It was as a high school student in Dallas that Tom Carruth realized his childhood passion for flowers—roses in particular. Courses in biology and genetics infused his attraction to the art and science of plant breeding. Eventually he would find any opportunity to parlay his school assignments into avenues to write about and research rose breeding.
“There was one poor guy in Dallas who was a backyard miniature-rose breeder by the name of Ernie Williams,” begins Carruth in his beguiling Texas accent, his youthful smile projecting across his face. “And I just bugged the heck out of that guy because every time a project or thesis or other written assignment came up in school, I would talk about rose breeding and go interview him and talk to him.”
Carruth wasn’t just passionate about roses. No, he was enraptured by roses.
We’re talking at a shaded table in the central courtyard of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Carruth is dressed in faded blue jeans, a wrinkled polo, and dirt-stained boots. He had spent the better part of this mild, January afternoon pruning throughout the property’s 3-acre rose garden.
Carruth joined the Huntington in 2012 as the E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose Collection, and is considered one of the finest rose hybridizers in the U.S.
The Texas A&M graduate has spent more than 40 years in the rose business, and hybridized more than 150 varieties of roses, of which 11 (and counting) have been recognized as prestigious All-America Rose Selections. Carruth’s accomplishments as a rose hybridizer would make Gregor Mendel, “the Father of Genetics,” blush.
But for all of his accolades, he is especially excited about the newest addition to the Rose Garden, “Huntington’s 100th”—a rose he helped hybridize that honors the centennial of the esteemed cultural institution.
The hybrid rose—a cross between “Julia Child” (a rose originally hybridized by Carruth) and “Stormy Weather”—took root in 2009 at a Cal Poly Pomona research lab. In 2016 it was planted by Weeks Roses in its sun-drenched fields in Wasco, Calif. “We wanted a rose that was going to be sold nationwide,” Carruth says.
The Huntington negotiated with Weeks for the naming rights to the variety. While sold under the pseudonym “Life of the Party,” the rose is officially registered as “Huntington’s 100th.”
“The color attracts you first because it opens up a soft, pastel yellow then blushes to a pink color,” Carruth notes, adding that the rose grows in clusters, which accentuates its eye-popping quality, and has a bloom cycle expected to run from early April through early December.
The showstopper, however, is the fragrance. “It’s an intense lemon blossom and a little bit of baby powder,” Carruth says. “It’s a very sensual start to our centennial.”
Images: Courtesy The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens