Volume 6, Number 3, 1997

Taking time to smell the roses

What's in a name?
That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.

The bard of Stratford-on-Avon might have enjoyed meeting Richard J. (Dick) Hutton, AG '48. As chairman of the board of the Conard-Pyle Co., marketers of Star Roses and other Star plants, Hutton has spent much of his life naming roses.

Over the past 50 years, this unusual blend of business executive and poet has named an elegant, coral, lady-like rose in honor of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter (which he presented to her in the White House Rose Garden) and a flashier, robust red/orange rose after country music star and actress Dolly Parton.

Other famous personalities with roses named for them include John F. Kennedy, Christopher Columbus and Gina Lollobrigida. Some rose names could well belong in the world of horse racing: Consider King's Ransom, Medallion and Just Joey. Paradise, Perfect Moment and Timeless, on the other hand, reflect a romantic flair.

Hutton can't say for sure just how many roses and plants he has named over the years, but in a company that has accumulated more than 10,000 plant patents since 1930, the number is sure to be staggering.

Now in his early 70s, Hutton has a contented countenance, which he maintains despite a busy schedule at Star Roses. Whether at his desk, in the nursery or walking in the rose fields, it's clear the company is an extension of his home.

Hutton's father, Sidney Hutton, came to work for Conard-Pyle in the borough of West Grove, Pa., in 1930. The Huttons moved into a roomy house on the edge of the company property, and Dick Hutton has lived there ever since. He and his wife, Penny (Anne) Postals Hutton, raised three sons there, two of whom are active in Conard-Pyle today.

Growing up, Hutton says he had little interest in the nursery and that his father never pressured him to become involved. He never even held a summer job there.

Initially, after graduating from Avon Grove High School, he enrolled in UD to study engineering. But, World War II interrupted his college years.

Stationed at Pearl Harbor as a U.S. Navy electronics technician, he credits the Navy with "convincing me I shouldn't try to be an engineer."

After the war, he began to re-think his opinion of the nursery business.

"As soon as I expressed any interest, my father was ready to sell me a bill of goods," he says, with a smile. He returned to Delaware, this time enrolling in the agricultural classes.

Over the years, Hutton's role at Conard-Pyle has changed with the times. At first, he was responsible for propagating and growing plants other than roses. Then, he became increasingly more involved in the rose business and other aspects of production. In the years prior to 1978, the company had a flourishing mail-order business and retail stores, which were run under Hutton's command. Like his father before him, and his oldest son today, Hutton served a stint as company president.

The company has grown into the largest production nursery in Pennsylvania and the 25th largest nationally. Today, it deals in wholesale only.

Its broad range of hardy plants are suitable for landscaping and gardening in the Northeast, which the company defines as east of the Mississippi and north of South Carolina. In addition to the original West Grove location, there are branches in Maryland and California.

Having success blossom in such a small town seems logical to Hutton.

"There's no doubt that our original location has been part of our success," he says. "I think there is more horticulture, more public gardens, in the Philadelphia metro area than anywhere else in the U.S. It's sort of a horticulture haven. There is a lot of heritage here."

Conard-Pyle doesn't create new plants, Hutton explains. Instead, it markets them for breeders who don't have access to the U.S. market or the nursery industry. Breeding plants, especially roses, he adds, is almost as complicated as breeding people. No two are ever exactly alike.

The company decides what to market by knowing its target audience.

"We want plants we think you will be willing to buy," Hutton says. "We look for plants that are easy to grow, that are easy for the retailer to market and that are satisfying to the buyer."

Successful plants, he says, are those that resist disease and give the growers success. These days, people rarely have time for fussy plants that require a lot of care.

"Rose fanatics want anything new. Once they have a new plant, they'll talk about it among themselves. It's important for us that they have success the first time."

One of Hutton's major responsibilities over the years has been visiting nurseries in Europe to find new roses. And, while that responsibility has largely been taken over by Angie Tredwell, AG '91 (see story at right), Hutton says he enjoyed his years of travel.

"It's a people-oriented business," he explains. "It's always fun and rewarding to travel and to meet people with whom you share a common interest-plants and flowers. They're not one of the essentials of life-not like food or shelter-but psychologically, they're essential. Everyone enjoys them."

One closer-to-home discovery, of which Hutton is especially proud, is finding a new breed of evergreen hollies developed by amateur gardener and Long Island homemaker Kathleen Meserve.

"We heard about her through another nurseryman and made arrangements to test her plants. They turned out to be truly different and wonderful."

The test period for new plants varies, Hutton says, from 1-2 years to 6-8 years.

"We'll grow it here until we have proof of success; then, we'll market it," he explains.

Conard-Pyle's most famous rose, sometimes referred to as "the rose of the century," is the ever-popular Peace Rose. This yellow rose, tinged with pink, was introduced in 1945. "It was the right rose at the right time with the right name," Hutton says.

There may be a Peace Rose in Hutton's garden but, ever the diplomat, he declines to name a favorite.

"I have a garden that pleases me, which is simply what anyone would want," he says. "My favorite rose is the next one we're going to discover."

Does he give his wife roses for special occasions or is that old hat after 48 years of marriage?

"Oh, I send roses from time to time. Most times, I prefer to give people plants. They last longer," he says.

With the home he has lived in for 67 years now on the market, Hutton says he looks eagerly to the next phase of his life when he and his wife will settle at Jenners Pond, a retirement community he is helping to develop in nearby Jennersville, Pa.

Looking forward or back, Hutton remains an optimist.

"Why wouldn't I be?" he asks. "I've had the opportunity to work with untold worlds full of wonderful people, and no matter what happens, every year I know that, come summer, I'll be able to stop and smell the roses."

-Beth Thomas

Clues to great, new plants

Angela J. (Angie) Treadwell, AG '91, went to work at Star Roses a year after graduation. Now, as the new plants coordinator, the ornamental horticultural major finds herself traveling the world in search of new and different roses and plants to add to the Star Roses line.

Her first big find, a new Highland(TM) rhododendron, called Purple Passion, is being marketed for the first time this spring after years of growing in the Star Roses test gardens. The first of many rhododendrons to come from breeder Robert Blough of Johnstown, Pa., it was selected for its hardiness (surviving winters as cold as -29 degrees Fahrenheit) and its extreme disease resistance.

Described in the Star Roses catalog as "a passionately violet-purple bloom with great sex appeal," the plant has generated enough excitement to land on the cover of the spring issue of American Nurseryman magazine.

Like her mentor, Dick Hutton, Treadwell can't say exactly how she knows a great new plant when she sees one. Both attribute it to a sort of botanical sixth sense.

"If you see a plant with pink blooms when they're usually purple, if it has different foliage, a deeper fall color or brighter blooms, if it's growing somewhere it's not supposed to be, all of those things are clues that you're looking at a potentially exciting new plant," this Christopher Columbus of the plant world says.