Correction:  Jim Delahanty  writes  “Clair–Just a slight correction:  The ARS & YOU is edited by Louise Coleman.  The CArruth/Greenwood article was originally published last April in the ‘Pacific Rose,’ the newsletter of the Pacific Rose Society. iirc Best, Jim”  My apologies to Louise Coleman and the Pacific Rose Society but my copy of the e-zine arrived via Jolene Adams and I cut and pasted the article including the attributions listed exactly as listed in the e-zine. cm

Editor’s Note:  This article is being reprinted from the online publication ARS and You edited by Jolene Adams is from the December 2010 issue.

The Rise and Fall of our National Floral Emblem
by Tom Carruth, research director and award-winning rose hybridizer for Weeks Roses and Chris Greenwood, the former vice-president of Armstrong Garden Centers.

Roses have been a garden mainstay across the United States and especially in the Sunbelt where the temperate climate allows them to flourish. Once considered the most popular flower, the rose has seen her popularity, over the last 20 years, fall precipitously. Homes that once were home to large rose gardens have disappeared – to be replaced by lawns or other landscape material. Industry figures for field-grown roses also reflect this horrific decline. One industry leader estimated the total numbers of field-grown roses as:

1990 – 50,000,000 — 1995 – 45,000,000
2000 – 45,000,000 — 2005 – 40,000,000
2010 – 25,000,000 — 2011 – 18,000,000

Also – over the last several years, many smaller rose companies have closed their doors. Nor‘East is probably the most notable plus the big three – J&P, Star and Weeks are struggling to survive in a horrible economy, plus potted landscape roses like “Flower Carpet” have taken away from the classic budded rose market. We thought finding a nearly perfect clean rose like “Knock Out” would enhance the market. Instead it has served to kill interest in any other type of rose.

Combine the above information with the same rapid decline in the rolls of the American Rose Society and there is a staggering parallel. Also, consider this; in the 1950’s the Pacific Rose Society boasted a membership of 2000 and today, membership hovers around 100

Moving through the social strata of the US are various groups that demographers characterize as: The Baby Boomers, The X Generation and the Y Generation. The “Baby Boomers” are now starting to retire – they probably have the most disposable income of all. Homes are generally paid for, and now they have the time to do all the things that they weren’t able to during the child-raising and career-building years. Boomers are very garden-wise and while it’s still an important part of their lives, it is starting to take the back seat to traveling and other leisure-time activities.

The X Generation, popularly called GenX, is the next generation after the Boomers. They are highly educated and tend to want everything –NOW! They are self-absorbed with their careers and getting the kids through school and college. The GenX’ers treat gardening as a necessary nuisance and only like quick garden projects that can be completed quickly with a minimum amount of effort. They prefer to hire a “mow and blow” gardener rather than doing it themselves. Being a two income earner family, they have as much, if not more, disposable income as the Baby Boomers.

The Y Generation or the Millennial Generation follows GenX and are the most technology-savvy yet. They are very comfortable with video games, iPods, computers and other techno-gadgets. They spend the majority of their free time immersed in a world of technology. Gardening is definitely not on their radar.

Negative Perceptions
Unfortunately, roses do have a negative perception. People love roses. But their very next comment is always “They are so difficult to grow”. The average person feels that roses are a very time-consuming plants. The thought of constant attention to pruning, feeding, spraying and watering leaves them overwhelmed. We all know that this is not the case. Roses are among the easiest plants to grow, requiring a minimum amount of care – unless you’re an exhibitor. Remember – there are roses growing in and around abandoned homesteads and cemeteries that only God waters – and many have survived for decades. So – where does this misconception come from and why is it perpetuated? From the answers of well-intentioned Rosarians, rose societies, garden columnists and companies that offer rose-care related products.

Here are some examples:

    1. Bayer Advanced produced a commercial that ran for two seasons touting the rose as a temperamental prima donna that required TLC. They were constantly thirsty, required regular feeding and, of course, needed their rose care products to control diseases and insects. In their zeal to sell more rose care products, they did just the opposite, by turning people off roses.
    2. Rose society newsletters and web sites with complex, detailed and text book-like information on fertilization, insect control, disease control, soil preparation, pruning, watering, etc., etc, Such information is useful to the ardent rose exhibitor, but to the novice – it’s enough to scare the daylights out of them.
    3. Gardening columns in newspapers featuring year-round rose maintenance calendars. Which also leaves the perception that roses are a time-hog and impossible for the average person to successfully cultivate.
    4. One of the worst offenses is profit-starving companies willing to dump excess inventory in bargain discount chains. Really – selling a 99¢ bare root roses in June? In hot climates? How many will survive? This really cheapens the value of the rose and makes our National Floral Emblem nothing more than a commodity. Imagine a young couple in their first home – both are working – raising kids – and we really think that they would even attempt to grow a rose based on the complexity of the available information? We think not!

Where Do We Go From Here?
It is incumbent on all rose lovers across the country to spread the word on the ease of cultivating our national floral emblem. Stay positive – avoid the negative! But in the end, with the decline in American Rose Society membership, we have limited voices and resources. There are some voices of wisdom in the rose industry, but most have fallen on deaf ears. A few of the suggestions have been:

    1. Establish a National Rose Marketing Council. An organization to be made up of rose growers that would have the financial ability to promote the rose and squash the perceived negative image of rose growing.
    2. All American Rose Selections (AARS) had been increasing their presence in magazines and news papers, yet the days of extensive, lengthy articles touting the new arrivals seem to be long gone. An effort to increase public awareness in all media, not just consumer publications, is paramount.

A First Step

    1. As rosarians, we need to emphasize the ease of rose horticulture and the rich reward of beauty.
    2. When asked – offer easy solutions to rose care questions.
    3. Publish simple, easy-to-understand articles on rose culture. Complicated articles are a turn-off to time-starved novices.

From July, 2010 Colonial Courier, Albert N Williams, Ed.
[From American Rose Rambler, March/April 2010, Peter Schneider Ed.]