Wild Roses

The wild roses have had their fleeting moment and are all but over now.  But they were absolutely delightful, I’m looking forward to the hips lighting up the towpath in a few months time. 

There are times when I don’t think it is possible to improve on nature.  Look at that cascade of rose blooms below  tumbling down the bank, you would struggle to contrive something so elegant and yet natural looking in the garden.     

But of course roses have been the subject of cultivation and breeding for thousands of years.  In fact, I even have a rose bred and named after me.  (Funnily enough it is not called Rosa Goo!) This was the work of my grandad, who was an engineer by profession but a keen amateur rose breeder in his spare time.  Some of my happiest childhood memories are of his rose and apple tree filled garden. I was struck when watching the roses on the Hampton Court flower show a few weeks ago, just how much they can be mucked about.  Some bear little resemblance to the species roses.  I’ve never understood the desire to produce blue roses, or more recently black roses, but I guess my objection is simply aesthetic, it’s a question of taste.  Some of the lovely modern English roses I do happen to like,  those of old fashioned appearance but have the advantage of being disease resistant and repeat flowering, must have undergone similar processes. 

Our ingenuity when it comes to cultivation of plants has certainly served us well.  It is unlikely we could have fed our growing populations without the aid of cultivated crops bred for certain advantageous characteristics, among other advances afforded to us by the ‘green revolution’.  I am wondering though if we have overstepped the mark with GM crops.  My objection to GM is not a hippy, knee-jerk reaction to Frankenstein science and provocative headlines alerting us to tomatoes that have been crossed with crocodiles.  (No, that hasn’t happened, but it’s way more interesting than blue roses!)  I am a little nervous about plants that have inbred herbicidal or insecticidal genes such as those from the bacterium Baciullus thuringiensis (Bt): Will this have a negative effect on desirable insect life?  Will undesirable insects eventually become so resistant that we will have nothing left to fight them off with when we need it most?  But I think my main worry is our dependence upon technology, and in the case of GM, the private corporations who wield that technology.  I feel there must be socio-economic and political implications here for all of us, but my sneaking suspicion is that the poorest people in the world will benefit the least from such technology. 

In the meantime we have already lost forever some wild species of staple crops, this is dangerous, these are our building blocks, our primary colours if you like.  We need to maintain breeding stock, GM may open up some interesting options, but the greatest diversity is still to be found in the orignal species which continue to be dynamic and evolving.  There is a great article on Thai rice farmers here if you are interested.  Now how did a pleasant ramble about roses turn into a rant?  

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