In 1897 when The Conard and Jones Co. started, roses were just beginning to appear in people’s gardens. More than a century later Star® Roses and Plants, as it is known today, has introduced some of the most popular roses and other plants in the industry and has made them accessible to gardens throughout the world. For decades the company has had many “firsts” that have helped shape America’s gardens and the nursery industry.
The earliest of these “firsts” were guarantees. The 1904 spring catalog promised, “safe delivery to all post offices in the US.” The 1907 catalog pledged “Conard and Jones roses to bloom each at its seasonable time.” This was followed by the headline, “A new way to buy roses: Our roses are guaranteed to bloom.” To the best of the company’s knowledge, this was the first guarantee to the consumer in the nursery industry. Robert Pyle’s magazine, Success with Roses—a classic for rose lovers for many years—provided tips that took the guarantees a step further.
Pyle, who joined the company in 1900 and became its head in 1907, was a marketing genius and savvy entrepreneur. He decided to focus the company’s marketing efforts on roses, establishing The Conard and Jones Co. as a primary grower of roses in America. To reinforce his marketing strategy and set his company’s roses apart from those of the competition, he adopted and trademarked the word Star in 1908, thus creating Star® Roses. This became one of the first horticultural trademarks, one Star® Roses and Plants is still known for over 120 years later. Later, when the Plant Patent Act was passed in 1930, Star® Roses and Plants was among the first to patent new roses and license other leading nurseries to grow and sell them, which made both the industry and the company stronger.
While other nurserymen traveled to Europe early in the century, Pyle seems to be the first nurseryman to forge partnerships with European hybridizers and to bring their creations to the American market. Pyle’s alliance with Meilland International in the south of France dates back to the 1930’s and has resulted in numerous introductions, including the Peace Rose.
In 1933 Star® Roses and Plants became the first nursery in the US to introduce a miniature rose. Known as Tom Thumb, this rose was created by Dutch nurseryman Jan de Vink and was an instant success because of its unique size. A true duplicate of the garden rose, it was the first rose that could be planted in window boxes, porch containers and rock gardens. More than half a century later, in 1989, Star® Roses and Plants had another diminutive introduction, Debut™ (‘Meibarke’) which became the first miniature rose to win an AARS award.
Robert Pyle was among the industry leaders who established All American Rose Selections, Inc. Its mission, when it was established in 1938, was to test and evaluate new roses and then to publicize the award winners. Before it dissolved in 2013, AARS had test and demonstration gardens across the nation, including one at Star® Roses and Plants facilities in West Grove, PA. Star® Roses and Plants has had dozens of AARS winners over the years. One of the most famous is the Peace rose, which Francis Meilland dispatched to Star® Roses and Plants on one of the last aircrafts to leave France before it crumbled under the Nazi blitzkrieg. During the war years it had incredibly successful trials in all areas of the US. The name was adopted the day Berlin fell to the Allied Forces and the Peace rose greeted delegates to the first United Nations meeting in San Francisco. AARS named Peace its only 1946 award winner the day Japan surrendered. Other popular Star® Roses and Plants AARS winners that were “firsts” in their own right include Portrait, the first award winner created by an amateur (1972) and Bonica™ (‘Meidomonac’), the first landscape shrub rose to receive acclaim from the AARS (1987). Mister Lincoln (1965), Carefree Delight™(1996), and The Knock Out® Rose (2000) were other notable AARS winners.
While the emphasis for many years was on roses, Star® Roses and Plants always offered other quality plants. Antoine Wintzer, a hybridizer from Alsace Lorraine, did much of the pioneering work in scientifically hybridizing cannas in the US around the turn of the century. These exotic plants figured prominently in the earliest Star® Roses and Plants catalogs. More recently, in 1970, Star® Roses and Plants introduced the Blue and China Hollies, generally considered one of the best ornamental plant introductions of the decade and perhaps the century. Breeder Kathleen Meserve created a family of hollies that combined the hardiness of the American Holly with the rich glossy leaves and large bright berries of the English Holly.
Star® Roses and Plants has had a century of firsts. It was one of the first on the east coast to become a container production nursery. It introduced the first climbing rose (Mme. Gregoire Staechelin in 1928) to win “The Gold Medal of Bagatelle” award in Paris. It also introduced the first rose (Sonia) suited to both garden and greenhouse and the first roses (Sunblaze®) to fit between traditional floribundas and true miniature roses. To maintain its tradition of innovation in its second century, Star® Roses and Plants introduced The Knock Out® Family of Roses and Drift® Roses, both breakthrough series in rose breeding.
After thirty years of leading Star® Roses and Plants, third generation nurseryman, Steve Hutton begins the search for his successor and a new owner. In October of 2015, the sale of Star® Roses and Plants to Ball® Horticultural is announced which represents a major transition in the company ownership and leadership. With the sale, Star® Roses and Plants inherits hundreds of woody plants from the Ball Ornamentals program, and hands off their young perennial program to Darwin® Perennials. Looking to continue their strategic diversification plans, in spring of 2016, Star® Roses and Plants finalizes the purchase of BrazelBerries® which is re-branded to Bushel and Berry®, a collection of Homegrown Berries. Soon thereafter, the company secures the exclusive right to license Kordes® garden roses throughout the US and Canada. Now positioned as the most complete supplier to the nursery industry, with an extensive offering of roses, woody shrubs, and edibles, Bradd Yoder, is promoted from his role as Director of Sales to President of Star® Roses and Plants in January of 2018. A renewed focus on research and development, coupled with growth in staff, trialing, and systems, allows the company to continue their legacy of bringing the best plants to the worlds gardens.