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Change for rosy future | Otago Daily Times Online News

Change for rosy future | Otago Daily Times Online News

Having been around for 73 years, the Otago Rose Society has much to look back on with pride as it prepares for its annual show tomorrow.

But it is the future that also occupies the thoughts of ORS president Dave Cannan these days — the future of the society and its shows.

And he admits they are not all rosy-colored musings.

“I think if you asked every rose society president, not just in New Zealand but around the world, they would tell you much the same thing — that in terms of membership numbers and general interest in roses, these are challenging times,” he said. .

“It’s not all doom and gloom though — far from it — but I believe we have to be realistic about where we’re at as a society. And where we’d like to be in, say, 10 or 20 years, to take an optimistic view”.

Staying relevant as a group is the key to survival, he says, and an integral part of that is being able to attract younger members who will, eventually, become the movers and shakers of society.

“Tradition is a big factor in rose societies — and we are proud of ours — but tradition can also mean doing the same things that we’ve always done repeatedly, because they’ve worked in the past.

“And I don’t believe that’s the way forward now. By all means treat your history with the respect it deserves, but because people’s lifestyles are so different these days we have to accommodate these differences — or perish,” Mr Cannan says.

Rose shows are just one example of this. Shows were originally held more than 100 years ago to showcase the new roses that breeders were hoping to sell to make a living. Obviously the champions or near champions increased their popularity and sales ensued.

Then rose society members became involved, growing and staging roses that introduced an added level of competitiveness to shows.

And to produce the best blooms meant literally endless hours of preparation in the garden, most significantly with intensive spraying programs designed to ward off the various diseases that could blight exhibits and affect the chances of success.

“So, if you fast forward to 2022, ask yourself, who among us has ‘endless hours’ to do such spray programs?” Mr Cannan says.

“We live in a world where often couples are both working long hours and/or at weekends, so the emphasis switches to how they spend their leisure time with or without children — and I wonder if working in the garden is the most popular option. “

Eliminating spraying must also be good for the environment and one’s personal health, he says, and it could also be argued that by growing lots of roses organically gardeners are doing their bit to promote a green approach to prevent climate change.

With the change of lifestyle comes the focus on “easy-care” gardens — growing natives, grasses/tussocks and plants that don’t require much attention — so gardens have shrunk and with that the number of roses grown has also dropped. Just ask any garden nursery for comparative sales figures from now and, say, 10 years ago.

But what hasn’t changed is the belief that growing roses entails “a lot of time and hard work”, Mr Cannan says, a perception that rose societies must do more to overcome because, to quote the old song, “it ain’t necessarily so!”.

“You could argue, with some justification, that rose societies are responsible for this predicament because we haven’t been more proactive in spreading the good news — that growing roses is a lot easier now,” he says.

And the main reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, there is a huge emphasis by breeders these days on producing “high health” roses, that is roses that are largely disease-free and, therefore, do not require endless spraying and maintenance.

Secondly — and this might be a significant issue for future rose shows — are the types of roses now being marketed.

“Traditionally rose shows have been dominated by the big and bold single blooms or large stems, the hybrid teas and the floribundas, and in more recent times the David Austin roses.

“But it’s clear now breeders are focusing more now on smaller roses, ones that can be grown in big pots or containers, like patios and minis, but also the shrub roses, the ground covers, things like the Flower Carpets, which have been very popular, and the latest fashion, which are the Persica-breds.

“And why are they popular? Because they are healthy, they are easy-care and they always seem to be covered in flowers. Now, what’s not to like about that?” Mr Cannan asks.

But what do these trends mean for the future of rose shows? In the short-term, not too much, but further down the track it could become an issue.

“At the world rose convention in Adelaide last month the champion rose from the international rose trials — that is, the roses of the future — was ‘The White Knockout’, bred by the Meillands in France, and it looks like a ground cover rose that me,” he says.

“Another standout rose was ‘See You in Pink’, which has the Persica eye look about it. They both looked lovely but I’m not sure how they would go as exhibits on the show bench.”

But while he ponders the future, Mr Cannan is more focused on the immediacy of the rose show on November 26.

“We couldn’t have a show last year because of the Covid restrictions on crowd numbers inside — it was only the second time in the last 20 years we had to cancel — so it will be nice to get back to normal again,” he says .

While the declining membership numbers for the ORS mean there are fewer exhibitors, Mr Cannan remains optimistic there will be a great display of roses for the public to enjoy.

“So far it’s been a good growing season for roses. The weather has been reasonably kind, and things are looking quite lush and healthy in the rose gardens, so we have our fingers crossed for the show.”

As an added attraction this year, the ORS is inviting the public to bring along a rose or two and enter them “just for fun”.

“Driving around the city I see lots of beautiful roses in private gardens and it’s these gardeners we’d like to encourage to bring some to the show on Saturday morning, before the show opens at noon.

“They can bring their own containers, like a beer bottle, and the roses don’t have to be specially staged. Just remember to cut the stems about 10 inches to a foot long and include the leaves.

“We’ll make everyone welcome and there will be a few chocolate fish to hand out to the owners of the roses which really catch the eye, so it’s a fun thing, not competitive.”

■ The Otago Rose Society show will be held at St Peter’s Church hall, Hillside Rd, tomorrow. It is open to the public from noon to 5pm, admission $5, which includes afternoon tea. There are lots of roses, vegetable and flower plants, raffles and rose calendars for sale.

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