War of the Roses

Two rival organizations in the passionate world of rose-growing will converge next month, for the first time in their 100-plus year histories, to make amends. They’ll meet in one of the most unlikely spots on earth—Addison.

War of the Roses
Two rival international organizations in the passionate world of rose-growing will converge next month, for the first time in their 100-plus year histories, to make amends. They’ll meet in one of the most unlikely spots on earth—Addison. Writer Rod Davis digs into the thorny situation.

 

An older woman moved to the back of the room, crossed her arms and barred the only exit door with her body—as did, say, Odysseus just before slaying Penelope’s suitors. “You killed Ophelia!” she shouted.

 

When Stephen Scanniello spoke before  a crowd of hard-core rose-growers in 1986, in the form of the Penn-Jersey chapter of the American Rose Society at Lancaster, Pa., he was so confident in his new position as curator of the Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that he felt his speech would be greeted with enthusiasm and respect. Maybe awe. He was lucky to get out alive.

“That’s not what that is,” came the first growl, disputing one of the young curator’s descriptions of a rose plant. Volleys of skepticism ensued. Maybe a few catcalls. But mortal fear didn’t arise until an older woman moved to the back of the room, crossed her arms, and barred the only exit door with her body—as did, say, Odysseus just before slaying Penelope’s suitors. “You killed Ophelia!” she shouted.

“I didn’t even know who that was,” Scanniello recalls today. “But I knew I didn’t do it.” In fact, he hadn’t killed the rose named after Hamlet’s main squeeze—it had perished before he signed on at Cranford. He and his accuser wound up becoming fast friends.

The affable author (A Year of Roses) and consultant—a rock star of roses—hopes the spirit of reconciliation holds up next month when the country’s largest and oldest rose organization, the American Rose Society, meets in Addison at the same time, in the same hotel, and with many of the same people as its once-acrimonious spin-off, the small but feisty Heritage Rose Foundation, of which Scanniello is president.  As the Protestants left the Catholics and John left the Beatles, the Heritage group rebelled against the mother ship over ideology and creative control. For the Heritage faction, which includes a strong contingent from Texas and the Dallas area, the ARS had become a commercial sell-out, more interested in newer hybrids that rely more heavily on the use of chemicals. Its orientation was anathema to the Heritage crew’s philosophy of preserving old or antique roses in an organic, even holistic manner. Put another way, the ARS, celebrating its 115th anniversary next year, was said to groove on the bloom, while Heritage dug the whole plant.

 

And there are so many plants—at least 30,000 individual varieties, according to the latest count in the upcoming Modern Roses XII: The World Encyclopedia of Roses. That’s an increase of 6,000 just since 2000. Within that vast, prickly, multi-colored universe lies the demarcation that defines the schism and led to the petal putsch. In the year 1867, when hybrid tea roses, derived from Chinese imports, were officially classified, the rose world changed forever. All roses since are new; those prior are old or antique.

The HRF, now with about 450 members, officially formed in 1986, more or less after a “sub rosa” meeting between Dr. Charles Walker Jr., its first president, Scanniello, and several others. Things got testy with the ARS for a number of years. “We were the heretics of the rose world,” Scanniello says of the early days. Retired Dallas entrepreneur Claude Graves, treasurer of the HRF, remembers even deeper division—“a rivalry, or split, or something that occurred going back to the ’70s. It was like in fly-fishing, the dry versus the wet flies. If you didn’t do one, or did another, you weren’t worth anything.” Even in more recent years, Graves says, “there were some strained relationships between the two groups.”

This is the first time they will attempt a full frontal reconciliation—“a sharing,” as Scanniello assured some of the skeptics in his group, not a “merger.” The thaw began following the 2003 election of Marilyn Wellan as the new president of the 18,000-member ARS—only the second woman to hold that office in 40 years. Her three-year term ends this year, as Steve Jones, of Valencia, Calif., takes over. A former bank vice president who lives with her husband on a 600-acre farm near Alexandria, La., Wellan describes herself as “a good old gardener.” She had been active in the ARS, but as president, reached out to the dissidents. “I made it part of my mission to support rose-growers in all their interests. In making this alliance, I believe we have made great strides,” she says.

She found an enthusiastic and powerful ally in Scanniello, who, like many in the HRF, was also an ARS member. “He’s a real advocate for his group and for roses,” she says. “And the most personable and easy-to-know and likeable guy you can imagine.” Most important, he agreed with Wellan that the fight had outrun itself. “We have something in common—we all love roses,” Scanniello says, which is the same thing Wellan says. Each group drew up resolutions agreeing to meet in Dallas and to find common ground.

The most literal expression of that ground lies in a portion of the impressive gardens of the ARS’s 118-acre headquarters in Shreveport, La., about 5 miles from the Texas border. The ARS has given the HRF, which doesn’t have a permanent headquarters, stewardship of a garden area devoted to antique roses. Scanniello, whose consulting clients have included the Basses of Fort Worth, visits Shreveport four times a year and says the Heritage section will be ready next spring.

 

But it was Graves, hooked on rose-growing since 1969 after planting a flower bed with some hardy Jackson Perkins roses his mother gave him, who came up with the plan to finally douse the flickering feud with back-to-back Dallas conventions. The ARS version, “Texas Two-Step with Roses,” runs Oct. 12-16, the more prosaically named 2006 Heritage Rose Foundation Conference, Oct. 11-13. Both are at the Hotel InterContinental Dallas, which is inexplicably
located in Addison.

Scanniello is a speaker at ARS and MC at the HRF convention—“the clash of the rosarians”—he jokes, but actually his dual roles are a good sign of interfaith solidarity. Also on the bill is Dr. Stephen George of Texas A&M’s co-op extension program, which has developed a new extra-hardy, environmentally friendly collection of roses that include varieties called EarthKind Roses, which seems to appeal to both ARS and HRF members.

The HRF venue features Thomas Christopher, whose In Search of Lost Roses helped launch the notorious Texas Rose Rustlers in the Houston and Dallas areas circa the early 1970s and 1980s. These normally mild-mannered folk roamed the highways and byways of Texas, taking clippings from bushes they thought needed preserving. Similar rose ninjas operated in California and the Carolinas, which, with Texas, are among the top rose-growing parts of the country. Not exactly the Monkey Wrench Gang, but from such miscreants came the Heritage Rose Foundation and its passion for authenticity.

At the convention, hoped to attract 600 to 700 ARS members and a hundred or so from the HRF, the power spectacle will be the National Rose Show, Oct. 14, where the best and the brightest will get as much attention, petal for petal, as contestants at a Miss America pageant. And, like those beauties, the roses also have proper as well as biological names, the result of a complex registration procedure required for each new, unique hybrid.

For Wellan, the meeting culminates her goal of a world without rose wars and also an opportunity to advance the group’s education initiatives, membership outreach, and preservation programs. For the Heritage faithful, there’s the chance to evangelize the ARS with their devotion to the history and esoterica of the beloved flower. For both groups, it’s a chance to show off, to celebrate a love—not too strong a word—for this most personalized kind of gardening. Where plants can actually be named like race horses—“Dainty Bess,” “Lillian Austin,” “Graham Blandy,” or, alas, “Ophelia.”

 

“Texas Two-Step with Roses,” runs Oct. 12-16, the more prosaically named 2006 Heritage Rose Foundation Conference, Oct. 11-13. Both are at the Hotel InterContinental Dallas.

 

Contact the American Rose Society at: www.ars.org.
Contact the Heritage Rose Foundation at: www.heritagerosefoundation.org.

 

   

 

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