Tauranga rose breeder Rob Somerfield has done it again: Like in 2019, he cleaned up the New Zealand Rose of the Year awards, winning the Pacific Rose Bowl for the seventh time and claiming four of the seven other awards.
Somerfield won the Pacific Rose Bowl for the New Zealand Rose of the Year for his rose Strawberry Blonde.
However, the public voters seemed to have had a special sweet spot for his rose Ink Spot which took out the Best New Zealand Raised Rose, Best Floribunda Rose and Children's Choice Awards.
The annual New Zealand Rose of the Year rose trial is the key part of the Pacific Rose Bowl Festival, organised by the Pacific Rose Festival Trust. The festival and trials are held at the Rogers Rose Garden at the Hamilton Gardens, where all the roses are still on display if you have not seen them yet.
Somerfield also won the Best Hybrid Tea Rose for Tabasco.
He says he "never expected" to win so many awards, but he was excited.
"There is always a bit of luck involved [and] some of it is timing. Some [roses] look good now but not so good next week," Somerfield says.
"I haven't seen the garden for 10 days, last time I've seen it there weren't many flowers... [but] a couple of hot days made the flowers pop."
The Pacific Rose Bowl is the only rose trial in the world that has a public voting system, all others are being judged by panels of experts.
"That's what's so good about this [award]. It's important to me being judged by the people because they are the ones that are buying the roses," Somerfield says.
The Best Shrub Rose went to the David Austen rose Princess Anne, an English-bred rose introduced by Matthews Roses of Whanganui.
The Most Fragrant Rose went to The Chelsea Rose from Mike Athy of Gisborne and the Best Climbing Rose went to Cream Passion by Doug Grant.
Somerfield says he entered between 10 and 15 roses into the competition this year and couldn't name a favourite.
"I find it quite hard [to name a favourite], it's like asking which child is your favourite. [The roses] are all so different... [and] I've known them for so long."
He says it was about a 10-year process from the seed crossing to selling the first rose.
Somerfield has been breeding roses for 39 years and credits his grandfather with getting him into roses.
"My grandfather used to be a dairy farmer in Motueka and he loved roses. He planted them all around the cow shed and as a 6 or 7-year-old, they fascinated me."
Together with his wife Linda, Somerfield runs his rose nursery Glenavon Roses in Te Puna which grows around 55,000 roses a year for the wholesale market.
Somerfield says he has "the best job in the world".
"I love creating something that people enjoy. I haven't got an artistic bone in my body, but [roses are] my form of art."
Somerfield received the award from Maria Winder-McGredy, daughter of legendary New Zealand rose breeder and moving force behind the festival, the late Sam McGredy.
The rose of the year, Strawberry Blonde, had already won the Best New Zealand Raised Rose 2018 and the Children's choice award in the same year.
Strawberry Blonde is named after Somerfield's wife's grandmother who he never met.
"She had [ginger] hair and when I saw the rose for the first time I said, 'oh, strawberry blonde, just like nana's hair' and Rob liked it because he hadn't heard that expression before," Somerfield's wife Linda says.
The name Ink Spot comes from Somerfield's primary school shenanigans. "When I first went to school... I was one of the ones that used to flick ink around when the teacher wasn't looking."
The Ink Spot rose is predominantly white with a dark purple spot around the stamen.
Somerfield has a history of cleaning up the Rose of the Year Awards. He last won the title Rose of the Year in 2019 for Everlasting Hope which then also won the Best Shrub Rose title. The same year, he also won Best Hybrid Tea Rose for Diamond Design and Most Fragrant Rose, and Best Floribunda Rose both for Skyla Rose.
In 2018, Somerfield's rose Little Miss Perfect won the Rose of the year and Best Floribunda Rose titles.
This year's festival and trial are the trust's 20th, after it had to take a Covid break last year.
Pacific Rose Festival Trust chairwoman Eileen Wilcox says Somerfield was "without a doubt" New Zealand's top rose breeder.
"Rob is always doing well... [legendary New Zealand rose breeder] Sam McGredy always encouraged him... and Ink Spot really is a lovely rose. I voted for it!"
Not all roses in the Rogers Rose Garden are open to the public vote. Roses stay in the trial for about five years before they get taken out. Once a rose has won the Rose of the Year title, it can't win it again, but it can repeatedly win the other awards.
The Pacific Rose Festival Trust wants to thank its sponsors Trust Waikato, WEL Energy Trust, COGS (Community Organisation Grants Scheme) and Creative Waikato for their support.