A frequently recurring theme during my long friendship with Ralph Moore was "not to stir the pot", but bring something new to my rose breeding. He led by example, basing much of his miniature breeding on R. Wichurana, and adding doses of other species and Old Garden Roses along the way.
This set me to searching for a species which hadn't already been over worked in creating modern garden roses and which wouldn't yield the infertility problems associated with mismatched chromosome counts. Many species are diploid, meaning they have fourteen chromosomes (two pairs of seven). Many modern roses are tetraploid, meaning they have twenty-eight (four pairs of seven) chromosomes. During fertilization, pairs split from one another and mate up with matching pairs from the other parent. When there aren't equal pairs from both sides, infertility issue arise and crosses fail, or infertile offspring result. I hoped to avoid much of the historical infertility issues encountered on the road to what we grow today.
I discussed this with Ralph and he chuckled, telling me it didn't matter because 'the rose will find the way'. He paid no attention to chromosome counts, other than to find them amusing and interesting when they appeared to disagree with established "scientific knowledge" His disregarding matching counts resulted in many triploids, roses with twenty-one pair of chromosomes, being produced. Historical science holds that odd numbered pairs will result in lowered to no fertility. However, his most prolific breeders have tended to be odd numbered, triploids. His triploid breeders are some of the most fertile, most easily pollinated roses around. OK, so based upon chromosome counts alone, it shouldn't matter what species I selected for my breeding.
I researched many species, looking for one which not only attracted me but contained traits I found desirable to try and include in my breeding and which hadn't already been used to make what we grow. I chose R. Fedtschenkoana for a number of reasons. Whether the chromosome count matters or not, I figured its containing the same count as the roses I wanted to cross it with could only make things easier. This rose has absolutely beautiful foliage! New growth tends to be lavender tinted, with short, sharp red prickles liberally studding the canes. New foliage on these shoots show the lavender tints until they begin developing the mature silvery-turquoise-gray tints. This is foliage unlike most other roses you've encountered and I had to see what it would do!
It's flower buds are quite "mossy", exhibiting what Ralph called "soft moss" as opposed to the harder, prickle type mossing which tends to stab you and remain in your flesh when you come in too close contact with it. The new growth tips and the mossy buds and sepals release the most amazing scent when brushed or rubbed. It has always impressed me as being that of a Nobel Fir combined with hardwood smoke, like a fresh Christmas tree with the scent of a fireplace. I had studied R. Foetida and its wonderful plant scents and followed how they had morphed through the breeding toward modern roses. I wondered what the effects would be on this marvelous scent.
Fedtschenkoana's blooms are a very brilliant, hard white. The plants have been nicknamed "ghostly" and the intensity of how white the flowers are fit that very well.
They have the same odd "linseed oil" scent found in R. foetida and R. laxa, and it carries well on warm, moist air just as the delicious plant scent does. I've studied how the Foetida bloom scent evolved into fruity scents as it has been massaged by the inclusion of other genes and wondered if that is the path Fedtschenkoana's scent would also follow. Its characteristic of flowering throughout the summer is an added attraction. Perhaps that would blend well with modern repeat flowering to produce season-long bloom earlier in the line?
The rose has always been spotless in any environment I've grown or encountered it. Very late in the fall there can be some ugliness to it, but this IS a deciduous plant and aging foliage being drained of all of its nutrients as the plant heads toward shedding it for winter isn't always "pretty". The species does tend to turn autumnal colors, primarily in the yellow tones in my climate, before being dropped for the season. I wondered what effects other genes I might choose to mix with theirs might have on the fall colors.
Obtaining Fedtschenkoana proved more difficult than I had imagined. There were only two sources for it and both were sold out for the year. At that time, we had a very active volunteer group at The Huntington Library. Joan Kennedy, who was one of the active volunteers, had contracted cancer and it was only a matter of time. She had a very large, lovely garden not far from Descanso Gardens and the volunteer group decided to spend a Saturday cleaning up her garden to show our support and get to visit with her. While working along the fence at the bottom of her garden hill, I encountered a plant which looked very much like the rose I sought. We broke for lunch and I asked her what the rose was. R. Fedtschenkoana. I told her of my efforts to buy it and she begged me to dig out as much of the plant to take home as I wanted. My Fedtschenkoana and all of its hybrids are my remembrance of Joan.
Now, it was in my garden and I began planning what to cross with it to produce the breeders I wished to create and base a line on. Unfortunately, the rose had other ideas! For a rose containing the right chromosome count, it was definitely being stubborn! Nothing I used its pollen on succeeded. No pollen applied to its ovaries took.
Out of desperation, I chose to cross it with Orangeade, a brilliant orange floribunda from the late 1950s. MANY breeders have selected Orangeade over the decades since its introduction, for good reason. Not only does it tend to saturate all plant pigments, but it is wonderfully fertile, you can almost "pollinate it with dirt!"I liberally applied Fedtschenkoana pollen on Orangeade flowers, and it took!
Only two seedlings resulted from this first cross. A great benefit of using the modern parent for seeds is hybrids with species are immediately evident. Both of these little plants were obviously hybrids rather than probable self seedlings. Both clearly exhibited the anticipated foliage and prickles, though slightly modified from the original. I waited until the following year for the first to bloom. The second flowered the following spring.
Breeding roses teaches PATIENCE!