Wendy White... A Nor'Easter
Patsy Cunningham
reprinted from the May 2007 Rhode Island Rose Review
edited by Angelina P. Chute


             One of the guest speakers at the 2007 Yankee Convention in Newport was Wendy White.  Wendy’s presentation showed us some of the beautiful miniature roses introduced by Nor’East Roses, including a number of her own. I thought it would be interesting to know how she came to that point in her life.

            Wendy started life on a farm in Greenfield, Massachusetts before moving to Southwick. Her father had a garden where he grew all the family’s vegetables.  He gave Wendy a chunk of land of her own for vegetables and she found she loved playing in the dirt.  Since their farm was in the Connecticut River Valley, she later found a job working on a local tobacco farm.  She planned to major in philosophy and psychology in college, until she took an aptitude test that showed her interests to be in art, math, music and the outdoors.  She decided that the test results indicated she could grow and arrange flowers and start her own business. So, off she went to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to get a degree in Floriculture.  She still has some of her college note and books and found them useful later in working with roses. A manual on geraniums that she owns has pictures of nutrient deficiencies and fungal diseases easily related to rose problems.

            After graduation from college in 1970, she went to work in a greenhouse in Connecticut and was married. Still no interest in roses at this point.  After moving with her husband to the eastern end of Massachusetts she continued in a variety of horticultural work: tending flower gardens, working in florist shops and greenhouses, working on or growing a wide range of greenhouse crops, including a business that grew plants for offices and conventions. They had just one rosebush at the house and she felt roses were “too much work”.    She moved briefly to upper state New York for more greenhouse work and then back to Massachusetts to work for a wholesale grower of poinsettias. This job ended abruptly when she objected to an unsafe & illegal use of systemic insecticide just before shipping. 

            Then, in 1989 a friend told her Nor’East Roses was looking for help and she began her long relationship with that company.  She did general work of all sorts: potting up, taking cuttings, packing orders, watering.  A long time employee left and Wendy took on more responsibility. In 1994 she took on the position of assistant hybridizer under Harmon Saville. Nor’East Miniature Roses was founded by Harm Saville in 1971.  In his 25 years in the business, he bred over one hundred roses, including 17 Award of Excellence (AOE) miniature roses. His first AOE winner, ‘Party Girl’ in 1981, is a fabulous breeder, producing many dozens of quality introductions.

Harm had started the business “to have something to putter around in, in my old age”. By the time Wendy starting working there, Harm had already cut way back on the time spent at Nor’East and on hybridizing. Wendy wrote that he was “ traveling the world, visiting with famed hybridizers, attending many rose conventions of any size, and going on fishing adventures.”  When Wendy first became assistant hybridizer, Harm lay out a list of crosses for Chip (his wife) and Wendy to make.  He instructed her in his procedures for crossing and labeling and then happily was able to go back out fishing. He spent the next couple of years when he could showing Wendy how to select and evaluate the seedlings.  Harm’s son John also taught Wendy how to choose promising seedlings.  With the reports from John and Wendy, Harm began again to enter miniature roses into the awards trials.

Wendy started to make some of her own crosses in 1995. That year she bred ‘Salute’, which won the Award of Excellence in 2004. ‘Salute’ is a beautiful dark red exhibition style miniature rose. It grows about 20” tall and is very disease resistant if given good air circulation and adequately fertilized.  Wendy says it lasts beautifully as a cut flower and has been in some award winning arrangements.  I’ve used it in arrangements and have to agree.

In the following year she hybridized 3 more roses which were later introduced: ‘Double Gold’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Aristocrat’.  The deep pink ‘Aristocrat’ is Wendy’s favorite among all her introductions because of its exhibition form and wonderful growth habits.  It is a compact plant, only 14-18” tall.  Both it’s size and drought resistance make it an ideal container plant. It was the Gold Medal Winner for 2006 at Rose Hills International trials.  ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is also a long lasting cut flower and has the additional feature of strong fragrance. It is a beautiful clear salmon pink rose with a lighter reverse and has very good disease resistance.

Harmon Saville died in 1997.  Wendy regrets the many questions she never asked him about his hybridizing plans and goals. “I guess I thought he would be there forever.”  Harm’s son John took over the business and Wendy became head hybridizer for Nor’East.  She won a second Award of Excellence in 2006 for her rose hybridized in 1999 : ‘Iced Raspberry’. It is rose-red with a white reverse, each petal is beautifully furled.  It has exhibition shape and a mild raspberry fragrance.

Wendy’s goals in hybridizing  are for exhibition form, healthy plants and great fragrance.  She added 2 introductions to Saville’s ‘Scentsation’ series: ‘Moonlight Sensation’ and ‘Red Sensation’. In her time at Nor’East, she became skilled in choosing parents that would be sure to yield miniature roses.  She also has a knack for determining what color ‘kids’ she’ll get from the crosses she makes.

Nor’East Roses was sold in 2003 to Greenheart Farms, an enormous nursery business in California.  Bill DeVor, the greenhouse manager, wanted the company to expand into miniature roses. The DeVor family has a long history of rose growing, Bill’s grandfather received some of the original cuttings of ‘Peace’ during World War II.  Wendy was invited to move with the company and continue as head hybridizer.  She declined, desiring to continue living in her native New England where she now had two beautiful grandchildren. Wendy did travel several times to California, setting up crosses to be made with the greenhouse manager there.  No hybridizing was done at the new facility other than on Wendy’s 2005 and 2006 trips there until Bill De Vor and his son, Tommy, did a little of their own.  However, when Nor’East had been sold there were enough good seedlings in the pipeline to give the company introductions for the next 5-7 years.

Her two 2007 introductions were bred before the sale of the company.  “Mother Lode” and “Happy Thoughts” were among the roses Nor’East donated to our recent convention in Newport.  “Mother Lode” as its name implies, has blooms of every shade of gold.  “Happy Thoughts” is one of Wendy’s favorite roses, mainly because of it is a healthy ‘plant it and leave it’ rose. It is dark yellow with orange edges, though this color description does not do it justice.  When I opened the box of donated roses for the convention, these practically lit up the room on their own with their clear brilliant colors.

         She still works for Nor’East from her home in Massachusetts as Rose Development Coordinator.  She prepares and files the patents for their new roses and licenses gardens to test the new Nor’East varieties. Another part of her job is to find distinctive roses bred by amateur hybridizers and to help publicize Nor’East roses.  “Except for the test garden I have here, this is mostly all paper work, sitting behind the computer, only looking out the window.”  What she really wants is to be back out “playing in the dirt.”  Wendy ends all of her emails “Hybridizer with His Help”. She has faith that she is right where she should be and trusts that God will bring her along new and unexpected paths.

         Wendy still breeds roses at home and is considering learning to hybridize other species. She still has a little home made paintbrush she picked up after college, it was made by a breeder of African Violets.  Lilies and Gesneriads are high on her list of plants to play with. In the meantime, locally she volunteers extensively at the Topsfield Fair where she designed and planted a display garden of miniature roses that won two awards including the coveted Massachusetts Horticultural Society Award for Excellence.  She belongs to numerous rose societies and hybridizing organizations. And most importantly, she lives close to her family.  I’m looking forward in the future to seeing other beautiful new roses and flowers that Wendy creates by playing in the dirt “with His help”.   


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