Beautiful bloomers: this year's prize roses

It seems appropriate that shortly after the United States elected the rose as its national flower, a new variety, considered a breakthrough in rose breeding, should make a singularly impressive debut in North America. It's called Bonica, an ever-blooming hybrid shrub from the House of Meilland in France, and it has excelled in test gardens all across the country in recent years. Along with New Year, a grandiflora from New Zealand breeder Sam McGredy, and Sheer Bliss, a hybrid tea rose from California's William A. Warriner of Jackson Perkins Co., Bonica has been named an All-America Rose (AARS) Selections winner for 1987.

Bonica (pronounced boh-knee-kuh). What makes this rose so special is its unique versatility as both a garden and landscape plant. While it is unquestionably a rose, it is also a flowering shrub. In other words, it can be sited wherever flowering shrubs might be appropriate in the landscape yet it belongs equally well in any rose garden. Richard J. Hutton, president of the Conard-Pyle Co., likes to describe it as an ``an ever-blooming shrub that just happens to be a rose.''

In Europe, where it was released some years earlier, Bonica has been impressive as a single plant, in massed plantings, and as a long, broad hedge. One Bonica hedge, situated by a parking lot, proved its vigor by repairing itself rapidly after a car drove through it. Within six or seven weeks the damage was barely perceptible. Indeed, one recommended method of pruning a massed Bonica planting is to mow it flat every three to five years. It responds to such treatment with a rush of new basal canes.

The Bonica is also very hardy. Along with the remarkably tough Rosa rugosa, it came through the bitter northern European winter of 1984-85 as the only other uninjured shrub rose. In the US, it has proved its hardiness in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado, among other states, while it tolerated the torrid summer heat of the South all the way from the Gulf Coast to California.

Bonica grows three to five feet in height, and is generally as broad as it is tall. Pink flowers are born in clusters of 20 or more on long arching stems, followed by side branches bearing more blooms all season long. Finally, the abundant rose hips turn an orange red to add winter color to the garden. These medium-sized (half-inch) hips make attractive indoor arrangements. They are also a source of food for birds. Disease resistance is described as excellent.

New Year. Compact and freely branching, this grandiflora rose grows to about four feet in height. Its three-inch diameter, 20-petal flowers are tangerine in color with a slight fragrance. Some test growers have described it as ``a truly world-class cut flower.''

New Year is Sam McGredy's fifth AARS triumph, and more seem almost certain to come his way in future. Among the aims of the innovative New Zealander: a chocolate-brown rose, and a chocolate and lavendar bicolor.

Sheer Bliss. This hybrid tea grows five to six feet tall, with long upright stems bearing four- to five-inch, 35-petal flowers with a strong sweet fragrance.

Like Mr. McGredy, Mr. Warriner has four previous AARS triumphs to his credit. In 1980 he stunned the rose-breeding world with an unprecedented clean sweep with Love, Honor, and Cherish.

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