Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Illinois Orchid Society Show

White and pink striped orchid
Phalaenopsis Taida King's Caroline

It's said there are more species of orchid than any other plant on Earth, with the possible exception of asters.

After attending "Spring Into Orchids," the Illinois Orchid Society show at the Chicago Botanic Garden this past weekend, I'd have to agree.

There were all colors, shapes and sizes -- everything from the more traditional Phalaenopsis and Cattleya orchids to lady slippers and pansy varieties. There was even one with a fuzzy white flower unlike anything I'd ever seen before -- a Rhyncolaelia.

I dearly love orchids, the way they provide a burst of color in late winter/early spring, just before the tulips and daffodils start coming into their own. Unfortunately, orchids don't seem to do well in my house. It may have something to do with my light exposure or getting the temperatures low enough to set the buds. I'm not sure.

So I usually go to this sale every year and buy an orchid, assuming it will be a sort of long-lasting cut flower. Who knows? One of these days I may actually get one to survive and even rebloom.  I'll definitely keep trying!

As you can probably tell from the photos below, I also love to take pictures of orchids so I can remember their beauty throughout the year. I hope you enjoy them.

Yellow orchids with rose centers
Doritaenopsis Sin-Yaun Golden Beauty

White star orchid wth rose center
Laelia purpurata

Purple orchid with lace texture
Vanda Sansai Blue 'Acker's Price'

Pink orchid with pansy face
A pansy orchid, Miltoniopsis Pearl Ono
Pink orchid
Phagmipedium Suzanna Decker

White orchids with pink splatters
Phalaenopsis Winter Carnival Carousel

Pink orchid against paper screen
Cattleya Blc Triumphal Coronation 'Seven Star'

Orange-yellow orchid
Phalaenopsis Baldan's Kaleidescope 'Golden Treasure'

White orchid with pink edges
Iwanagara Appleblossom

Bronze striped lady slipper orchid
Paphiopedilum kolopakingii

White orchid with fuzzy center
The strangest orchid at the show, Rhyncolaelia

By Karen Geisler

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Visit with Knock Out Roses' William Radler

William Radler
William Radler in his living room
There was snow on the ground outside, but plenty of blooms inside the home of William Radler, developer of the popular Knock Out® shrub roses, when I visited recently.
Botanical drawings of roses lined the living room walls. A bouquet of silk roses sat on a table. There was a rose inlay on the wooden floor. And in the basement, the real deal – row after row of rose seedlings, many of them in full flower, under fluorescent lights.

This is the rosarium or “greenhouse” where Radler is developing his next generation of roses. Only the best will ever make it to market. Some may even be good enough to become Knock Out® roses, which are noted for their disease resistance.
More than 80 million Knock Out® roses have been sold since the first was introduced in 2000, making it the best selling rose series in the U.S. It’s also becoming more popular overseas, especially in Europe, Australia and Japan. Two of the seven varieties have been chosen as All America Rose Selections.

With such overwhelming success, you might expect that Radler, now 70, would be slowing down or at least would have moved his rose breeding operation to a larger, more high tech facility. If so, you’d be wrong on both counts.

Radler is planning to step up his rose introductions from one or two a year to as many as five. He especially wants to expand beyond the shrub and climbing roses in his portfolio.

The goal? “I want everything,” said Radler. He hopes to have so many rose varieties that it will require a separate catalog to list them all.
“Everybody hears about the Knock Outs®,” Radler said. “They don’t realize I have 27 roses in production. They might not all be Knock Outs® but most of them are low maintenance roses, the kind of roses people are looking to put in their gardens.”

Pink single rose with yellow eye
Brite Eyes, a Radler climbing rose
Photo courtesy of The Conard-Pyle Co./Star Roses and Plants

Eventually, he wants to produce low-maintenance hybrid teas, floribundas, miniatures and polyanthas. Radler’s particularly hot on miniature roses at this point.

“Everyone’s got a place for a miniature rose,” he said. “If they were black spot resistant, I think more people would plant them.”

The success of Knock Outs® has sparked its share of criticism in rose circles. Some rose fans feel that Knock Outs® are pushing other worthy rose varieties out of the market. Others complain that his most popular roses aren’t fragrant.
Radler countered that Knock Outs® are shrub roses, not exhibition roses which often require extensive spraying and care. People no longer have the time or inclination to fuss with roses in their garden, he said. Low-maintenance shrub roses like his often fit the bill.

