A Modern Miss in Clutha

Rose breeder David Benny with some of his blooms.
Rose breeder David Benny with some of his blooms.

While Clutha Valley farmers David and Christine Benny always enjoyed roses it was financial necessity that saw them become award winning rose breeders.

They first started breeding about 18 years ago and their most recent award was at the end of last year when they won the prize for best hybrid tea rose at the New Zealand Rose of the Year competition in Hamilton.

Their rose Modern Miss took out the award.

A soft pink colour, it flowers twice a year in South Otago and up to four times in warmer areas. 

Mr Benny described hybrid tea roses as generally having one flower per stem, which distinguished them from floribundas.

Breeding was a painstaking and time-consuming process that involved planting up to 18,000 seeds, of which only about half germinated, and then you may only get one ''really good'' rose from all of that, he said.

''It's got a terrible attrition rate.''

The goal was to create quick repeating and fragrant roses, but those two traits did not always work together, he said.

On top of that, the Clutha Valley was not good rose country.

Friends grew the breeds around the country with much better crops, he said.

''I barely recognise them in a warm climate ... I've always thought the terrible climate meant we were good at breeding roses.''

Late frosts were also a killer.

November frosts used to catch us out, we worked on the theory of one in four surviving, he said.

Altogether they have had 11 different roses on the New Zealand market.

All new breeds must be registered with the Intellectual Property Office. 

The couple started breeding when life on the sheep farm got tough financially and they had three children to educate. 

''Roses made all the difference, they kept us going. I'd been breeding sheep all my life and couldn't see why it wouldn't translate [to roses].''

While both the New Zealand and world market were not as strong as they used to be, the Bennys have had roses at nurseries and trial grounds in Canada, England, the Hague and the Loire Valley in France and nationwide in New Zealand.

While the Bennys had not sold any new roses after converting to dairying in 2008, Mr Benny reckoned he might not be quite done with the breeding game.

''I keep saying I still have some unfinished business to go yet,'' he said. 


Clutha Leader