Just outside my office, growing side by side, are two excellent roses. Both are very free flowering and bless me with a continuous, summer-long display of red flowers. Each rose remains as clean as a whistle without the aid of sprays or chemicals. I suspect you're familiar with one of these roses. Perhaps you even grow it? It was developed Bill Radler and is called Knock Out.
But this is the story of the other rose. Its name is Candy Oh! Vivid Red and most likely you’ve never heard of it before. It was not developed by Bill Radler, however, it would not exist but for this well known rose breeder of the North.
At ripe old age of 13 David Zlesak read an article in the Milwaukee Journal that changed the course of his life. The article was about Bill Radler and how he hybridized new roses. Fascinated by the article and the idea of creating new plants, Zlesak wrote to Radler. To his surprise, Radler wrote back and this letter was the spark and inspiration that started David Zlesak on his plant breeding career and ultimately resulted in the rose Candy Oh! Vivid Red.
While working towards his PhD in plant breeding, David worked on numerous crops including small fruit, potatoes, Easter lilies and various perennial plant species. His first big breeding breakthrough came in 2006 when Proven Winners introduced Tuscan Sun Heliopsis a remarkable dwarf, continuous flowering perennial. Yet even though David found success in breeding other crops, his passion for roses never ceased - nor did his rose breeding. While other students were going to fraternity parties, David was up in his dorm room growing on thousands of rose seedlings under florescent lights. Out of these seedlings he selected the healthiest 1,500 plants and grew them out in garden plots he rented from friends and neighbors. Out of these, he selected the 50 healthiest, most floriferous plants. His selection process was further aided by the harsh
winters and the ubiquitous rose disease – black spot. Only the hardiest, most disease resistance roses remained. Minnesota
Out of the thousands of seedlings that started out in his dorm room, David found that one seedling, a polyantha hybrid that stood out from all the others. It was vigorous, healthy and very floriferous. The vivid red flower color was so intense that it seemed almost to smolder in the summer sun. In 2008 David Zlesak introduced his first commercial rose selection - Candy Oh! Vivid Red.
That is the tale of two roses, and how Bill Radler had a hand in the development of both plants.