by Linda Kimmel
I would like to introduce my good friend and mentor, Virginia Bischoff. Virginia has been an Indianapolis Rose Society member since 1953, 63 years! September 17th, she celebrated her 96th birthday. Happy Birthday, Virginia!
I first met Virginia at the Flower and Patio show at the Indianapolis fairgrounds in the spring of 1991. She had already been a rose society member for nearly 40 years. She was working the Rose Society booth. At the time, I had twelve roses and thought I was a big time rose grower. I stopped and chatted with her. I remember thinking, “that woman knows what I need to know.” I had been checking out and reading rose books from the local library for information, but there is nothing like talking to a real person that lives in your locale. I took the membership application form and purchased a “Successful Rose Growing in Indiana” booklet ($3.00). Not sure how I managed it, but I promptly lost the membership application before I got home. I had no idea how to reach the Indianapolis Rose Society. I waited a full year and went back to the Flower and Patio show, specifically to meet Virginia again. I thought my chances were pretty slim, like lightening striking twice, of finding her. But low and behold, she was standing behind the Indianapolis Rose Society booth talking to attendees. The booth was busy with information seekers and I couldn’t get all my questions answered. So this time, I took a membership application and managed to complete it and joined up. Virginia and I became instant friends. I loved to ask questions and she loved to talk about rose growing. Once, she leaned over to me and whispered, “the secret is in soil.” I have never forgotten that important tidbit of information, because “THE SECRET IS IN THE SOIL.” To have a great rose garden, the soil must be great. Take care of your soil and your roses will flourish.
After buying a tank sprayer on wheels (not a good Mantis but a less expensive version), a high-maintenance piece of equipment, it seemed something was always broken. As I whined on the phone about my broken sprayer, wasted money and the two weeks wait for a replacement part, Virginia said, “are you going to be home for a few minutes?” “Yes”, I replied. “I’ll be right there”, she said. In about half-hour, Virginia and Francis showed up at my house with an Atomist sprayer. “Here you go, use it as long as you need it,” Virginia offered. I loved that sprayer, minus the long extension cord it required. It was certainly economical on chemicals, requiring half of what I was using. What a kind and helpful gesture from the Bischoffs.
The first American Rose Society National Rose Show and Conference that I attended was in Shreveport, LA (1993), Virginia introduced me to everyone she knew, saying “this is a good one, she is a keeper.” I was so green, I didn’t know how to read a show schedule, but Virginia saw something in me that was worthwhile.
I was invited to Francis and Virginia’s house many times to look at their roses, talk roses and to observe Francis’s hybridizing program. Francis kept a meticulous log of his rose crosses, focusing on miniatures. When the time was right, Francis would harvest the hips, store the seeds in a refrigerator and then plant the rose seed under artificial lights in his basement during the winter months. I remember looking at several flats of rose seedlings, growing under lights during February and March. What a fabulous site, a few were showing buds and some were blooming!
Francis had six miniature roses that were commercialized and marketed:
‘Ginny’ (1981), was named for Virginia. It had good exhibition form, as did all of Francis’ marketed roses. ‘Ginny’ was classed as a red and white blend with 45 petals; I remember it as a white with vivid red edges and high pointed center. The cross was ‘Little Darling’ x ‘Toy Clown.’
‘Sadler’ (1983). Virginia said a man gave Francis a $100. to name a rose after him and the rose now bears his last name. The ‘Sadler’ rose is orange-pink with good exhibition form and 43 petals. It was a cross between ‘Fabergé’ (floribunda, Boerner, 1969) x ‘Darling Flame.’
‘Penny Annie’ (1983) was named after Dr. Lyle’s bulldog. It is light pink with 35 petals and classic hybrid tea bloom form. It is a cross between ‘Little Darling’ x Unnamed seedling.
‘Marty’s Triumph’ (1985) was named after a rose friend, who was battling cancer. It was to signify Marty’s triumph over cancer. The rose is Orange-pink with a mild fragrance. It is a small, double (17-25 petals), flat bloom form. It was described as “a new and distinct variety of miniature rose plant, characterized by bright coral pink buds and blooms with pale pink reverse. It is a vigorous, compact plant with abundant glossy green foliage.” It is a cross between ‘Little Darling’ x Unnamed seedling.
‘JuJu’ (1996) is named after Jack Walter’s (Kimbrew-Walters Roses) grand-daughter. It is red blend with medium-full (26-40 petals) hybrid tea bloom form. It is a cross of ‘Little Darling’ X ‘Black Jade’ (miniature, Bernadella 1985).
‘Lida O’ (1997) is named after Virginia’s mother. It is classed as “yellow”, but I remember it being a creamy pale yellow. Again, it has great exhibition form. I won the best mini rose bowl with a ‘Lido O,’ back in the day when our rose shows were held in the gymnasium at St. Luke United Methodist Church. “Lida O” is a cross of ‘Party Girl’ x ‘Miss Dovey’. Incidentally, ‘Party Girl’ was hybridized by Harm Saville in 1997 and was named after Jan Shivers, a longtime member of the Indianapolis Rose Society.
There were many miniature roses that Francis deemed not worthy because they were too big to be miniatures and too small to be floribundas. Ben Williams, a rose nurseryman, was having the same experience. Ben saw a future for these oversized miniature roses and trademarked the name “Mini-Flora” (1977). Williams offered the name to the American Rose society but was turned down. 22 years later, the American Rose Society accepted the Mini-Flora trademark as a gift; and, the miniflora rose was established as a formal classification of a new type of modern roses (1999). The spelling was changed from Mini-Flora to miniflora to match grandiflora, etc. I only wish that we had some of those beautiful roses that Francis discarded because they were too big for the miniature classification of the day.
Virginia said, “Francis was the hybridizer.” “I liked to exhibit.” Virginia won Queen of the Show at Columbus, OH, 1974, with ‘Uncle Joe’. It was her first and only national queen. ‘Uncle Joe is a dark red beauty with strong fragrance. It was hybridized in 1972 and is a strong contender on the rose show table still today. Displaying nearly 80 petals, ‘Uncle Joe’ has a very large, globular bloom that takes its own sweet time opening.
Virginia served as IL-IN District director for a total of seven years (1976-1983). She finished out a year for a director that became ill, then served two, 3-year terms (6 years). She has fond memories of being the District Director, chuckling “they teased me all the time.” Virginia received the Silver Honor Medal (1973), and Francis received the Silver Honor in 1984. Virginia also received the Outstanding Consulting Rosarian from the District in 1984. At the local level, Virginia served as Indianapolis Rose Society President in 1969 and 1971. Both Virginia and Francis received the Award of Honor (preceded the Bronze Medal) from the Indianapolis Rose Society.
Thank you, Virginia, for being my Rose Whisperer, for whispering rose secrets over the years. I will never match all of your accomplishments in the rose world, but I’m definitely a better rose grower with your friendship and mentoring.