Writer researching a fiction book about rose hybridizer

Hi, everyone! I’m a novelist whose first book, HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, is coming out Aug 5 from Putnam Books.

I’m working on a new book where my main character is an amateur rose breeder. I’ve read a few articles about rose propagation, but am very much a novice. I am here hoping that a few of you will be willing to share your thoughts and info.

My starting point: coming up with what my character would be working toward. What attributes and characteristics would you ideally breed into a rose? Are these qualities that don’t yet exist in a rose? What would catch your attention in a show?

What do you think of genetic engineering used in the rose industry (like the blue rose)? Do you have strong feelings one way or the other?

Any thoughts or advice are welcome. If you think another venue would be more appropriate, I’d appreciate a point in the right direction. I can correspond by email if you’d rather. I think you just have to click on the email link in the msg.


Link: www.margaretdilloway.com

I think your best bet is to use keywords to search this forum, including references to that “blue” rose. You will see that we are a diverse though passionate lot. A fair number of people who post on this forum are actually scientists in the real world. Our goals are quite different from industry goals partly because we don’t need to cater to financial interests, & partly because msny of us work with very basic tools (tweezers, manicure scissors, aluminum foil), often under very simple conditions. Few of us have greenhouses & our hobby frequently shares spaces with family fridges, garages, basements etc. When you have tender seedlings that can’t overwinter outdoors their first year, the car can bloody well sit under the snow. It sometimes happens that when a neighbour is annoyed with us for unrelated reasons, she may well tell the (lawn) grass police that what we are actually growing is marijuana, in the backyard,outdoors, in March. When the nice lady from the municipality asks the neighbour how she would know. The neighbour says “because I’m from there.” Then the municpality lady would say something about being perplexed by normal electricity bills.

You’d think they’d discuss these things in quiet tones, but they don’t. I wondered if my neighbour was throwing seeds over the fence & where she got them.

Geesh, Lydia. Glad I don’t have your neighbors!

Margaret, you will find a broad range of folks in this field. An “amateur” may grow from dozens to thousands of seedling a year. (A few of the folks here do tens of thousands and create seedlings with pedigrees that read like the Book of Numbers – though I won’t mention Jim by name. :wink:)

Much of your character’s situation might depend on how long s/he has been in the hobby and how obsessive s/he is/becomes. How realistic are his/her goals? Many of us figure that we cannot realistically hope to gain financially against breeding houses that create many hundreds of thousands of seedlings annually, and we aspire only to create steps for future breeders. Others aspire to grander goals, and I suspect most of us dream of some breakthrough, like winning a lottery ticket by breeding a perfect rose… (And then figuring out how to market the darned thing.) Dunno how many folks here have actually made money from this hobby. (It’d be interesting to know…)

I think most amateurs frown on genetic manipulation if only because our art does not permit us to do such, and it keeps the playing field from being level. It’s cheating, really.

We also, I think, value carefree plants as attributes. Most of us don’t have staff to spray and tend to our plants, of which we may have too many…

Having said that, I am an amateur among amateurs, and I don’t know what level your character is at.

Read the blogs, and get into it, and imagine… You can probably project what an individual character, based on his/her personality, might be like as a breeder…

Alternatively, tell about your character if you want us to project our thoughts on their view of the craft.

Royalty sharing would be appreciated.

Wow Lydia, thankfully my neighbors just think I’m a bit off… I think what clinched it was them watching me pulling the petals off of a perfectly good rose, while still in my pjs, cup of coffee at my feet, and a paintbrush in my other hand.

Wish you the best with your newly released book Margaret. I was curious about what made you decide to create the main character, in your new book, as an amateur rose breeder. I think it’s a great idea and was just curious how that idea came about. Did it come from a love of roses?


Good luck with your new novel! Hope to see it on the NYT Best Seller list soon!

I am a hopelessly amateur/back yard rose breeder, and also a writer, feel free to contact me if you like. Right now I’m working on two goals, broadening a palette of spotted roses (right now I have pink and purple only, and I’m definitely -not- a pink fan) and getting both spots and stripes on the same rose.

As far as genetic engineering goes, it’s fine. But the results have been far more disappointing, to me at least, than the results I get in the yard.

As far as making money from the hobby? Haven’t made a cent! But there is nothing as thrilling as watching a rose bloom for the very first time!


Naw. The woman took roses from me. David Zlesak’s ‘pycnacantha’ is in her front yard. She just wanted to get me. This is the suburbs. In this neighborhood I am normal. Tags on roses are no big deal. What concerns the authorities most is grass over 6 inches. They actually measure with a ruler.

When genetic engineering is employed not to create a novelty (blue roses) but to engineer an inheritable, decisive solution to the disease problems roses face, then I will be impressed. I feel that the pursuit of a “blue” rose is nothing more than the search for empty novelty and an attempt to generate obscene wealth for the company that does it right and does it first. There are more meaningful ways to use GE technology, IMO.

It may help to know where the character is located as breeders in different locations are breeding for different things. For instance, breeders in the north will likely be breeding for cold hardiness, breeders in the south probably for disease resistance and breeders in southern California for drought and heat tolerance.


Simply enter “breeding goals” under the search window, and if you read all the ‘hits’ you will more than answer your question. And learn a little more than you might have wanted or needed to know.

Back in the 1980s there was a crime drama on TV called,“Hart to Hart” that starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers.

In one of the episodes there was a thriller about breeding a rose for a very important competition and one of the hybridiers ends up dead.

Even outside of Hollywood, there are intriques, dirty tricks and out and out thievery even among amateurs.

Good luck with your book!

The episode was ‘Harts & Flowers’

Max enters his roses—under Jennifer’s name—in a contest whose finalists are being murdered. Stinton: Graham Jarvis. Max: Lionel Stander. Jennifer: Stefanie Powers. Sylvia: Salome Jens.

You don’t see much books with characters who are into rose hybridizing…

I do remember a few episodes…

One from Mama’s Family where Mama and her next door neighbor Biola fight because Biola’s Herbert Hoover pollinated Mama’s Dainty Bess.

And there’s an episode in King of the Hill where Bobby enters rose and he competes with a guy who’s bred a rose with Oakington Ruby…

Otherwise, there isn’t much literature on this subject…

Why not BE a amateur rose seed grower? Dig up a 4ft.x25ft plot in the sunniest part of your yard now and make arrangements to acquire about 1000 of this years rose hips of the type rose you like. Collect the hips by Oct. 1st and put the hips or seeds in the refrig. till Jan. 1 and then seed really thick in trays. If you have 1000 seeds germinate they will fit in your prepared plot and by this time next year there will be some very interesting seedlings and you might be surprised what you then like. In 2008 I decided to let hips form and after gathering them in late Sept. and wishing I had more, a big orange hip different than anything of mine appeared in front of my car door in a deserted parking lot and luckily nothing germinated from it in 2009 because all that years seedlings where just planted here and there which was not good. Late in the fall of 2009 a neighbor stopped and ask if I wanted his big roses and this spring he said you better get the rest, an no wonder, they where crushed and smashed from the equipment working there. All are doing okay now and I have roses that are completely different than what I would normally buy. The seedlings of this year are kicking in and I especially like the ones over a foot tall and pencil thick. The mystery hip had three seeds germinate this Jan. and one is going to open all the way today which for sure is different than anything of my own, yellow with a purple triangle 3/8" on the outer edge of the petals. You will soon learn what characteristics would be ideal . This is just my experience.