There is no hard and fast rule as to when the hybridizing bug first bites its victims.
How a new rose is born
Eight-year-old schoolboy David Austin wished to create a new flower like the world had never seen.
Twenty-something Bill Radler hoped to breed a rose that didn’t require constant pampering.
Ben Williams never gave the subject a thought until a chance encounter with a German hybridizer after World War II sparked a passion that burned until he passed away in 2006.
Today, even casual gardeners have heard of Austin’s English roses and Radler’s Knock Out collection.
Ben Williams’ accomplishments, however, are not as well known. For more than 40 years, he coaxed the best characteristics out of rose "parents" to create memorable climbers, hybrid teas, and roses with striped petals.
But he is also credited with helping to invent a category of “in between” bushes that were too big to be miniatures and too small for full-size roses. In 1979, he patented the name “miniflora” (which he later donated to the American Rose Society) and spent the next 20 years trumpeting the plant’s attributes to a basically apathetic audience.
Ben’s persistence paid off in 1999 when the ARS officially accepted the miniflora as a separate class of roses. (It's sometimes spelled mini-flora or MiniFlora, but the ARS calls it miniflora.)
Exhibitors in rose shows had already discovered the charms of the miniflora when the standard bearer of the class, light pink Tiffany Lynn, was introduced in the late '80s.
Everything about it was robust, including the perfectly formed hybrid tea-style blooms. When first confronted with an entry that looked like a miniature on steroids, judges accused exhibitors of purposely feeding the plant way too much fertilizer.
The success of Tiffany Lynn on the show table and in the garden prompted hybridizers who once threw away “big minis” to introduce all manner of new varieties.
The average gardener, though, was slow to warm to minifloras, especially those who had tried and failed with so-called grocery store roses.
But functionality and the bloom power of the plants have changed hearts and minds, and sales of minifloras are sharply on the rise.
Miniflora roses offer many pluses
Minifloras have some have unique advantages over other rose classifications:
- They have been described as miniature floribundas, but varieties including Leading Lady and Foolish Pleasure have many characteristics of hybrid tea flowers, including high-spiraling centers.
- In addition, most minifloras are shapely three- to five-foot bushes, have extremely glossy foliage, and are almost always in bloom during the season.
- Of course, many roses are touted as prolific bloomers, but minifloras more than live up to the hype. That’s because they produce new blooms amazingly quickly, in 28 to 35 days, as opposed to hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas, which can take as long as 65 days to produce new flowers.
- Minifloras can find a home in gardens of every shape and size – even condos or apartments -- as long as a sunny balcony is available. They grow on their own roots and are generally hardier than larger, grafted roses. They also tend to be less thorny than other types of roses.
- And many, including Moonlight Scentsation, are fragrant.
- Like their miniature cousins, minifloras are versatile landscape roses, perfect for beds, borders, and pots.
- But given their greater height, shapeliness, and upright growth, they also make colorful, medium-size hedges, and will turn heads when they line a walkway.
- In addition, they produce bouquets of excellent cut flowers that seem to hold their form forever in a vase.
With so many positive attributes, the future of minifloras looks rosy indeed. Which means somewhere, in his trademark pin-stripe suit, Ben Williams is smiling.
Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. She grows roses and other plants in her garden in the mountains of western North Carolina. To read more by Lynn, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter.