By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
A beautiful red hybrid tea rose was nearing production at the Jackson & Perkins nursery when a family tragedy occurred.
Company president Paul Ambrose’s brother Rob died in March 2015 of a sudden heart attack at age 42.
“It was just a complete shock,” Ambrose said. “He was a young, fit, active guy. He was just sitting on his couch chatting with his son and he was gone in 15 minutes.
“Rob was my brother and my best friend, a great guy with a young family,” he said. “You can never replace that, but we thought maybe we can do something for the American Heart Association to help other people.”
With that inspiration, Jackson & Perkins named his new flower the Grateful Heart Rose, which recently went on sale in limited quantities. For years to come, part of the proceeds of the rose will benefit AHA’s missions of education, advocacy and research.
Jackson & Perkins, headquartered in Hodges, South Carolina, sells a vast array of plants, flowers, bulbs and gardening supplies online and through its mail-order catalog. The company, which was founded in 1872, takes particular pride in its roses.
There are countless varieties of roses, some dating back several thousand years. But Wes Harvell, who oversees Jackson & Perkins’ rose program, says that just as video gamers and smart phone geeks can’t wait for the next big thing, the rose world is always hankering for more.
“It’s always nice to have something that’s more beautiful than you had before,” he said.
So he is always working on the next great rose, a process that can take 10 years.
“The hybridizers literally start out with paintbrushes taking pollen from one variety to another,” Harvell said. “They develop seedlings from that and then they evaluate them in multiple seasons for multiple characteristics, pick the best and build up enough stock to keep evaluating.”
Ambrose said his company usually introduces two to four new varieties each year.
The latest hybrid tea rose – which refers to a popular variety that has a single bloom on each stem – was already spotted as a potential hit when it became the Grateful Heart Rose.
“We haven’t introduced a red rose of this quality for years,” he said. “We’re really excited about it.”
So what’s so special? Like a fashion designer narrating a runway show, Harvell described the new debutante:
“It’s the premium class,” he said. “Everybody wants a hybrid tea rose. It’s in the color spectrum that most people are drawn to. It starts out with a very heavy pink reddish color and it has a lighter reverse, which means the front of the petal is one color and the back is another color.
“You’re not just planting something in your garden that looks good. It has a light fragrance and can be cut and put in a vase and brought into the house.”
Jackson & Perkins has named the Grateful Heart Rose its 2017 Rose of the Year, but Ambrose said it’s too soon to know whether it will be a big hit. Reviewers, notably the American Rose Society, haven’t weighed in yet, and in any case, it takes time to build up a stockpile for large-scale sales.
“It’s a process,” he said. “We usually patent and introduce the rose, then we start with a limited quantity and we expand it. But we expect this to be a partnership with the American Heart Association that will continue to grow over the next five to 10 years.”
He acknowledged that the Grateful Heart Rose project, beautiful as it is, is bittersweet.
“This can’t replace what Rob meant to our family,” Ambrose said of the loss of his brother in March 2015. “But in making this tribute to him, we want to help other people avoid this suffering. We can do something good together.”
The Grateful Heart Rose, benefitting the American Heart Association, is on sale at http://www.jacksonandperkins.com/grateful-heart-hybrid-tea-rose/p/37414/