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Gemini, Moondance, Dr. Tommy Cairns and Luis Desamero

by Dr. Tommy Cairns, ARS past President 2000-2003

All photos by Dr. Tommy Cairns.

The number of times that question has been asked of rosarians makes it an all-time record. Before addressing the reasons that surround that choice, the characterizations of some varieties as dogs offends the true connoisseur of roses. This disparaging reference has been historically derived from a very worthy ancestor to modern roses, namely Rosa canina, commonly referred to the dog rose. It is believed that this name arose from classical times when the root was a cure for a rabies bite. Other scholars think the common name was a result of a botanical feature related to its hooked prickles resembling a dog’s teeth. Whatever the genesis of naming one of our worthy ancestors as the dog rose, it is not a term that is embraced by rose growers for there are no such roses in our world of roses deserving of that negative connotation. ABOVE: 'Gemini'.


To answer the question of a favorite rose there are so many factors to be considered such as climate, vigor, color (monochomatic, blend), name, habit, petal count, class, specific reasons, exhibition potential, availability, cold hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Thankfully everyone applies different criteria before answering the question. Obviously Modern Roses have the distinct advantage over all other classification because of their current popularity. But this situation is tempered with what might be called “fashion taste”. We should all be thankful that our choices are far from similar or the world of roses would be so uniform as to solicit universal conformity. Passion for Old Garden Roses is alive and well as are English Roses. Nevertheless the propensity of choice lies with Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Miniatures and Minifloras.


As rosarians travel the pathway of enjoying their chosen hobby, again illuminating the fact that we don’t all favor other plants and flowers as much, our tastes tend to change with prevailing times. For instance, in the decision of color it has been reported that men like red roses while the ladies prefer the pink range. The varietal name also weights heavy in our choice of favorite rose. Who amongst us would not embrace ‘Mister Lincoln’ or ‘Dolly Parton’ or ‘Lynn Anderson’ because of the significance of the personality.


Living in the snowy States does drive the choice to hardy roses cutting down the menu of selection. And yet the faithful rosarians amongst us often battle with winter protection issues to retain their favorite rose. Complex reasons often drive the final choice, but whatever the mechanisms the end result is your choice with no need required to justify. Growing roses is a joy and it is these individual choices that make our hobby diverse embracing.The question solicits a wide range of responses for different reasons, some of which we might never have consciously thought about. Choosing a favorite rose can change with time for we are all subject to the latest fashion and new roses especially possessing interesting color combos and novelty.


One objective way to choose is via consensus opinions from rose trials or “Roses in Review by ARS”. While this national survey can identify top rated roses, it often favors the climates of the subtropical States. Garden ratings provide information valuable to the introduction of how to choose. Criteria employed in rose trials, both here and abroad, are novelty, bud/flower form, color opening, color finishing, vigor, habit, quantity of flowers, repeat bloom, foliage, disease resistance, and fragrance. During the 20th century the existence of the All-America Rose Selection program (AARS) represented a dependable and trustworthy to select the winners as worthy of planting. Termination of this program at the beginning of the 21st century may have removed this valuable resource from current consideration, but the list of prior winners still represents a reliable and credible mechanism of choosing favorites.


Having ruminated over the selection criteria the time has arrived to answer the question.

Finalists for choice of HT were between (in alphabetical order) ‘Gemini’, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘Moonstone’. The favorite was ‘Gemini’ bred by Keith Zary, formerly of Jackson & Perkins. Why you may ask? Simply stated, this Hybrid Tea satisfies all the criteria in my personal repertoire, for mainly now, in my post exhibitor years, focuses on garden display for beauty. The bonus on this selection derives from the fact it is also happens to be a great exhibition rose capable at winning at rose shows and therefore appealing to the competitive spirit. The added value bonus lies in its ability to develop magnificent sprays when the weather cools off in the Fall. Throughout the years my selection has changed from strictly exhibition roses to disease tolerant vigorous Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Miniatures and Minifloras. Once upon a time the favorite HT was ‘Touch of Class’, then to ‘Blue Nile’ onto ‘Veterans Honor’ and now currently #1 is ‘Gemini’. LEFT: 'Moondance'.


Finalists in the choice of Floribunda (in alphabetical order) ‘Golden Holstein’, ‘Moondance’ and ‘Special Effects’. ‘Moondance’ deserves top choice. This variety is superior in many ways to ‘Iceberg’ deemed the world’s favorite rose - move over ‘Iceberg’. When selecting a Miniature Rose the choice was much more difficult! In this category finally emotion won over traditional intelligent thinking - ‘Dr. Tommy Cairns’ by Frank Benardella was an obvious final selection. For Minifloras the #1 choice must be ‘Luis Desamero’! LEFT: 'Luis Desamero’.



Purchasing roses is not simply a matter of viewing a stunning image at your local nursery or in the ARS magazine. Researching “Roses in Review” and recent gold medal winners at the Rose Hills International Rose Trials can help guide in selecting the right rose. All too often the novice rose grower makes an error in selection based on image alone and the result is not satisfying in their particular climate. Such disappointments can cause the false claim that roses are difficult to grow. Not so! Right choices ultimately brings success. ABOVE: 'Dr. Tommy Cairns'.


Long live choice, individuality and the willingness to re-evaluate our choices while still reflecting on the many greats of the past.

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