Why Do We Breed Roses?

Ed Cunningham

So, why do people breed roses anyway ? For lots of reasons. In our experience, most people's reasons are an amalgam of reasons such as: to earn a living; to carry on a family business; for a hobby; out of appreciation of the rose's beauty and/or fragrance; for the thrill of the chase, trying to conceive what potential rose might come out of a union of 2 roses, and to then try to "pull it" out of their union, much as a sculptor "pulls" a statue out of a lump of stone; for an intellectual challenge, to employ genetics in an attempt to "engineer" a desired rose; from of a spirit of play, to whimsically join 2 roses and to unreservedly delight in what discoveries might issue forth.

Last year, I attended RIRS' morning workshop on Ikebana-style arrangements, taught by Mrs. Donna Fuss. I found the simple elegance of the Ikebana style to be congenial, and an interest in it has slowly grown since then. I began to wonder what might be distinctive about roses bred by Japanese breeders. Considering their other industrial & cultural achievements, I had high expectations. But, due to constraints imposed by my life responsibilities, this had to be a survey, not a serious inquiry. It was therefore disappointing to find not so very much about them. Certainly, there are a good number of Japanese breeders and nurseries, including the Keisei Rose Research Institute and the Itami Rose Nursery. Seizo Suzuki (at Keisei) is a very prominent Japanese breeder, whose more familiar roses include: French Perfume, Gipsy Carnival, Kuroshinju (a black-red HT which we fell in love with at the Montreal rose show a few years ago), Mikado, and Pi¤ata. Other familiar Japanese bred roses include 'Nozomi,' Todoroki, Prima Donna, and Ferdy. But all this fell short of what I expected of this major culture.

My continuing interest in Ikebana has sort of nudged together various ideas which I have encountered in the meanderings of my life. When I was younger, I took some classes in Karate, and later in Aikido (which I much preferred); and some of the culture "rubbed off." Later, I took acupuncture treatments for a while, and a little more of the culture rubbed off.

For years, I enjoyed the TV program "Kung Fu" (with "Little Grasshopper"), and a little more of the culture rubbed off (filtered thru Hollywood, of course).

In pondering my surprisingly scanty findings on Japanese rose breeders, some ideas have presented themselves. Perhaps, the Japanese are more interested in the peony, the lotus, & other flowers. Perhaps, their interest only extends to using species roses such as Multiflora for Bonsai.

These may be accurate ideas, but I believe that there is more. I suspect that for many Japanese whose hearts are drawn to working with the beauty of flowers, a cultural sensitivity to the spiritual or metaphysical aspect of the endeavor helps to guide their approach.

One of the most prominent contemporary Ikebana masters wrote "Through the act of arranging flowers, one can realize Gods' blessing that pervades all the universe, and will be given eyes to see his own road to life." Senei Ikenobo, March 1962 (From www.ramalila.net/Adventures/ZenArts/Ikebana.html)

Ruth Grosser, teaches Ikebana at an AIC University in Australia. On her website (http://www.ikebana.com.au/ruth/), she expresses some of this:
"Her style has become a synthesis of the traditional ..(and).. modern (Japanese) combined with her own Artistic Sense; based on the Western Arts of Painting, Sculpture and Colour Design. Her message in Ikebana is that all arrangements should have a sense of beauty." "We have a choice between the ugly and beautiful, the confined and the free; We can choose the path to develop a sense of beauty in our lives or we can do the opposite." " There are many artists in all the various forms of art who have chosen the opposite in these times as a means to shock and develop notoriety, their base works are made for 'news' and for 'business advertising' ........they are not true art". "In Ikebana we have the materials to develop great works that are capable of lifting the human spirit and the process of constructing Ikebana allows us to be one with nature, to focus, to relax and renew the positive senses of our humanity". These sentiments are not necessarily foremost in the minds of many Western hybridists, especially the commercial ones.

Ruth Grosser's site also had an unattributed quote: "Ikebana has influenced many artists. The Samurai and Zen Masters discovered the essence. Your mind and body are relaxed. The whole self is centered on the art." This quote prompted me to dig up a flyer I had obtained many years ago. It relates a true incident from Japanese history. As a young man, Morihei Uyeshiba, saw his father beaten up by political thugs. He consequently committed himself to "Budo." Loosely translated, this refers to the way of the warrior, the Samurai, and martial arts. He spent years in mastering these pursuits, but he never felt fulfilled. Eventually, he had what Abraham Maslow would call a "peak experience." Uyeshiba later recalled:
"I was able to understand the whispering of the birds, and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the Creator of this universe. At that moment, I was enlightened: the source of Budo is God's love - the spirit of loving protection for all beings. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks.
Since that time I have grown to feel that the whole earth is my house, and the sun, the moon, and the stars are all my own things. I had become free from all desire, not only for position, fame, and property, but also to be strong. I understood: Budo is not felling the opponent by our force; nor is it a tool to lead the world into destruction with arms. True Budo is to accept the spirit of the universe; keep the peace of the world; correctly produce, protect, and cultivate all beings in Nature. I understood: the training of Budo is to take God's love, which correctly produces, protects, and cultivates all things in Nature, and assimilate and utilize it in our own mind and body." Morehei Uyeshiba was the founder of Aikido; and, he often said that "Budo and farming are one."

Nothing in the Human experience, no insight or sensibility, is exclusive to any one group or culture. I remember reading of an old American priest who, in his zen-like wisdom, observed that, "birds do not fly because they have wings; they have wings because they fly." Nonetheless, different things do tend to be emphasized in different groups or cultures.

And so, I am left to wonder: Why have the Japanese gifted us with proportionally fewer famous roses than we might have expected ? I am sure that they have "kept their eyes on the prize."
Is it because they had a different prize ? Is their prize to seek out such things as harmony, unity, and the "true nature" of the rose, rather than to seek our prize of novelty, distinctiveness, long straight stems, and commercial success ?

This article, reprinted from the Rhode Island Rose Review,
 won an ARS Award of merit for 2003




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Date last edited: 01/21/10
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