Saturday, June 29, 2013

Amateur hybridizer blooms at Biltmore International Trials

Athyfalaa stole the show at Biltmore
A part-time hybridizer made history last month when one of his creations won Best in Show at the first Biltmore International Rose Trials competition held in Asheville, North Carolina.

Mike Athy of Gisborne, New Zealand entered his climbing/groundcover rose (temporarily known as Athyfalaa) in 2011 and after eight rounds of judging over two years it was declared the winner in five of eleven categories. Another of his roses was the second highest scorer in the trial.

David Austin's Darcey Bussell won Best Shrub
As mandated by International Rose Trial guidelines, the entire bush is taken into consideration, not just the flowers. Roses are judged by a distinguished panel on growth habit, vigor, disease resistance, repeat bloom, fragrance and flowers. Any entry that displays disease over 25% of the bush is removed from the competition.

The breeders of the various roses are not revealed until after the awards are presented. Mike Athy’s rivals in the trial featured luminaries of the rose world including David Austin, Kordes of Germany, Meilland of France and Bill Radler of Knock Out fame.

Not too shabby an achievement for a self-proclaimed backyard breeder.

Hooked on roses since boyhood

Mike has been hybridizing roses in his spare time for over 20 years. He has no formal horticultural training, but his parents were keen gardeners and encouraged his interest in plants.

The second highest scorer
As a young boy he tried to sow some rose seeds and was discouraged when they didn’t develop into multi-petaled beauties with fabulous fragrance.

Despite disappointment, the hybridizing bug had bitten.

Today he makes crosses from October through January that will produce about 75,000 seeds. After being chilled in the refrigerator for a few months, the seeds are planted and resulting flowers are evaluated. Ones that show promise are planted and five years later, fewer than 20 varieties meet his high standards.

In the meantime he does things we’re all told NOT to do, like watering roses in late afternoon.

“I want to give disease the best opportunity to show itself. If a plant proves susceptible, I pick it out and burn it.” That way he remains true to his goal of producing trouble-free garden plants that anyone can grow and enjoy.

A 120-year love affair with roses

The setting for this first-ever East Coast International Rose Trial couldn’t have been more inspiring. It was held in the shadow of the Vanderbilt’s famed Biltmore House on the grounds planned by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1895.

Known as the father of American landscape architecture, Olmsted had previously designed a number of legendary projects including Central Park and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building.

 Biltmore and its thousands of acres would be his last landscape.

Olmsted’s plans featured several formal gardens including one of the largest walled gardens in America. Now the lower half of that 4-acre garden features 250 rose cultivars ranging from heirlooms grown at the end of the 18th century to modern day favorites.

George and Edith Vanderbilt took great interest in the Rose Garden, so much so that it eventually doubled in size from the original design.

Daughter Cornelia had a platform built there for a special gala in 1931 that included orchestral music, dancing, a late night supper and fireworks. One partygoer recalled the Rose Garden as a place where “the lighting made it look more like a fairyland than anything I have ever seen.”

A feast for the senses

Today, Biltmore Rosarian Lucas Jacks and his team lovingly maintain Mr. Vanderbilt’s garden and have worked to make it a rose lover’s paradise.

All who stroll near the area are greeted by the intoxicating perfume of 2500 roses.

A riot of color beckons the admirer to come closer. And visitors pause to have their picture taken by the Maypole or double arches smothered by blooms.

Inside the walled garden not far from the Conservatory, you can see the impressive rose called Athyfalaa.

Its performance at the International Trial may make it possible for the part-time hybridizer to pursue his passion full time ( Paul Zimmerman Roses is acting as Mike Athy’s American agent.)

It was historic first win at a historic first event, hosted by historic, beloved Biltmore.

That’s the stuff dreams are made of.


Phillip Oliver said...

Interesting post! I do hope they change the name of the rose.

The Redneck Rosarian said...

Awesome post. Cannot wait to see Athyfalaa come to market... Will be a must have for this little rose gardener.... :)

Lynn Hunt said...

Phillip, the name Athyfalaa is just temporary until it is marketed here. Then it will be given a name that comes off the tongue a little more easily!

Lynn Hunt said...

Chris, (the Redneck Rosarian) it will be an amazing addition to any garden. When I saw the bush it had hundreds of buds and nary a bit of disease. It will be a great ground cover or an impressive climber!

Skeeter said...

I would love to go back to Biltmore for Rose Season! Too early with both my visits. But so much to see without the Roses during both those visits....

Lynn Hunt said...

Skeeter, it would be impossible to catch the tulips. rhodys and roses each year unless we lived close enough (and had a season pass). But you must return to see the roses when they are at their peak. I will go with you!

Georgianna said...

Wonderful post, Lynn! What a marvelous achievement and set in the glorious grounds of Biltmore makes it even better.

Hope you are enjoying a lovely summer!


Lynn Hunt said...

Thank you Georgianna! It is so good to hear from you! I've been thinking of you and wondering how your beautiful rose garden is doing. Must catch up with your most recent photos. They are always so inspiring.

Sunil Patel said...

Hi Lynn, ooh, that's some where, where I would really like to visit. Imagine all those perfumed roses, incredible. Until I get there, I'll just have to make do with the few that I have in the garden, which are around their peak now. Inspirational story about the young rose hybridiser.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, until you can visit I will try to package up all that perfume and send it your way. I am enjoying seeing pictures of your garden! And by the way, the gentleman who owns the fabulous mountain garden is trying his hand at hybridizing. He could be the next winner!

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