George Mander on hybridizing roses

George Mander explains that hybridizing isn't as complicated as it sounds.

George Mander is known internationally as one of the top amateur rose hybridizers in the world. He explains that hybridizing isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

What or who gave you the idea to start hybridizing roses?

When my wife, Ingrid, and I moved to Coquitlam in 1966, there was a cabbage rose bush in the backyard. I didn’t know anything about growing roses, didn’t care for the blooms and wanted to throw it out. My neighbour suggested grafting different roses onto the main stems for a different look. Since I’d grafted apple and cherry trees in my parents’ garden as a teen, I thought I’d give it a try. I started reading books on crossbreeding and found it fascinating. When I finally joined a rose society in 1969, they told me I was crazy for trying to hybridize before I’d even learned how to grow roses. I started from the top down.


The laziest route to gorgeous roses

What are you actually doing when you hybridize a rose?
It requires care in technique and cleanliness, but not a lot of training or equipment. All roses contain both female parts (pistils) and male (stamens), so roses naturally self-pollinate. Using tweezers, I collect the stamens from one rose (the designated father) and touch them to the pistils on the mother – picked for her tendency to produce good hips. Usually you would remove the stamens from the mother rose first, to prevent self-pollination.

How much time does it take?
Pollinating a single bloom takes only minutes, but there are several steps needed to prepare. My friend Tony Denton started hybridizing in 1998 and we constantly exchange information of our experiments and results with new rose varieties for seed and/or pollen parents. To complete our yearly process, we have a window of about two months, and during this time we can do thousands of crosses.

So while pollinating each bloom takes only a minute, planning, analyzing and talking over the results can take years!

How do you know if it’s working?
Within a few weeks of completing the pollen process, the sepals on the hips start to close upwards. This is a sign that the process was successful. We then wait for the hips to swell and change colour before we harvest.

How often do you succeed?
In 1995 I raised 4,800 seedlings from 14,800 seeds. From these 4,800, I kept only 140 for further evaluation. In the second year, it was down to about 80 and in the third year, I remember having left about 40. And of those I registered eight, plus three sports (mutations) from my miniature ‘Glowing Amber’. It’s 99 per cent luck and one per cent planning!

‘Glowing Amber’ is now one of the top exhibition miniatures in the world, winning hundreds of trophies. ‘Ingrid’, named after my late wife, has the same pollen parents (‘Hot Tamale’ and ‘Rubies and Pearls’), but is even more vigorous and is above average for disease resistance and winter hardiness.

Was your wife a rose enthusiast as well?
One thing I really have to thank Ingrid for was her suggestion to add the word “Canadian” to the name of my first registered rose in 1980. At first, I wanted to name it just “White Star,” but Ingrid was proud to be Canadian (we had both immigrated from Germany), so we changed it to ‘Canadian White Star’ and registered it internationally. Twenty years later, Canada Post chose ‘Canadian White Star’ as one of four Canadian-bred roses for a special-edition postage stamp series.

Is it easier to hybridize miniature varieties?
It’s much easier to hybridize miniatures because of space and size constraints. They can be hybridized in pots, allowing more freedom of movement, whereas hybrid teas are normally planted in the ground, and cannot be readily moved indoors under grow lights for further ripening of the seed hips. Due to a smaller root system, and the fact that minis are frequently grown in pots, they need more frequent feeding and watering.

Is there a “Holy Grail” of roses among hybridizers – something everyone is desperate to create?
Disease resistance, scent and the elusive blue rose.

View George and Tony’s roses here.

Read more stories about local collectors and hybridizers at GardenWise Online. While you’re there, enter the contest to name Brad Jalbert’s latest groundcover variety. Contest rules and photo of the new rose here.