All kidding aside, finally, nearly two decades after his death, one of the world’s greatest rosarians is receiving the public recognition he so richly deserves.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 18, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to answer your questions.)
Griffith J. Buck (1915-1991), affectionately known as "Griff," was a rose researcher/hybridizer at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, and professor of horticulture at ISU from 1948 to 1985. As a youngster, Griff once paid a quarter to the local YMCA to get a pen pal, but none of the persons he wrote to sent a reply. He decided on a whim to simply write to a name and address he found in a library book. It happened to be that of a rose nurseryman in Spain, Pedro Dot. Dot received the letter and asked his niece, Maria Antonia, to respond and to include notes and tips on rose growing. She told Buck how to hybridize roses and urged him to give it a try. The resulting friendship would span three generations with the Dot family. Pedro Dot became his mentor, and Buck eventually named a rose after him. (See 'El Catala,' "the Catalonian," below. Dot was a very proud Catalonian.)
Mouse over photos for variety name
After a brief stint as a school teacher and service in the military, Buck entered Iowa State College in January of 1946, enrolling in the horticulture program. He received his doctorate in horticulture and microbiology in March of 1953 and attained the rank of full professor in 1974.
Dr. Buck began his rose breeding program with a rose from Siberia, Rosa laxa 'Semipalatinsk,' obviously very winter hardy, but also a repeat bloomer and quite fragrant. He crossed it with some American rose varieties, but wasn't happy with the result. He decided to write to Wilhelm Kordes, the famous rose hybridizer in Germany, explaining that he was trying to develop hardier roses and how his results were less than promising. Kordes replied that the problem lay with one of the seed parents he was using. He sent Buck a sweetbrier hybrid, 'Josef Rothmund'.
When this rose bloomed, Buck crossed it with his Siberian Rosa laxa. One of the resulting plants was pink like 'Josef Rothmund,' but with fewer petals. This became the parent that Buck began crossing with existing garden roses.
Not only did he work with the existing rose gene pool to develop beautiful roses, he also practiced survival of the fittest. The crosses that turned out to be susceptible to disease or were not bone hardy were discarded. It's difficult to believe, from our perspective today, that this was a new and radical concept. Up until that time, serious rose growers had to devote much time and possess great skill in order to make most of their roses survive and thrive. It was Buck who changed all that.
The roses resulting from Buck's breeding program are not only disease and drought resistant, but many are able to survive and thrive no matter what the weather. His collection provides solutions and options for landscapes in every imaginable climate.
International rose hybridizers have incorporated Buck roses into their breeding programs since the 1980s, but, ironically, his roses have not been widely available in the U.S. Fortunately, for those of us who grow roses, nurseries have recently made a concerted effort to bring 77 of the 80-some Buck roses into the horticultural trade this year. Reiman Gardens at ISU currently grows 75 of these varieties. One variety, Carefree Beauty, (remaining true to its name) has been growing vigorously in our own gardens for at least 25 years. My mother-in-law received it as a special birthday gift from one of her daughters.
There are over 60 sources from which Buck Roses are currently available. These include nurseries in the US, Canada, England, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, and India. The Sam Kedem nursery in southern Minnesota (see listing below) is offering 64 different Buck roses for sale this year. Why not try one or several in your garden yet this season? If you buy the roses potted, they can be planted at any time during the upcoming growing season. Be sure to ask if the plants are "own root." The advantage of this kind of rose over the grafted kind is that if the plant should die back to the ground, it will return in the spring, true to variety. Shoots originating from the roots of grafted plants will be those of the stock onto which your rose was grafted, rather than those of the variety you bought, and it will generally be greatly inferior, with few, if any, blossoms.
Why not add a few of the wonderful roses pictured here to your garden this year?
Mouse over photos for variety name
Photo by author from his garden Honey Sweet
Photo by author from his garden Prairie Harvest
Photos, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of Mary Buck and the Iowa State University Research Foundation, Inc.
Photo of Carefree Beauty thumbnail is by the author from his garden.
If you decide to order from one of the companies listed below, you can check out mail order companies right here at Dave's Garden by clicking on the "watchdog" image:
Questions? Comments? Please scroll down to the form below at the end of the following table. I enjoy hearing from readers!
Where in the World can I buy Buck Roses? Includes listings from Canada, Denmark, England, India, New Zealand, Norway, and The Netherlands
(This table appears on the ISU Buck Roses Web site. Entries have not been updated recently.)
Arena Rose Company 525 Pifne Street Box f3096 Paso Robles, CA 93447 ph 805-238-3742 fax 805-227-4095 Web Site http://www.arenarose.com Note: To access Web sites, copy the URL and paste it into your browser.
Gurney's Seed & Nursery Co 110 Capital Street Yankton, SD 57079 cust service only 605-665-1671 orders only 605-665-1930 fax 605-665-9718 Web Site http://www.gurneys.com
Perennial Passion, The Plant Lover's Nursery The Plant Lover's Nursery; Specializing in perennials, hardy shrub roses and uncommon plants 1510 West 51st Street Sioux Falls, SD57105 ph 605-335-3526 fax 605-335-2215 Open May through October
The Appalachian Rose Nursery 782, Old Belltown Mill Road Tellico Plains, TN37384 ph 423-253-3797 Ronald Johnston Web Site http://www.appalachianrose.com
The Antique Rose Emporium 3300 Lueckemeyer Rd BrenhamTX77833-6453 ph 409-836-9051 800-441-0002 fax 409-836-0928
An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: http://davesgarden.com/community/blogs/m/LarryR/. Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.