He also noted fragrance is somewhat subjective, with some people able to detect a fragrance while someone else can not. Radler said the original Knock Out® has a fragrance and that Milwaukee’s Calatrava, a white shrub rose he developed, “can compete with any other rose on the market for fragrance.”
Shrub roses, he added, are not usually introduced for their fragrance.

“There’s all the David Austins, but they don’t make good shrub roses,” he said. “At the end of the season, they’re either the Eiffel Tower or they’re flopping all over the place.”

Radler with rose seedlings
In the basement with the latest crop of rose seedlings
Rose seedlings in bloom
Flowers galore
Radler has been hooked on roses ever since he bought his first one at age 9. He was winning prizes for his roses while still in college, perhaps one of the reasons why he switched to landscape architecture after only one semester as an art major. He has been breeding roses since the mid 1970s.

His growing set-up remains low tech: saw horses, 2x4s, shop lights and recycled Styrofoam slabs. Meticulous details about each seedling are kept on index cards off to one side.

At this stage, he cautioned, it’s not always possible to tell which roses will perform the best in the garden.

“The miniatures grow larger under the fluorescent lights than they do in the garden,” he said. “And the regular ones grow smaller under the lights than in the garden.”

Flower color also can be more intense outside than under the lights, he added.

Baby rose seedlings
Newborn rose seedlings under the lights

Not all of Radler’s crosses work of course. During a recent visit, he showed me a rose with buds that have never opened and a yellow rose with a green, grassy center.

On the other hand, there was a white rose with a fragrance to rival any at a high-end perfume counter. There also was one with a single layer of purple (yes, purple) petals held straight up at a 90 degree angle as well as several interesting color combinations.
These 500 seedlings will eventually be acclimated to sunlight and join the approximately 1,600 roses outside on his 2-acre lot. They won’t be coddled in any way, but assaulted with numerous enemies including overhead watering and black spot. Lackluster performers are culled. Those that flourish are sent off for six years of field trials and may eventually be marketed by The Conard-Pyle Co./Star Roses and Plants.

Yellow rose seedling
A very delicate bloom

Vermillion rose seedling
What would you call this color? Vermilion?

Apricot and yellow rose seedling
Loved the color combination on this seedling

This rose was especially fragrant

Pink striped rose seedling
Striped petals anyone?
Radler, a life-long Milwaukee resident, said he has no plans to move anywhere else. His first job after college was with the Milwaukee County parks department. He eventually went on to serve as garden director of the nearby Boerner Botanical Gardens from 1981 until his retirement in 1994.

“People who need to get away…I don’t understand that. I like to be in one place and have everything that I need in one location,” he said. “I could easily afford a place in Door County or a place in Palm Springs but that means I’m away from here.”

Success has resulted in some changes at the “headquarters” of Rose Innovations LLC, however. He used to do all the work himself but now has a staff of 8 people. He also has remodeled his house. One of those changes was to add a one-car garage because the original two-car garage is overflowing with garden supplies.

Radler's sunroom filled with plans
The sun room

Lest you think Radler is a plant snob, he does have many other plants besides roses. A two-story sun room holds everything from African violets and cactuses to lush tropicals. An extensive perennial garden in the front yard has every plant labeled with its common and botanical name.

He is introducing his second perennial this year, Amethyst Kiss™ spiderwort (Tradescantia ‘Radtrad’) which has larger flowers, larger flower clusters and flowers that are more blue that other varieties. He had previously introduced Sweet Thing™ verbena (Verbena ‘Radverb’).

Radler's snow-covered back yard
The back yard
One of his upcoming projects will be to put prairie grasses and plants on the tall berm just behind his property. It was formerly used by one of the Milwaukee's interurban railways but is now abandoned. He said the utility that owns the land has just given him permission for the project to go ahead.

Another, possibly even bigger project involves breeding tropical fish and gold fish. He has added several large tanks throughout his house over the past three years.
“My goal is to create tropical fish and goldfish that the world hasn’t seen before,” Radler said.

Does he have any names in mind for these new fish? Perhaps something like Knock Out, I asked?

He pondered the question for a minute and just smiled.

By Karen Geisler