How did your favorite rose get its name?

By Steve Boehme - Contributing Columnist

Did you ever wonder how roses get their names, or how their names become household words? We all admire the beauty of roses, but only a few rose varieties are really known outside the cult of rose hobbyists.

Really popular hybrid tea roses like “Peace”, “Chrysler Imperial” and “Queen Elizabeth” have been around so long that we probably learned their names from our grandmothers. Modern-day shrub roses like “Knock-out” become household words because of intense marketing. For each rose we remember there are thousands that have faded into obscurity.

Rose breeders labor for years to create new varieties through cross-breeding; combining the qualities of several cultivars to get an entirely new one. Most of their results never even get named, but are simply numbered. The few that stand out are patented using the breeders’ in-house name/numbering system. Only when an exceptional plant is selected for mass production and mass marketing is it given a catchy trade name.

“Knock-Out” is a trade name for the patented rose “RADrazz” developed by Conard Pyle, an internationally known rose breeder. “Lady Elsie May” was patented by Angelica Nurseries under the name “Angelsie”, incorporating the breeder’s name. “WEKcisbako” is the patent name for Weeks Roses excellent “Home Run” shrub rose.

Creative marketing has brought the excellent “Knock-out” series to public prominence like no rose ever before, but generic rose names are hard for consumers to remember. This is why exceptional rose varieties are often named for popular public figures. Hence we have introductions like “Julia Child” (WEKvossutono from Weeks Roses) and “Pope John Paul II” (JACsegra2008 from Jackson & Perkins).

We first saw “Lady Elsie May” in the Biltmore Estate rose garden in 2005, a year after it was introduced. It was one of two roses that really stood out among the thousands of mass-planted roses there on a hot August afternoon and we were curious. We’d never heard of it, but it turned out to be a 2005 AARS winner.

The other real standout at Biltmore that day was “Knock-out” Red, which was already well known. We’ve since found a better red shrub rose than “Knock-Out”, and that’s Week’s Roses “Home Run”. It has vivid deep red blooms, lush dark green spot-free foliage, and the self-cleaning re-blooming habit Knock-Out is hyped for only better.

“Home Run” was created by crossing “Knock-out” with another rose, which was itself produced by crossing “City of San Francisco” with “Baby Love”. This pairing combined their superior resistance to powdery and downy mildew with Knock-out’s superior resistance to black spot. The original red Knock-out and the Home Run share the ability to “self-clean”, a trait where dying blooms quickly fall off the plant without “dead-heading”.

If rose breeding sounds a lot animal breeding it’s no accident; the two are very similar processes. Just as dog breeders have the AKC as a referee, rose breeders have the “All-American Rose Selection (AARS), the Royal National Rose Society and similar organizations, who award coveted recognition to the best introductions each year. These awards sort the wheat from the chaff among new varieties, putting the spotlight on the winners and bringing a certain amount of commercial success.

This is a good time of year to buy and plant roses, since the best performers will look good right now despite the wet weather patterns we’ve seen for most of this year. As enthusiastic as we are about some of the “Knock-out” varieties, the best looking roses in our garden all year have been “Home Run” and “Lady Elsie May”.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at For more information is available at or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

By Steve Boehme

Contributing Columnist