American Rose Magazine

March/April 2009

The Magazine of The American Rose Society

Canadian Rose
Judging takes place at the show, in the Atrium of the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The First All-Canadian Rose Show

by Mark Disero •

On June 21 and 22, 2008, the first All-Canadian Rose Show was held at The Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario. This show was a tribute to the Canadian Rose Hybridizer and a celebration of the Great Canadian Rose.

Normal Canadian rose shows are very much like American rose shows; in fact, many would argue that they are modelled after American shows. For the most part, Canadian rose shows are divided up into Sections representing the characteristics of a specimen or group. Those sections are then subdivided into Classes that represent different colors.

In the All-Canadian Rose Show, each section represents an individual Canadian hybridizer. Each class within a section represents one of the hybridizer’s roses. In this way, participants can get a feel for each hybridizer’s work, strengths and personal taste in roses. Also, because roses of present and past are included, participants get to see the fashions and trends of different time periods. For me, this kind of show combines the beauty of the rose and the exuberance of the show with the added aspect of teaching the participant something new about rose hybridizing history. It has the added bonus of being colored with national pride.

Creating the new format was made simple by the fact that many people in the last couple of years have been working to document Canadian roses. Over the last 100 years or so, about 90 Canadian rose hybridizers have produced more than 600 roses.

For judging, a First, Second and Third are chosen from the roses in each class, and then the judges compare each First against one another to select the best of that hybridizer. The best rose from each hybridizer is then placed on the Table Of Honor. Finally, from that Table Of Honor, the judges select a single Best In Show, rather than a Queen or Prince of Show.

The First All-Canadian Rose Show was the product of two years of hard work. The idea came to me when The Hamilton and Burlington Rose Society hosted the Canadian Rose Society’s 50th Anniversary. The section of the show for “Miscellaneous Roses,” which contains all shrub rose classes and is the only class for Canadian cultivars, had so many entries that it was bursting at the seams. I pitched my idea to H&B Society President, Elizabeth Schleicher, who said it was an interesting idea and I should propose it to the rest of the Executive Committee. With her support, the rest of the EC decided to give it a try with two conditions: that we try it once in June of 2008 and that, because it was my idea, I be the show chairman.

At that time, the most difficult job in front of me was convincing the rest of the membership to jump on board. The H&B Rose Society was like many small rose societies – we had been doing the same kind of rose show for a very long time. Many of our members had been passing those same trophies back and forth for decades.

Canadian Rose Joyce Fleming and her rose hybrids.

My first step was becoming the newsletter editor so that I had the means to communicate directly with the membership. I compiled and provided the members with a list of every mail order rose company in Canada and started reporting which local nurseries and garden centers were selling Canadian roses and which varieties. In the newsletter, I would describe each variety and add photos. I also started printing articles from every Canadian rose hybridizer that I could recall. I started locally, with member hybridizer Joyce Fleming, and soon I was corresponding with hybridizers from across the country. I asked them to describe themselves, how they got interested in hybridizing, what kind of roses they liked and what some of their best roses were. I also included information on how to obtain the cultivars. I wanted to let my membership know that the hybridizers were people just like them, and that it would be great to encourage them and thank them for their years of work. This turned out to be a great way for me to network with these interesting people.

One of the most important things that helped me to convince the members came from prominent Canadian garden writer Marjorie Harris. She is one of Canada’s most prolific garden writers, and I had an interview with her, where she shared her excellent ideas for the show. As I was leaving, I asked her if she would write a letter of encouragement to the Hamilton and Burlington Rose Society in support of the show. Her endorsement ended most of the resistance to the show.

Just to make sure that we would have as many entries as possible, we opened up the competition to everyone, provided that they entered Canadian cultivars. All of the other national and local rose societies were informed of our plans and invited to exhibit and attend. Before long, they all agreed to set up membership tables and have fundraising products to sell. The show became much more like an event. A local rose nursery from the Niagara region, Palatine Fruit and Roses, agreed to come and sell roses at the show, which added to the excitement.

With the membership excited, the next issue was publicity. First, all local and national gardening magazines were informed of the specifics of the show a full six months prior so that they could place it in their calendar of events.

Canadian Rose The booth at Canada Blooms 2008 was an excellent way to publicize the All-Canadian Rose Show.

Another very important means of publicity was public appearances. For several years I had helped a friend sell perennials at the local Toronto garden show called Canada Blooms. I thought this was a great opportunity to promote the All-Canadian Rose Show, both at the booth and as a featured speaker. Our greatest challenge was in the set up. Over that weekend, we had one of the worst blizzards of the winter. First, the cube van that we rented got stuck in the deep snow of our 300-foot driveway, and we had to be ploughed out several times. Then, when we arrived at the Toronto Convention Centre, we were instructed to drive right into the marketplace area to unload our booth, which, of course, allowed all the snow under the van to melt, and we had to construct the booth in a large puddle of salty water. However, despite our mishaps, our lecture was very well received, our booth gave us the opportunity to distribute advertising for the All-Canadian Rose Show, and our overall experience with Canada Blooms was a very good one.

