by Gaye Hammond, Houston Rose Society
There is no question that Dr. Griffith Buck has brought us easier to care for roses than any rose hybridizer in history. "Griff" as he was known by his friends, spent his entire life researching and hybridizing cultivars that produced spectacular blooms on plants with such strong genetic traits that the bushes were not only cold hardy, but were disease resistant and pest tolerant as well.
When considering the impact that Dr. Buck's work has had on the roses we grow today, we must remember one thing. Dr. Buck began creating twenty-first century roses in 1947, when gardeners cared not one whit about disease resistance! In Dr. Buck's day gardeners demanded exhibition quality blooms on long stems. Only in the last decade (long after Dr. Buck's death) has the trend from exhibition quality blooms to easy-care roses rapidly gained momentum. Perhaps this is the reason why there has been such a revival of interest in growing Buck roses in recent years.
Recognized by the legendary Spanish hybridizer, Pedro Dot, as one of the top 20 rose hybridizers in the world, Dr. Buck had a very simple philosophy. The Buck philosophy continues to be true today -- If roses are too hard to grow - people will simply grow something else.
In Ames, Iowa, where Dr. Buck lived and worked, growing roses is a labor intensive effort. Winter temperatures are frequently twenty degrees below zero; gardens stay blanketed with snow and ice for weeks, if not months at a time; summer temperatures soar, and droughts are not uncommon. Prior to the introduction of Buck roses, gardeners in Iowa (US Hardiness Zones 4 - 5) started a month before winter preparing their bushes with a "Minnesota tip". "The Minnesota tip involved first digging a trench beside the rose, then unearthing one side of the root ball and "tipping" the bush over into the trench," explains Nick Howell, one of Dr. Buck's students and the head of Iowa State University's Reiman Gardens. The trench was then filled with soil and the bush left buried until spring. In the spring, the process was reversed and the bush replanted. Naturally, this method of winter protection has its pitfalls. Each year the bush must overcome the shock of being buried alive and then replanted before it can set new growth. With Iowa's 6-month growing season, this period of re-establishment could severely reduce a rose's productivity.
Since Dr. Buck could not control the weather, his mission in life was to create roses that would survive blistering northern temperatures without the need for such radical winter protection. How Dr. Buck accomplished his goal was remarkably simple. He went out into a field, planted a bunch of rose bushes and left them alone. The few bushes that survived their first Iowa blizzard with no winter protection were used as parent stock for the initial breeding program.
The 1947 breeding program involved several of the modern hybrid teas familiar to us today. Subsequent years saw the introduction of more antiques, old garden and specie roses, including several of the roses, which have recently received the EarthKindTM designation. By the 1970's, Dr. Buck's breeding program focused on using Buck-hybridized cultivars in the new plants' pedigree. Of the 93 named Buck cultivars, 87 have another Buck rose in their heritage.
In the South we have questioned whether Buck roses will withstand the heat, drought and humidity that our geographic region experiences. Efforts are presently underway by Texas A&M to test 30 Buck cultivars in the first national EarthKindTM trial. Regardless of the outcome of those trials, there is one Buck cultivar that has been grown successfully in the South since 1977. That rose is Carefree BeautyTM (formerly known as Katy Road Pink). Carefree BeautyTM is highly disease/pest resistant and produces spectacular medium pink blooms even when temperatures top 100 degrees. Carefree BeautyTM was one of the first roses to receive Texas A&M's EarthKindTM designation and will be one of the 30 roses included in the national EarthKindTM trials.
Buck roses which have Carefree BeautyTM in their immediate heritage are: Bright Melody, BUCroo, BUCred, Country Song, Folksinger, Gentle Persuasion, Golden Unicorn, Paraglider, Piccolo Pete, Prairie Clogger, Prairie Harvest, Prairie Squire, Rural Rythym and Serendipity. Of this group of roses, Folksinger, Golden Unicorn and Prairie Harvest are showing promising results and are being researched in the national EarthKindTM trials.
I recently had the great privilege of visiting Dr. Buck's wife at their Iowa home. What amazed me was that the Buck's modest homestead is dwarfed with towering trees - some 50 feet tall. Without exception, all of the cultivars planted at his home are growing under the canopy of these massive trees in what could only be described as heavy shade. These bushes were never sprayed for disease or pests, none had evidence of fungal disease and all were blooming at the time of my visit. Most importantly, the bushes appeared to have adapted to growing and blooming under these shady conditions. According to daughter, Mary, "Dad's bushes do just fine right where he planted them". Whether newly planted bushes will produce as well under the same conditions in the South is a hypothesis that has yet to be tested. We have, however, received reports from others that Buck cultivars have done well planted in dappled shade.
The bushes growing and blooming under the shady conditions at the Buck homestead at the time of my visit were Wanderin' Winds, Earth Song, Quietness, Mavourneen, Country Dancer and Hermina.
