For the love of the rose
Jan Barnett’s passion for roses led her on a remarkable journey full of unexpected detours… including selling the family home and tearing up retirement plans!
The unexpected journey that led Jan Barnett to start her Waikato nursery.
We are all familiar with that wish to turn a lifelong hobby into a dream job. Nothing could be better, surely, than doing what we love and making a living from it. So it is easy to understand Janette Barnett’s determination to bring into the country new roses that would thrive in New Zealand conditions without too much fuss and more importantly, without any spraying.
To that end, Jan and her husband Paul have established Amoré Roses, sourcing the plants from breeders all over the world, including France, Canada, the US, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands and Australia.
Jan then trials them in the 188 purpose-built beds located at a 7ha property in Newstead on the outskirts of Hamilton, which the couple had bought in 2014… after chucking in their retirement plans and selling the family home!
Here, Jan’s goal is to offer roses that are disease resistant, with superior fragrance and flowering performance. “We figured that if a rose can thrive here in the Waikato humidity, it would do well anywhere in New Zealand,” she explains.
Her family background and story go some way to explain her passion for this ancient flowering shrub. She has spent her life amongst roses. Jan modestly maintains that it all began with her hobby of showing roses. In fact, her home garden has always been filled with roses – all fragrant, elegant, perfectly formed and award-winning, thank you very much. As an exhibitor and New Zealand National Rose Judge whose job it is to declare that one single rose is the most perfect out of hundreds in competition, one would expect no less.
In her grandfather’s rambling, romantic country garden filled with every type of flower and vegetable imaginable, Jan was always drawn to the roses.
Jan is a life member of the Waikato Rose Society and has written a successful citation to the World Federation of Rose Societies to have the Rogers Rose Garden in Hamilton Gardens recognised with the WFRS Award of Garden Excellence. She has also travelled widely to rose conventions around the world.
Roses were a constant feature of her childhood as well. Jan’s grandfather Allan G. Scott MBE (“Poppa”) was a renowned authority on the perennial plant, and wrote a rose column for NZ Gardener for more than 30 years. In his rambling, romantic country garden filled with every type of flower and vegetable imaginable, she recalls, she was always drawn to the roses.
Her mother and aunts also dabbled in competitions and shows. “They were all passionate gardeners, for all types of gardening.”
And even if you didn’t know all that about Jan’s family and background, you might still suspect her passion when you saw her personalised licence plate – ROSEQN.
It follows then, that Jan and Paul’s daughters Melanie and Briony bill themselves as the “rose princesses” on the Amoré website as they run the business together with Jan.
And surely this is how rose dynasties begin. After all, many Kiwi plant nurseries are family businesses, some in their second and third generations already. Yet, few have taken on the onerous import and quarantine process required by the Ministry of Primary Industries (not to mention the costs), and Jan – determined to get new stock into the market – stepped into the breach.
She is the first to admit that the learning curve has been steep. “We are getting more and more experience in bringing the roses over,” she says.
“But at the same time, the hoops are getting higher.”
One can spend a whole lifetime loving roses without knowing how to transport them from halfway around the world and then get them to flourish after such an epic journey. Add layers of bureaucracy and just the sheer delicacy inherent in horticultural enterprises, and it is not difficult to appreciate the risks that Jan and Paul had taken on when they embarked on this thorny journey.
All of Jan’s roses must first be quarantined upon arrival in New Zealand. MPI audits and inspects the quarantined roses regularly throughout the cycle, to ensure they are free of pests and diseases such as Xylella (a bacteria transmitted through insects) which could harm the country’s well-developed and lucrative horticultural and agricultural industries.
There are six quarantine units on the property – one for each country they get roses from. This is so they can all be kept separate and tracked through the process, which generally takes six to nine months. Each unit hosts its own jackets, gloves, tools and other essential equipment which are never transferred or used between the units. After each cycle is completed, the units are thoroughly washed and disinfected before new plants arrive and the cycle begins again.
Plants just released from quarantine are hardened off before they are homed in the display and trial garden beds, which are filled with garden mix from a local supplier and topped with peat. Here, each rose is left to face its future.
Jan means to make roses more appealing to every gardener (and not just rose lovers) by offering plants that are fragrant with good flowering performance, but don’t require too much work. Creating bestsellers, she believes, is both an art and a science.
Disease resistance, she reasons, is an important part of this equation, and she wants to select roses that don’t need to be sprayed – something that she observes to be increasingly important to gardeners here. “In the northern hemisphere, you can’t buy sprays anymore,” she says. “So the roses there are bred to be as disease resistant as possible.”
This means she has to be ruthless in her observations of the specimens in her trial beds. She takes meticulous notes on plant behaviour and characteristics, recording growth, bud size and general changes. Not all will come off, well, smelling of roses as they strive to adapt to our conditions.
Indeed, it all seems a rather brutal business and Jan has to be rather stoic about it. “Some will wither, others die. Some get black spot or show they are resistant to that but then, will get rust,” she explains. Yet other roses do better on their own roots while
some are better budded – and Jan is there, watching and learning.
Size is another important trait. “European gardens tend to be smaller than ours, so their rose plants are often smaller too but they still have big flowers,” Jan explains.
She believes medium-sized shrubs would best suit the market here – plants that won’t get too tall but will still produce big and showy blooms.
In general, Kiwi rose lovers choose their plants for fragrance and colour, Jan has found, “and they expect the breeder to get the rest of the plant right.” Simply put, if they have to do too much to get the flower they want, people get turned off. In attending to the rest of the plant, Jan has given new names to her roses and attached labels to explain their various good qualities.
What she calls Bambina roses, for example, have been bred to be the darling of the modern smaller garden and outdoor entertainment areas (precious few millennial gardeners can afford much more, after all).
As shorter growers (less than 1m), they take up less space than more traditional large roses, which makes them surprisingly versatile. They can be planted in pots for small patios and balconies, or used as low maintenance and easy care hedges and borders, and the large blooms still deliver an impact as Bambina roses are also bred for fragrance and a long flowering time over summer.
In contrast, the Piccolo range of traditional miniature and patio roses is better suited to cut flower enthusiasts looking to make handsome bouquets for their home or crafty gifts for special occasions.
For those who appreciate more sizeable plants, there is also a selection of bigger flowerers available, including Floribundas and Hybrid Teas growing to over 1m.
It was one from this range, the ‘Magnifi-scent’, that won the public vote as the most fragrant rose on trial at the Pacific Rose Bowl Festival in Hamilton last year. Before that, the red-maroon repeat flowerer had been judged to be the Most Fragrant Rose on Trial and also picked up the Garden Society Award for Perfume in Barcelona in 2016.
Despite her obvious ability to pick winners, Jan admits to the occasional doubt about how one of her roses will be received. This is when she goes back to her customers. “At last year’s open day, we passed out forms to visitors asking them to rate the roses we just weren’t sure about taking to the market,” Jan recalls.
“People loved doing it, and they did a fantastic job helping us choose which ones to go with. We’ll be doing the same this year.”
Wonder ‘Sweet Marzipan’. The Wonder line describes “roses to be admired”.
Jan’s grandfather Allan G. Scott MBE.
Jan showing a rose in 1992.
Jan in her trial and show garden.
‘Fields of Fromelles’.