Ten Questions for a "Budding" Star

How did the rose get to be the top flower?
I could say it’s because it’s the prettiest, but the best way to explain is that it’s the most diversified. If you go to “Redoute 1814-1824” [an encyclopedia of roses for that period], you’ll come up with about 168 roses. That’s all that existed around the time of Napoleon and Josephine, and she had the largest collection of roses in the world. Now you’d find around 30,000 varieties.

What is something that people usually do wrong when trying to grow roses?
They don’t water them. That’s the most common error that anyone can make. Roses need five gallons of water a week. Even when it’s raining — except in a swamp, and there’s even a rose that grows in swamp: Rosa palustris. It’s native to New Hampshire.

In a rose show, what are the marks of a winner?
There’s a whole set of rules which varies for the class of rose, but the best-grown and best-presented rose is always the one that will win. Here bigger is better, except, of course, in miniatures.

Do you get a lot of calls from rose lovers?
When I get calls and e-mails, it’s usually to identify various varieties. Usually, a family’s rose. ‘It’s on my grandmother’s or great-great-grandmother’s grave, what is it?’ Usually on old graves in New Hampshire, its R. spinosissima, otherwise known as a Scotch rose, very spiny or bristly.

What trait is the Holy Grail for rose breeders?
Everyone’s looking for blue and black, but no one has reached it. It’s just not in the gene pool. They have to hybrid with delphinium for blue. They have some really dark reds that look black. Oh, and stripes. Ralph Moore [known as king of the miniature roses] broke open the world of stripes. Most are caused by viruses and he finally found one that wasn’t a virus. Stars and stripes was his first. Now everyone is doing stripes. I’m looking to make striped ramblers. I’ll probably never do it, but it’s worth a try.

You have an interest in the history of roses. Any particularly interesting stories?
Hmm, you mean other than the history of the Roman orgies where they would scatter the rose petals over the whole area while they were, as the British say, “giving it a go”? The Romans did strange things with roses. They were growing roses going far back before Christ. I like the story of the Cuisse de Nymph rose from the 15th century. The name of this rose was changed to “Maiden’s Blush” because in Victorian times the “Virgin Thigh” was considered a little risqué.

What do you get your wife for Valentine’s Day?
I take her to lunch. I don’t buy her roses, I assure you of that. It’s too expensive. I suppose I could go out in the greenhouse and force some roses for Valentines Day.

What are your favorite varieties?
I like my own roses. I’m prejudiced. Of all the ones I’ve hybridized, my Mike’s Old Fashioned Pink is my favorite. It’s not a perfect rose, but if I was wandering lost somewhere it’s the rose I’d most like to find.

What is the most fragrant rose, in your opinion?
I can’t smell. My nose, my sense of smell is gone completely. There’s Immortal Juno developed by the famed English hybridizer, David Austin. I considered that to be one of most fragrant roses. Omar Khayyam is another fragrant one, or any one of Rosa damascena.

So, would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?
You just have to come on over, walk through the rose garden and find out for yourself. NH

Note: Mike Lowe will be speaking at the New Hampshire Rose Society rose show in Nashua at the Hunt Library on Main St. on Saturday, June 26.
I have a couple of them growing outside City Hall in Nashua. These will maybe give you 2,000 to 3,000 blossoms. It’s an iridescent pink. When it’s backlit, it almost glows. In fact, it does glow.