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'Emily Carr', one of the new Canadian Artist series roses developed in Morden.

Morden Rose program winds down

The world moves on, and a research team led by Philip Ronald, of Jeffries Nurseries Ltd., has been called in to explore with a federal government representative methods of closing down the government’s historic ornamental plant breeding program at Morden, including the hardy rose breeding program that produced the celebrated Parkland (Morden) roses.

Hundreds of seedlings, plant selections that were once destined to produce the next generations of hardy roses from the Morden Research Centre, await a private-sector future. Unfortunately, participants suggest, this future will likely bring to a close the development of new rose varieties that can survive in zone 2 and 3 climates. The breeding program produced the first Parkland rose in 1967 and 15 subsequent roses as well as the recently launched Canadian Artists series. Its task through the years has been to select and breed roses with improvements in colour, disease resistance, numbers of blooms and bloom periods – including blooms that continue throughout the season – and compactness.

The two first cultivars in the Canadian Artists series, ‘Emily Carr’ and ‘Felix Leclerc’, were released last year. Sources say follow-up, prospective releases were sent to nurseries for trials but withdrawn following complaints about the colours. The nursery owners wanted something new, not the already-plentiful pink, white and red being offered. "We know there`s other material at Morden that`s making its way through the process," said one nursery spokesman. The centre later sent out three more brightly coloured blooms, and is committed to supplying a total of eight roses for the series

The federal department of agriculture and agrifood last summer circulated a discussion paper on its priorities in research and development. That paper said ornamental crop and rose breeding, including its century-old work with trees and shrubs, is no longer a priority. It mandated Dr. Campbell Davidson, a former director at Morden, to work with the nursery sector to find other ways of doing research – a prospect that at the moment appears somewhat remote on any useful scale.

Nursery owners and government will work to determine that nothing of value in the Morden programs, which includes its vast arboretum and the residue of research on monardas, is destroyed – the commercial nurseries want the thousands of rose seedlings now being grown in the government labs — and assessing if there are ways of passing the research work over to a consortium of nursery growers. The Morden arboretum, and thus its woody plant material, will be retained, but no further government research will be done.

The two sides have 16 months to do their work.  

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