Always on the lookout for new plants I was delighted to see some new roses at Springmount Garden centre last week. Nestled in their huge point-of-sale packaging, that was so bright that the roses themselves seemed almost insignificant, were four of the Babylon Eyes series of roses, and I bought all four.
The Babylon Eyes series are the latest in the ‘persica’ roses bred from Hulthemia persica, a rose relative from Iran and Afghanistan. Botanists have separated it from true roses based on a number of characteristics. Hulthemias have flowers that are definitely rose-like but differ in having a dark red spot at the base of the petals, unlike roses that tend to be paler at the petal base. The plants themselves differ in having leaves with one leaflet and no stipules at the base of the petiole. Because of their habitat they prefer warm soils and the plants flower just once a year. Breeding the desired characteristics into roses was a challenge, especially as the first hybrids were sterile. Harkness roses started the work. Two of their most important seedlings were ‘Tigris’ and ‘Euphrates’ but the latter was sterile and no use to later breeders. Chris Warner in the UK bred the lovely ‘Eyes for You’ which I have posted about before. This is a successful rose and the only problem with it is that the flowers are semi-double so the dark purple eyes are rather hidden by the pink petals in the centre.
One of the problems for breeders was that the gene or genes for the flower blotch seemed to be linked to once-flowering and for straggly, prickly growth but after many generations spotted blooms have been produced on plants that rebloom. Hulthemia is also very prone to disease in the average garden but breeders have improved that too and modern ‘eyed’ roses are generally healthy in my experience so we will see how these new ones do.
The Babylon Eyes series have single flowers which show off the ‘eyes’ effectively and they are distributed in the USA by Tesselaar and are marketed as Sweet Spot roses. They should flower all summer.
They were bred by Peter Ilsink in the Netherlands and were first made available in 2014 (as far as I can ascertain), the result of 20 years of work. There are about five varieties now available in Europe, marketed by Interplant. These include Sunshine (‘Intereybabnus’ ) (pictured here), Queen (‘Intereybabeuq’), Coral (‘Intereybabroc’), Pastel (‘Intereybabsap’) and Cream (‘Interbablitlig’).
They look as if they will be small plants and probably about 30cm high and 45cm wide and they are being sold as good for containers and hanging baskets. I will be planting them in loam-based compost in pots. I will report back on how well they do. Only Sunshine has flowered for me yet and the flowers are very vibrant although the petals are rather cupped so do not show the spot that clearly – as yet. There is a slight perfume though these are not roses to grow primarily for their scent.