Michael Marriott, technical director and senior rosarian for David Austin Roses, notes that “Rose breeding is, at heart, a romantic quest to achieve a vision of beauty.” The quest is one requiring vision and patience, as breeders trial candidate seedlings over a period of eight to ten years, yet introduce just two to four new English Rose varieties per annum. Unveiled for 2017 are Desdemona and The Ancient Mariner, both bred in a 20-year program.
With the parents under glass, cross-pollination commences in April at David Austin Roses in England, and continues through the end of June to early July; hips are harvested in fall. The process results in about 150,000 seedlings every year—the result of carefully monitored crossings. As with children, roses’ attributes stem from the genetics of their parentage, but dominant traits are necessarily left to nature and surface unpredictably. Michael explains that a rose’s fragrance may be the result of a mixture of up to three hundred various oils, but that two or three of these combine to create the dominant scent.