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Rose-breeding program understated

When we were growing up on our farm at Snowflake in the ’40s and ’50s, one of our annual highlights was a car trip to the Morden Experimental Farm to admire the herbaceous borders, unusual trees, and the orchards where new varieties of fruit for the Prairies were being developed and tested.

Besides ornamentals, there were programs in grain and special crop research along with crop diversification projects dealing with mung and adzuki beans to name a few.

From this work came most of the apple varieties (of particular interest to my father) which we now enjoy in Prairie gardens and the “Morden” cushion chrysanthemums which did not require short days in order to bloom and which have lit up midsummer Prairie gardens ever since their release.

The work of Henry Marshall produced monardas of unique colours and a variety of sizes. The lily crosses of Lynn Collicutt gave us the six-foot tall, Zone 3 hardy, heavily scented Orientpet lilies one of which, shortly after its release, earned Best in Show at the Boston Flower Show.

Dazzling array

And then, there were the roses – dazzling profusions of bloom in a wide range of colours, some of which can be counted on to bloom for most of the summer and still make it through our tough winters.

These varieties were developed through publicly funded programs and today are enjoyed by all Canadians, whether or not they are gardeners. They put Morden on the world horticulture map and they are registered in the botanical archives at Kew Gardens in England.

The recent announcement by AAFC that the rose-breeding program at the Morden Research Station is to be discontinued is a huge disappointment and a serious blow to the Canadian nursery businesses who serve them.


Gardening has become Canada’s leading hobby – surpassing curling. Each spring enthusiastic gardeners scour local nurseries for the latest cultivars in the plant world which will survive and flourish in our Zone 3 conditions. The rose cut announcement was accompanied by a remark that “the program didn’t earn very much anyway” – a statement which ignored the “multiplier” effect across the country.

By the time new cultivars are created and tested, they have provided dozens of local jobs, and once released to nurseries across the country and propagated, earnings can reach into the tens of millions for popular varieties.

Most of these earnings stay local. Contrast that local benefit with the hundreds of millions in forgivable or interest-free loans and outright grants and tax breaks regularly handed out to foreign transnational corporations to facilitate huge resource removal projects across the country, the profits from which seem to end up mostly in “off-shore” head offices. Then the question as to which type of project is of more value to Canadians becomes very large.

A recent John Morriss editorial in the Manitoba Co-operator speaks of a particularly ugly strain of wheat rust that is presently organizing itself into becoming a threat to our Prairie milling wheat crop. The announcement of the cancellation of the rose program inferred that those moneys will be transferred to the rust program.

This is the point where comprehension gets a little difficult. Why can’t we have both? Canada is a vast country – with vast resources and a correspondingly small population. These resources are in demand around the world and per capita revenues from them should be enormous.

So, why are we always cash strapped with cuts required everywhere: from health care to food inspection to the Canadian Grain Commission, weights and measures inspectors, plant and disease research – to the ornamentals which brighten and enhance Canadian quality of life?

The only answer seems to be that sales management of Canadian resources has been less than stellar and that much potential resource revenue has been fumbled off into coffers of the foreign transnationals or that our trade negotiators have been snookered into energy resource deals that net inadequate real returns to Canadians.

Big losses

During the years of our annual visits to the Morden Station, it is important to remember that in the ’40s and ’50s Canada was still paying for the Second World War and helping to rebuild Europe. We had hundreds of thousands of returning veterans who had to be settled and employed. Many of the resources now being developed were not yet being extracted – or even, in many cases, were not yet discovered. Nevertheless we had our local schools, world-class plant research, our railways, and probably the world’s most energy efficient grain handling and delivery system. We now find ourselves without most of the above. The losses suffered (and unfortunately condoned) by the present generation are staggering.

Sad day

It is a sad day coming at the end of a long list of sad days as one by one the things that enriched or enabled our lives are taken away. According to a recent article in the Manitoba Gardener the entire Morden horticulture collection will be disposed. Rumour has it, that in typical government fashion they are to be “dispersed” or destroyed (Avro Arrow style?).

Unfortunately, most of the cuts to public programs in rural areas in particular over the years have resulted in little or no public outcry. Because it is always easier to take stuff away from those who fail to push back, rural communities are getting more than their share of the losses.

Canada’s gardeners and the people of Morden should take a page from the book of the arts community when their industry was threatened with funding cuts and censorship and speak up in a big way.

– Beverly Stow farms and gardens near Graysville, Manitoba.

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