Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Visit To An AARS Test Garden

The All American Rose Selections committee each year recommends what it considers to be the highest quality roses that have been introduce to the market during the calendar year.  Most years there are between 2-4 different varieties which get the AARS stamp of approval which takes into account novelty, form, color, aging quality, fragrance, habit, vigor, repeat ability, and disease resistance.  Each year in 10 sites across the USA these roses are planted and watched to garner the rating.
I happen to live about 70 miles away from one of these test gardens, at Edisto Memorial Gardens, located in Orangeburg, SC.    At this AARS test gardens, along a lovely stretch of the Edisto River, they have maintained nearly every single winner since 1940, along with other donated heritage and old garden rose varieties.   These donated OGRs are healthy in this area, including a large variety of Noisettes, a class originated in South Carolina.
Looking over a sea of Opening Night, 1998
So what's it like to come upon hundreds of varieties of roses winners, planted in drifts of 30-50+ of each variety?  Its overwhelming!  I started out taking a picture of each and every one, and made it through about the first third and gave up, deciding to take photos of only those that struck my fancy after that point (and more than 300 pictures).
Donated Noisette
It is interesting to see these 'best of' selections en masse, both because you can see how styles have changed through the past 70 years, and you get to see what types of roses regularly are winners.  There is no doubt that the AARS favors hybrid teas and floribunda roses above all others.  Recently though, shrub roses have begun to pop up in the ranks on a regular basis (such as Rainbow Knockout, 2007).   They also have a huge soft spot for the graduated color roses, those that go from white to pink to red, or from yellow to red, or from yellow to orange, etc.   Orange seems to be one of their favorite colors in general, along with brilliant reds, whereas white roses are few and far between throughout the years in comparison to all other colors.   Yellow, on the other hand, has recently had a comeback, with nearly half of the past 5 years roses of that hue, including this years winner.  Most of the winning varieties were magnificently fragrant, and specifically fragrant in the classic tea rose scent.  There were a few though (Cherry Parfait, 2003) who carried very little scent whatsoever.

One of the wonderful things for me, living in the local area is that ability to see these roses in local climate reality. While many roses were still blooming, it is after the first flush here and I could witness roses who were downright ugly in the post bloom stage (Bonica, 1985), who had a tendency to terrible balling (Tournament of Roses, 1989) or whose habit was not for me.  I could see those that stayed three feet and those who grew 10 feet tall, which as a hybrid tea looks pretty odd to me!  
Bad Balling on Tournament of Roses,  1989
Unballed Blooms are Beautiful though. Tournament of Roses, 1989

A few of the notables for me (no photo retouching, these are the actual colors, in the worst washout 1pm lighting too!):
Gemini, 2000
Showbiz, 1983

Can double as a nightlight! Carribean, 1992
Strike It Rich, 2007
The oddly named Seashell,  1976
If I came upon a seashell this color I'd fight a battalion of shell seekin' old ladies off!

The very famous Double Delight,  1977
Midas Touch, 1994
Crysler Imperial, 1953 Best Red Bush IMO. Great full shape.
Bazillions of very double flowers and no balling on: Secret, 1992
Elle, 2005 who was incredibly fragrant too
Glowing Peace, 2001
Lady Elsie May, 2005
Daydream, 2005
And my breathtaking favorite, the Garden Party Rose, 1960.  This rose has the standard hybrid tea shape, but I can ignore that, given the huge fragrant blooms.  Love it.  I might just have to procure myself one!

ps. no flowers were picked in the making of this blog post, however, it almost killed me to not take a sample of the Garden Party.  Particularly seeing as I was all alone in the gardens minus a middle aged couple with Queens accents, the lady of the couple shouting intermittently, "Hennnrrrry, wheres the purple one Henry?  I don't see the purple one."  "Hennnry?!"  "yes, dear"  "Henry, where's the purple? I don't see the purple."  "To the right dear" (without looking up).   This of course went on for a good 10 minutes before the wife called him an old fool and stomped off.


  1. What an informative post Jess! I had no idea there so were many AARS test gardens, and how fabulous that you live so close to one. I can't even imagine the fragrance in that garden...not to mention how much pruning and dead-heading it takes to keep it looking good! I grew a Bonica rose at our first house, and after the second year of dismal floral displays, I tore it out. In its defense, the conditions there weren't ideal. After that I stuck to the David Austin English roses. I agree, a 10ft rose does look odd, but that's exactly what my Kathryn Morely roses did, and right in the middle of the rose bed too! Such a diva...but a pretty rose. Of these, I love Gemini, but I agree, Garden Party is stunning too. I'm amazed you resisted temptation!

  2. This is a very interesting post. I have not been paying much attention to AARS winners just because it is impossible to come up with a plant that would grow well everywhere in the US. I think the winners over the years are not indicators of changing tastes only, but also of breakthroughs in breeding. But it must have been fascinating to see this history of HT breeding at a glance. Thank you for the pictures! Do you know that Garden Party's parent is Peace, and its child Double Delight :)?

  3. How interesting. I would love to see a test garden. That would be a great way to select the right rose for your own particular garden, since the test area is close to you. It would also be nice to see the donated OGRs, that would give another indication of what you wanted in your garden. I may have to look up and see where the other test gardens are located.

  4. I love seeing all these roses and am very partial to orange roses myself. I didn't realize that color was popular. Loven the conversation between the couple, but now I want to know--is there such a thing as a true purple rose?

  5. Clare: I think I'm going back in the fall..and if I'm all alone again, and if a tree falls in a forest...

    Masha: It is impossible to find a rose that grows everywhere. I think AARS does give regional suggestions (the humid Souths being nearly none!). I always imagine your area to be rose growing heaven (unlike here, rose growing H____!)

    HolleyGarden: I think the AARS site not only has the test garden addresses on their site, but they also have approved show gardens by state. And yes, its a super fun little trip. And fortunately you can't buy anything there or it would be major trouble.

    Caroyln: I don't think orange IS that popular, just the AARS folks seem to really like it. Some of them really were hurt your eyes bright, like staring at the sun. As far as the couple, EXACTLY what I was mutter to myself at the time was "gonna be a long time before she finds that one."

  6. Jess, what a treat to be near a test garden like this. Gorgeous roses are really fun to photograph, real diva stars of the flower world. Cute conversation at the end too.

  7. What a place to visit! Midas Touch looks rather interesting.


  8. Interesting to see something of the history of rose breeding and what types of roses are winners. Garden Party really is gorgeous. I loved Gemini and Midas Touch as well (I can't pass up a yellow rose!)

  9. Simply beautiful. So many of those don't do well in my state, but it's nice to see them all together I think. She can then tell who has blackspot or powdery mildew. :) ~~Dee