Most of the Buck cultivars are either being grown in the Griffith Buck Garden at Iowa State's Reiman Botanical Garden) or at the Buck home. Additionally, Mark Chamblee of Chamblee's Rose Nursery has been testing Buck roses at his Tyler nursery for several years. Despite these efforts to continue the legacy of Dr. Buck's roses, there are 8 Buck cultivars that are been "lost". A giant scavenger hunt is presently underway to locate these bushes in hopes of completing the Buck collection during Mrs. Buck's lifetime.
The lost 8 cultivars are:
Red Sparkler (1967) - a hybrid tea with double, cupped-to-flat, 4 to 4 2-inch blooms of dark wine red with a lighter reverse and striped with varied widths of pale red, pink and white with an intense damask fragrance;
Andante (1962) - a salmon pink shrub rose with small clusters of double, cupped 4 to 5-inch blooms with a slight Sweetbrier fragrance;
Cantabile (1962) - a light pink shrub rose with clusters (3 - 5) of fragrant, double, medium-sized blooms of light camellia rose with darker shading;
Pizzicato (1962) - a light pink shrub with clusters (1 - 6) of slightly cupped, double, 3 to 4-inch salmon-rose blooms with a moderate wild rose fragrance;
Prairie Heritage (1978) - an orange-pink shrub rose with clusters (1-10) of fragrant, double, cupped and quartered, 4 to 4 2-inch coral pink/peach blooms, which become tinted with orange-gold as the flowers age;
Polka Time (1984) - an orange pink shrub rose with clusters (1-10) of salmon buds that open to fragrant double cupped 4 to 4 2-inch blooms of salmon tinted yellow veined with flamingo pink petals;
Kissin' Cousin (1979) - a shrub rose with clusters (1 - 5) of coral pink buds with medium rose on the reverse opening to fruity scented, double high-centered, 4 to 4 2-inch blooms that develop orange-pink tones with age;
Paraglider (1984) - a shrub rose with clusters (1-10) of orange-red buds opening to fragrant, double, cupped, 4 to 4 2-inch blooms of orange pink with deep apricot on the petal reverse.
If you grow (or know anyone who grows) the above roses please contact the author by e-mail at email@example.com or by mail at 8627 Deep Valley, Houston, Texas, 77044.
Texas field trials on 80 of the Buck cultivars have been ongoing for several years. Eleven cultivars have thus far shown excellent results for Southern gardens and more are being added each year as evaluations continue. These cultivars include Carefree BeautyTM (a/k/a Katy Road Pink), Country Dancer, Distant Drums, Golden Unicorn, Hi Neighbor, Honey Sweet, Pipe Dreams, Prairie Clogger, Prairie Princess, Prairie Star, Serendipity and Summer Wind. All of these roses tend to tolerate our heat with minimal adverse effects. All of these 11 cultivars (as well as other Buck cultivars) are available for purchase from Chamblee's Rose Nursery, www.chambleesroses.com or by telephone at 800/256-7673.
Not all of Dr. Buck's roses are going to adapt to our Southern climate. Those cultivars which have adapted give outstanding performance from plants with tremendously strong genetic foundations. As our research continues, additional Buck cultivars suitable for Southern gardens will be identified. As a member of the Houston Rose Society, you will be the first rosarians in the country to receive the results of this research.
If you grow or have grown any Buck roses, you can participate in the research effort presently underway by Texas A&M and the Houston Rose Society. Your assistance in providing information about your experience with Buck roses would greatly assist our research effort. You can provide data to assist our research by answering the following questions based on your personal experience (responses should be sent to the author):
Which Buck cultivars do you grow or have you grown?
Did you spray the Buck cultivars for fungus/pests with a commercial fungicide/pesticide on a regular basis? If so, how often?
Did you use organic treatments on your Buck cultivars in order to control fungus/pests? If so, what organic treatments did you use and how often?
Were the Buck cultivars heat tolerant? In the heat of the summer, did the blooms "ball", bloom size reduce or the plant fail to bloom?
In your opinion were the cultivars disease resistant?
When the cultivars contracted blackspot, did the cultivar drop more than 25% of its leaves more than once a year?
On a scale of 1 to 5 (with "5" being considered excellent), please rate your opinion on the overall performance of the Buck cultivars.
Is there any other information that you think would be helpful to us in our evaluation of Buck roses for Southern gardens?
Dr. Buck dedicated his entire life to the creation of roses that would be easy to care for, with a vision toward providing the gardening public beautiful roses having a genetic fabric that makes them highly tolerant to fungal/pest problems. Amazingly, he did this at a time when other hybridizers were striving for bigger blooms, longer stems and vibrant colors. Dr. Buck was a true master hybridizer and one that history will not soon forget.
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