the Mid-West, where they are breeding for cold hardiness.

Rose Audrey HepburnJerry: I've used different, basically different species. I've emphasized the rugosa, the hardy one from Russia that will take 40 below and is virtually immune from disease. I've used the Wichuraiana Creeper that grows on the shores of Northern Japan that roots as it goes along. One plant can cover 50 feet. I wanted to get rooting ability back into these roses as well as health.

Allen: So after 20-years of breeding and observing the roses you've brought them up here to an area that's conducive to disease and laid them out here and said, "OK, the ones that survive, survive; and the ones that fall off, fall off." And the ones that did survive you took as your parent stock and now you've started this whole crossing or breeding operation?

Jerry: Well, I was breeding from day one, introducing species blood, but then you get a large population, maybe 20-30 thousand seedlings a year. Your selecting down to a 1000 maybe, then plant them up here with no spray and let nature take its course. The interesting thing in this climate in Watsonville, it's about the same as North Europe, black soil, never too hot, never too cold. But the diseases are there 12-months a year mutating and working for you. The simplest thing in plant breading is to let nature do the selecting for you if you give her a chance.

Allen: Tell me about some of the highlights of your career.

Jerry: Well, I think the rose that has given me the most satisfaction is 'Audrey Hepburn'.

Allen: This is 'Audrey Hepburn'? It's beautiful.

Jerry: These are young plants and it just produces a massive bloom that's almost like a bouquet all summer. These plants will get up to about 4-5 feet.

Allen: This is an award winner?

Jerry: Yes, the Hague in Holland is the outstanding international test. There have only been three American roses that have won there: 'Queen Elizabeth', which is universal still; a yellow that sort of dropped out of commerce; and 'Audrey Hepburn' got the gold medal, the second year it got a second gold metal for perfume.

Allen with Jerry TwomeyAllen: Why did you name it 'Audrey Hepburn'?

Jerry: A wonderful actress and a wonderful name for a rose. And I was in the Huntington Gardens when I got word that the crew that had done her 12 gardens of the world film wanted an outstanding rose to name after her. She was Dutch extraction and this had won in the Hague and so the story all came together. It has been a happy situation. Some roses sort of get a little poorer as they get older, others just get a little better every year and this is one that seems to improve with age.

Allen: You know, Jerry, one of my favorite roses is 'Iceberg', it's popular all over but I do have to spray for it.

Jerry: I'm surprised that you have to bother spraying 'Iceberg', it's the number one rose in the world.

Allen: Yes, but it will get black spot for me.

Jerry: Out here we can find the odd leaf as they age at the bottom with black spot, but it's a survivor and will keep blooming and blooming.

Allen: Now this is one of yours, a white one.

Jerry: This is one I have a lot of hope for. This is a seedling of 'Iceberg' by the 'Dream Orange', which is one of the healthiest roses ever.

Allen: So you took white 'Iceberg' and crossed it with your 'Dream Orange'…

Jerry: 'Dream Orange'…

Allen: And came up with this…

Jerry: This is a tea bloom, a beautiful center. It drops clean.

Allen: Well maybe I'll have to try one of these.

Jerry: We'll get you some seedlings. We're going to propagate this one immediately. And my dream has partially come true anyway. We're testing my seedlings worldwide and the reports are encouraging. We're not perfect, but we're getting better.

Jerry tells me that Dream Roses are becoming available in garden centers around the country. So now, you too can chase your dream… rose that is.