Yesterday I heard master gardening teacher Gene Sumi give his famous talk about basic pruning. It's but a 90-minute summary of the full course he teaches on pruning at community colleges, but a great beginning for anyone afraid to pick up their first pruners and give it a go. I'd heard the talk at least once before but still heard some things I'd never heard before.
Like? What Gene had to say about Knockouts and other landscape roses – that they're bred from the roses that grow wild in Europe and have been used there for centuries as hedgerows. Commonly called dog roses, they're super-tough, and easy to grow without any particular care, but because they have small flowers, they've been ignored all these years all of horticulture – breeders, gardeners, and especially the rose societies, which favor the highly bred roses with huge blooms, like grandifloras and hybrid teas – the ones that are so disease-prone they require weekly spraying.
Ignored by breeders until the 1990s, that is, when Wisconsin breeder William Radler, who'd been growing roses since he was a kid, decided to use the wild stock of dog roses to develop repeat-blooming, cold-hardy roses that resist disease – the qualities that his 'Knockout' is so famous for. The qualities that made it the fastest selling new rose in history – 250,000 the year it was introduced (2000). According to some, it's now the bestselling plant in the whole U.S. of A.
BRING ON THE WILD!
So here's my question. Why is it that among today's enlightened gardeners – the ones who abhor chemical maintenance regimes – there's so little love for these super-sustainable plants? These wild-type plants. Wild is good, right? If they were native to the U.S. would these super-common plants be more appreciated?
Hey, maybe that's why they're ridiculed – because they're so common.
BRING ON THE COMMON!
Me, I love common plants. Maybe it's because I'm a low-maintenance type, drawn to plants that succeed with little intervention. And maybe it's because as a gardening coach, I need my garden to exhibit the easy, common, and inexpensive plants that I recommend to my clients, most of whom are new to gardening. So I grow not just landscape roses but other common and sometimes disparaged shrubs – like spireas, weigelas, and cherry laurels. Good thing I've never claimed to be a plantswoman.
BRING IT ON!
Go ahead. Tell me why YOU don't like Knockouts and landscape roses as a group. And it had better be about more than the lack of scent. Really, how often do you get close enough to smell your plants, anyway?
Top photo: Knockouts on Capitol Hill (see the Capitol building in the distance). Lower photo: Knockouts at the beach with daylilies.