The Roses of Ralph Moore
by Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian, Marin Rose Society
This is a 2006 Award of Merit article
Ralph Moore died on September 14, 2009 at the age of 102.
The “King of Miniatures,” the “Giant of Miniatures,” “Mr. Miniature,” the "David Austin of miniature roses," “the patron saint of miniature roses,” “one of the greatest rosarians of all time"…..and the list goes on. How many ways can you describe the man that has produced more award-winning miniature roses than anyone?
Ralph Moore has bred and introduced more than three hundred varieties of miniature roses in his seventy plus years of creating these little gems. His miniatures have won numerous American Rose Society Awards of Excellence and a Gold Medal Certificate for the red blend ‘Toy Clown’. He has been honored by many rose societies and garden clubs, both here and abroad, including the American Rose Society's Gold Honor Medal in 1982, for service to the rose. As he approaches his one hundredth birthday, he is still actively involved in the world of roses. While his contributions to the rose world are legendary, in an interview by Emily Green in the LA Times, she says that Moore is famous for his modesty; that he seems reluctant to take credit even for his own creations. “It is so easy to say I did this”, Moore says, “when in reality it would be more honest to say, I was there when it happened.’’ ABOVE: ‘Toy Clown’ by Rich Baer
Ralph was born in Visalia, California on January 14, 1907. His father was a grower of vegetables, his grandfather a backyard rose gardener. There the young boy received his first rose lesson from the stooping older man - to root cuttings by simply sticking the cuttings in the ground. Ralph planted his first roses at the age of 14, opened his first nursery and staged his first one-man rose show in his parents' garden while still in high school. Though he was crossing roses in the 1920s, his first serious plant breeding focused on crape myrtle and lilacs. The path to rose-breeding was set in 1935, when he saw his first miniature rose, 'Roulettii’, a tiny specimen out of Switzerland, and he was hooked. With $800 and a dream, he opened Sequoia Nursery in 1937. While miniature roses were not new, he saw great potential for them - adorning patios, children's gardens, and windowsills. He never studied botany or genetics, horticulture, or business; his nursery was his classroom and his laboratory.
In 1954, he bred the thorn-less rose ‘Renae’, a repeat blooming version of ‘Cecile Brunner’. Ralph’s first visible success was ‘Jackie’, which he introduced in 1955, followed by ‘Bit o’ Sunshine’ in 1956. In 1957, he abandoned virtually every other type of plant he had growing in the nursery to focus solely on miniatures.
Over the seven decades he’s been working with roses, he developed miniature blooms with many different forms - from open semi-double blooms, perfect singles, to very full doubles and classic hybrid tea forms. To fulfill his desire to create truly new and unusual roses, he utilized some unlikely roses for breeding stock such as 'Guinee', the beautiful crimson climbing hybrid tea, the species R. wichurana, R. multiflora, and the tiny 'Oakington Ruby'. Breeding with miniatures was not just about small roses. He worked to improve their shape, habit, and foliage and he claims that the plant is as important, or more important, than the flower. It takes a lot of patience to tweak the good traits from old roses, wild roses, and miniatures. Many of the little plants were sterile, and when they did produce seed, their small size produced very little to work with.
He was also way ahead of his time regarding growing roses on their own roots. This is currently in vogue, but nearly half a century ago he was arguing against grafted roses, to spare gardeners against graft failures, suckers, or runaway root stock.
Renowned for his wonderful miniature roses, Ralph has also created some winning full-sized roses. One of the most prolific roses in my garden is the medium red ‘Linda Campbell’, (ARS 8.1), a hybrid rugosa that is nearly always covered with fragrant blooms. The foliage is a very soft and velvety grayish green. Named after a fellow rosarian from Denver, Ralph thinks this is a really good rose. ‘Topaz Jewel’ (ARS 7.4) is another of his hybrid rugosas, with soft, medium yellow, double blooms. Quite different in flower form is the floribunda ‘Playgirl’ (ABOVE: by Rich Baer) (ARS 8.4), with its candy pink single blossoms. This rose continues to be one of the top floribunda exhibition roses nationwide. ‘Red Cascade’ (ARS 7.6) is a climbing mini, with dark red flowers; this plant continuously produces huge sprays of blooms on a dependable, healthy plant.
In the past decade Ralph introduced the ‘Halo’ series of single-petaled minis depending on several crosses to ‘Anytime’ to produce the red circle around the yellow stamens in the center of the blooms. ‘Halo Gold’ (no ARS rating) has a bright golden halo with autumn colors of orange, gold and russet changing to lighter shades as the flowers age. ‘Halo Sunrise’ (ARS 7.3) is a bright yellow 8-10 petal flower the shows the reddest Halo to date. It is a vigorous, healthy bush, fast repeat bloom with brilliant flowers. ABOVE: ‘Red Cascade’ by Nanette Londeree
ABOVE: ‘Linda Campbell’ by Nanette Londeree
Of the sixteen miniature roses that have been inducted into the ARS Miniature Rose Hall of Fame, six of them are Ralph’s creations, more than any other hybridizer. In addition to ‘Red Cascade’, there is ‘Beauty Secret’, (ARS 7.9), a gorgeous medium red double bloom
that has been wowing rosarians since 1965; ‘Green Ice’, (ARS 8.0), that most unusual color of pale green that fades to white when the double bloom opens. ‘Magic Carrousel’, (ARS 8.5), a lovely hybrid tea form red blend; ‘Mary Marshall’, (ARS 7.6), a vigorous orange blend; ‘Rainbow's End’, (ARS 8.7), one of the most popular miniature roses that’s a beautiful blend of yellows and reds, and ‘Rise ‘n' Shine’, (ARS 8.4), another of Ralph’s climbing mini’s with medium yellow blooms. ABOVE: ‘Green Ice’ by Rich Baer
Demonstrating that he’s always looking to something new, this season, Ralph is introducing ‘Condoleezza’, a lovely floribunda with buds of yellow ascending to pink, followed by wavy blush-pink petals with bright yellow stamens. With fragrant parents like ‘Lemon Spice’ and ‘Angel Face’, this one should be a keeper. There’s also ‘Irene Marie’ a carefree, attractive climber with single flowers of orange and yellow, then aging gracefully to orange/pink. The flowers cascade from the arching canes from spring till fall and the clean semi-glossy foliage cover the thorn-less canes. ABOVE: ‘Magic Carrousel’ by Rich Baer
LEFT: Halo Sunshine, Photo by Sequoia Nursery
When Green asked him about his favorite rose, he said “I haven’t bred it yet; it would be perfect.” It’s pretty amazing that as Ralph approaches his century mark, he’s still got lots of plans for the future. And maybe he’ll breed that “perfect” rose.