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Meeting "The King of Roses" Tom Carruth

This week I attended the Mid-America Horticultural Trade Show and saw number of really cool garden products and plants. The highlight of the event was the garden writers luncheon hosted by Proven Winners and Spring Meadow Nursery with a presentation by Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses. If you're a rosarian Tom probably doesn't need an introduction. For those gardeners, like me, for whom roses aren't an obsession, Tom Carruth has been described as "King of the roses" for creating more All-America roses than any other living hybridizer. I should note here that hybrids in the rose world don’t have the same stigma as they do in the annual and vegetable world. Hybrid roses make rose growing possible for people who live in areas that aren’t ideal living conditions for roses. These roses are usually heartier, bloom more prolifically, and are less prone to diseases.

Tom Carruth, Weeks Roses, Rose Hybridizer

From his 2006 profile in The Chronicle we learn that he wanted to work with flowers at the age of 10. This lead to him taking a job as a Burpee seeds representative one summer to earn spending money, followed by a series of menial jobs, until his life finally put him on the road he was destined to travel.

The King of Roses, Tom Carruth Week's Roses
When he first stood before the room to give his presentation I mistook him for one of the restaurant’s employees. He was wearing a shirt very similar to the ones worn by chefs and line cooks at restaurants. After it became clear that he was THE rose hybridizer I was there to hear speak I had to stifle a giggle. Recently I had a discussion of with a chef about how many chefs and cook look like tattooed rock stars. In particular, we were discussing the popularity of vegetable inspired tattoos among the foodie set. And here was a gardener who looked like a chef. Maybe that’s not as interesting to you as it is to me. 

Tom’s talk about roses centered on the creation of the Home Run® rose and its qualities that make it an easy rose to grow in garden across the country. Home Run® is resistant to disease like black spot and powdery mildew. As someone who only grows a couple of nearly wild roses, mostly out of sentimentality, that were given to my mother and two of the original plants my outdoor garden started with, perhaps I can’t really appreciate Home Run®. My neighbors, mostly poor and working-class, seem to appreciate roses a lot more than I do. In the spring and summer it’s nice to walk along the sidewalks and alleyways and take a moment to admire the blooms that are intertwined along fences. Nothing fancy really, just mostly roses that come from bare root stock stacked in large bins you have to bend into and riffle through at the hardware store.  But they’re beautiful when the light hits them just right.

The other rose Tom talked about was Pink Home Run®, a sport (mutation) discovered by an assistant growing on a red shrub in their field. Even though it is my least favorite color, I have a weak spot for new plants formed from mutations. It is almost as if Mother Nature has a Kanye West moment and puts hybridizers like Tom Carruth in their place. “Home Run® is awesome, and Imma let you finish, but…”  Pink Home Run®, which should’ve been called A League of Her Own-seriously, someone give me a job naming plants-is said to be as strong and disease resistant a Home Run®. The only real difference being that it has pink blooms. It won’t be widely available until next year, but if you’re looking for landscape roses that are easy to grow and disease resistant, plant a Home Run® and leaves some space to plant Pink Home Run® next year.

After the talk it dawned on my how similar Tom Carruth is to Luther Burbank, the subject of Jane S. Smith’s The Garden of Invention. Someone at the talk described Tom as the last of the commercial rose breeders. It must be satisfying if not a somewhat lonely feeling to be the last of something. To have no peers or competition to force you to strive to be the best of your field. Even without much competition I heard Tom speak to another attendee of the garden writers luncheon about the possibility of more roses coming down the line. So, maybe you don’t need someone to measure yourself to be the best at something.  One thing is for sure, I’m going to take my dabbling in hybridizing amaryllis bulbs a lot more serious. I came home from the talk inspired to cross a few blooms. This time I’ll keep them the offspring until I at least get a chance to see what they look like instead of giving them away or composting them when they get to be too many. Thanks, Tom, Spring Meadow Nursery, Weeks Roses and Proven Winners for an informative and enlightening talk. Visit the webpages for Home Run® and Pink Home Run® to see pictures, growing guides and videos.

 *The link to The Garden of Invention is connected to my Amazon account. If you like this blog you can purchase it through this link and I'll get a small commission on the sale. It really is a good book, perfect for plant and history nerds. The amazing work that Luther Burbank did shouldn't be forgotten.


  1. Hi MBT,

    Great post on the personal side of Tom's career. Can I reference your post on my blog?


  2. Hi Eileen,

    Yes, feel free to reference it. I may have an extra picture of the event if you didn't take any and need one. It was nice meeting you. I don't know if I mentioned it at the time, but some of us Chicago garden bloggers will be getting together at the show on 3/5/11. You should come out and meet the gang!

  3. What an opportunity for you to meet this man who is the last of his kind. Odd, isn't it, to think of him in that respect. I worked at a garden center here in Edmonton Alberta which sold several varieties of Weeks roses. They always were hearty and healthy, robust and beautiful. Now I can put a face to the roses. Thank you for sharing this experience! I too am a garden blogger.

  4. What a great opportunity to hear a Rose expert speak! I love Roses!

  5. Hi Mr. BT! Great post! I used to have a rose garden...miss it actually. Roses grow really great here in zone 10, but I was sad to see both of these were for zones 4-9. I wonder if I should listen to that, or just try one anyway? I might start a mini rose tire garden, but of course these would be big bushes, so I need to think of a full sun spot to try them...hmmm...will give it some thought. Take care!!! Oh, and have fun hybridizing your amaryllis'.

  6. Your blog is very good.

  7. I think it's great that he's so down to earth! I guess in my world rose hybrids are no different from other hybrids, but I hang with a native pant crew, lol. And, I've never been against crossing plants. Anyway, sounds like a wonderful opportunity to hear from someone so pivotal in the hort industry.

  8. Wish I'd been there - sounds wonderful.

    p.s. Jane Smith's book is a fascinating read - highly recommended!

  9. MBT, Thanks for this. I have been looking at/for a landscape rose or two to add this year and had not heard of this particular group. I followed your link and found lots of good information. Thanks for the lead. Hope you are well and not frozen in this lousy winter weather!

  10. P.S. By pant I meant, of course, plant!
    P.P.S. Luther Burbank's shovel is at the Henry Ford Museum!

  11. Sounds like a nice luncheon! My blog has moved, stop by for a visit when you get a chance!

  12. Hi MBT! Do you grow roses? This was probably a wonderful experience for you. I have none (other than a couple of miniatures that are "on their own." But I admire them (and the people that grow them). :-)

  13. This is definitely a talk worth going. Love both red and pink Home Run. They are pretty!

  14. Interesting article.
    He is truly a genius and inspiration.
    A person to look up.



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