A Tale of Two Roses


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 Minnesota winters and the ubiquitous rose disease – black spot. Only the hardiest, most disease resistance roses remained.

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.


  1. Anonymous12:57 PM

    I wonder, is the variety name a reference to The Cars song "Candy-O"...that would be great!

  2. I wonder if Candy Oh! Vivid Red is fragrant? In the photo, it even looks to be a miniature rose.

  3. What a great story.

    You have a very interesting story yourself. What excellent credentials. I hope i can achieve something even half as great.

  4. Really enjoyed this post. I had come across (though not yet grown) his Carefree Sunshine and enjoyed seeing these other lovely varieties.

  5. The name Candy Oh! is not a direct reference, although in my youth I was a fan of the Cars and I do like the song.

    Unfortunately, the flowers are not fragrant. While the flowers are small the plant is not. It is a large polyantha hybrids similar in habit to Robin Hood. I love polyantha roses as the habits are very graceful and integrate well into the garden, especailly with perennials. Many roses, in my opinion do not have attractive plant habits. Most are too stiff in my view.

    As to where people can buy the finished plants there is no good source as of yet. The plant is too new. Growers can buy liners via Spring Meadow.

    I appreciate all the great comments. I also hope that growers give this rose a try. I think that once they try it - they will love it. David Zlesak is a very promising rose breeder and I hope this plant and its success gives his breeding program the momentum it deserves.

  6. I am growing three of these Oso Easy Roses and they are pretty grand. They grow quickly too. I have decided to move them to a planter. I wonder how they will transplant. Another amazing thing is that they stayed evergreen in my NC zone 7 garden.


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