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For Seven Generations a Unique Business Has Brought Happiness and Beauty to Millions Each Spring

by: Geoff Ficke

For Seven Generations a Unique Business Has Brought Happiness and Beauty to Millions Each Spring 

Newark, New York does not spring to mind as a base for horticultural genius. Not to be confused with tough, rough hewn Newark, New Jersey, this small farming area became the original home of one of the greatest horticultural enterprises in the world. From humble beginnings as a nursery servicing local gardeners Jackson & Perkins became the largest purveyor and developer of sub-species of roses in the United States. 

In the 1870’s Newark was the countrified mirror of cosmopolitan New York. Farms, vineyards and orchards dotted the countryside around the town. Here, in 1872 Charles Perkins, with the financial backing of his father-in-law A.E. Jackson started the now famous Jackson & Perkins greenhouses and nursery. This family business has grown to become synonymous with the development and hybridization of the greatest assortment of types of roses in the world. 

Initially Jackson & Perkins specialized in selling grape vines and strawberry plants. In 1896, the Company hired E. Albert Miller. To that date the nursery had done little in the area of plant hybridization. Mr. Miller would change that. In his spare time he began to experiment with rose breeding. In 1901 he had perfected a new strain which Jackson & Perkins began to market. This was a climber, named the Dorothy Perkins, and it became one of the most popular roses in the world and remains so to this day. 

As sales and passion for the Dorothy Perkins rose soared the Company realized it had a stunning growth opportunity to market and hybridize other styles of roses.  

Full-time hybridizers were hired. Soon Jackson & Perkins became the world’s most prolific grower and creator of new species of roses. One such hire, Eugene Boerner is credited with creating the beautiful Floribunda class of roses. Another, William Warriner developed over 110 specific types of new hybrid roses that won numerous international prizes, including 20 All-American Rose selections. Mr. Warriner’s Medallion and Red Masterpieces were chosen for special issue postage stamps in 1978 by the United States Postal Service. Over 40 million of William Warriner’s hybridized rose creations were sold to consumers. 

Fame, awards and prosperity kept accumulating for the Jackson & Perkins nursery. The 1939, at the New York City World’s Fair Jackson & Perkins organized a display of their roses entitled “A Parade of Modern Roses”. The exposition was an immense success. Visitors from everywhere wanted to purchase the Company’s assorted rose bushes but did not want to carry them as they travelled. The Company, always as astute commercially as they were as plant hybridizers, organized a mail order fulfillment operation. It quickly became the largest mail order house specializing in roses in the country.

By the 1960’s the Company had outgrown facilities in New York and began to move operations to California, finally settling in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1966 the Jackson & Perkins nursery operation was purchased by the fruit and gift house of Harry & David. The Company, however, still pioneered in the development of new growing techniques and saw sales extended around the world. 

The following are some interesting facts about the Jackson & Perkins nursery operations: 

  • The Company cultivates over 5000 acres of rose fields
  • The Company’s roses thrive in the local Hesperia loam soil
  •  Each year the Company horticulturists grow, bud and harvest 10 million plants
  • Each year between 300,000 and 400,000 seedlings are grown and evaluated at the Jackson & Perkins Research Center
  • Seven to 10 years of hybridizing work is required to perfect every new type of rose
  • Only the most beautiful and hardiest new roses are commercially cultivated, named and sold to the public, few make the cut!
  • The Company ships over 2 million plants to customers every year.

Today the Jackson & Perkins Nursery is one of the great success stories in horticultural history. The Company has expanded to market and sell a complete range of shrubs, ground covers, garden tools, decorative garden gifts, bulbs, tools, plants, and of course, roses. From humble beginnings as a local small business, this tale of achievement is evocative of what can happen in America when hard work, passion, vision, a belief in capitalism and the smallest bit of good fortune co-mingle to produce an enterprise that is valued by flower lovers, gardeners and rose enthusiasts from around the world.

As I write this piece I am surrounded by spring in full bloom. Growth, new life and abundance are sprouting everywhere after a very hard and extended winter. The roses my wife and millions of dedicated gardeners nurture are one of life’s most wonderful natural treats. We can all be grateful that a Company such as Jackson & Perkins has added so much beauty to our lives, and their genius renews itself so beautifully each year in our yards and fields.