In May, my serious publicity efforts began. Because of the connections I made at Canada Blooms, someone lent me The Garden Writers Association Membership Directory. It listed about 70 garden writers from Ontario with all of their contact information, so I began my first e-mail blitz, describing all of the interesting points of the show and highlighting potential article topics. From this, I received many more media contacts and event information.

From a second e-mail blitz I received my first radio interview request from Classical 96.3 FM. My advice to anyone doing publicity is always accept an invitation to do a live interview, even if the event is months away – one interview will lead to others. I was nervous at first but improved with practice and sounded more confident as the event approached. Ultimately, I did five radio interviews, which is unheard of for a rose show.

After my initial email release, I put together a press kit. Normally, a press kit would contain a cover letter, specifics on the show, articles about different aspects of the show, Rose Society history and articles about past shows, but because a show like this had never been held, and because no one in the general public had written about a rose show since 2000, I had to do something different. I put together a press kit that had a cover letter, a photo of a beautiful Canadian rose, a page with story ideas, a page with specifics about date, time and location and five of the articles from rose hybridizers that I used in my newsletters. I had them printed and mailed to the people that I felt would most likely help publicize our event. One thing I learned was to send press kits to both newspaper reporters and their editors – if either of them like the idea, it is more likely to get printed.

Canadian Rose The damage that happened as a result of the tornado two weeks before the rose show.

The best result of sending out the press kit was an invitation to speak on CBC National Radio on a show called “Sounds Like Canada.”

CBC Radio is very much like National Public Radio in the United States. Ten minutes talking about our rose show on national radio is publicity that no one could have expected. E-mails with questions and encouragement poured in from across the country.

Two weeks before the show, interested reporters were invited to photograph many of the early Canadian scotch rose hybrids that were in bloom at our farm. Everything looked beautiful – not only did the early roses look great but also the beds had all been weeded and all the irises were at their peak. Unfortunately, nature had other plans. The day before the reporters came, a tornado touched down and knocked over two 80-year-old maples in our front yard. Many roses were still in good shape, but the irises were flattened. Minor damage to the house was easy to repair, but the photographers had to settle for close-ups of the blooms.

Canadian Rose Claire Laberge and Anne Graber judging at the All-Canadian Rose Show.

The set up for the show was not all that difficult. The people at the Royal Botanical Gardens had all the tables and partitions laid out in the atrium as planned, and only a few minor changes had to be made the night before. We knew that many of the entries would be Agriculture Canada roses and thought that one-quarter would be Explorer Roses, one-quarter would be Parkland Roses (Morden Roses) and the rest would be a combination of historic cultivars and new roses from current hybridizers. All of the Classes were printed on address labels to ease the labelling of cultivars as they came in.

Canadian Rose Canadian Rose Society Past Presidents (left to right) Paul Graber, Elizabeth Schleicher and Ethel Freeman. Back, left: garden writer and hybridizer, Paul G. Olsen and hybridizer Philip Webster (right).

The hall itself was dressed with roses and Canadian flags. Both of our national rose societies, The Canadian Rose Society and National Roses Canada, attended and sold potted roses for fundraising. National Roses Canada also released a book at the event, The Canadian Explorer Roses by Felicitas Svejda. Three other local rose societies were also in attendance: The Greater Toronto Rose and Garden Society, The Huronia Rose Society and The William Saunders Rose Society. Palatine had brought hundreds of roses in full bloom to sell. Everyone was delighted, but none as much as the Hamilton and Burlington Rose Society. For the longest time, we worried that the show wouldn’t compare to our regular show, but in reality, it far surpassed our expectations. I can’t remember a show so well attended. Often, a rose society will hold a show in a location where they think they will get foot traffic, like in a shopping mall, but the people that came told us that they came specifically to see our show – they had heard or read about it and wanted to show support for what we were doing.

Canadian Rose Elaine Sparrow, President of the Hamilton & Burlington Rose Society and Mark Disero, Show Chairman, are jubilant with the results of the First All-Canadian Rose Show.

In all, 30 rose hybridizers were represented, and 28 exhibitors entered 272 roses, representing 125 different cultivars. 'Henry Kelsey', bred by Dr. Felicitas Svejda and grown by Bob Horlings, was selected Best In Show. The All-Canadian had no trophies; rather, the best rose from every hybridizer was photographed and presented to the exhibitor in a certificate. The advantage of this is that participants have an actual record of the rose that won, and copies of all certificates can be combined to serve as a historical record of the show, which can then be reproduced and shared with other societies, horticultural libraries or other interested individuals.

Gardening Life Mark Disero

Gardening Life’s Hort Heroes of 2008

Champion of Canadian Roses
Mark Disero, Brantford, ON

A rose isn’t just a rose for Mark Disero. He is the mastermind behind the first show to focus exclusively on Canadian roses. Sponsored by the Hamilton & Burlington Rose Society, the First All-Canadian Rose Show was two years in the making and showcased 125 Canadian cultivars–the work of 30 hybridizers. Best in show? 'Henry Kelsey', bred by Felicitas Svejda and introduced in 1986. Disero hopes this success will inspire other societies, and even the American Rose Society, to follow suit.

photo by Kevin Bowers

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