The Rainbow Knock Out Rose is one of the most important plants in my repertoire and the most difficult to find. Last year, it was available from only two wholesalers in my region who reached a sold out position by mid season. Half way through, what turned out to be a bumper year for my garden design business, I had to source it from a big box store. Although the plants were scrawny and, for my purposes, overpriced, I had no other choice but to purchase every one that I could find. I promised my clients that the unimpressive diminutive plants, that appeared, at first, to add nothing to their newly designed gardens, would knock their socks off by the following year.
A garden writing colleague had mentioned that in her region, a similar unavailability occurred. She reported that most retail nurseries refuse to stock it because Rainbow Knock Out Rose doesn’t show very well in its pot. That is true. It is a Frog Prince in the garden. Not only is it unattractive at point of sale but until it produces its first full flush of blooms, it resembles an ugly brambly bush. However, once it starts pumping out multi-hued coral roses, it becomes a prince as it takes visual ownership of the flower bed.
Unfortunately and realistically, no nursery can expect to do business by promising the consumer to take a chance or to wait and see. Consequently, most refuse to buy and miss out on a great and pleasurable visual experience. I am fortunate that my clients trusted me; they have not been disappointed. Some have asked me to plant additional Rainbow Knock Outs after watching the first one develop.
Imagine an almost spherical shrub, 3 feet high and wide, completely coated in many hues and shades of pink, yellow, coral and blush. It resembles a giant luminous scoop of bubble gum-peach ice cream. For those who live in temperate climates, that might not be such a big deal. Just south of where I live, in the warmer parts of the United States, gardeners have a wide selection of warm, tropical-colored flowering plants that bloom impressively at various times of year. By comparison, the cold climate gardener in USDA Zone 4b, has very few of these experiences. That is why the contribution to the garden of Rainbow Knock Out Rose is so significant.
How sad that a plant that delivers such a moving experience to the patient gardener should be so unattractive at point of sale that it is removed from market. Perhaps it should be tagged with a luxurious glossy image attached to a plastic wand stuck into the pot. The Endless Summer series of Hydrangeas are marketed that way and I believe that Rainbow Knock Out would benefit from a similar treatment. However, growers should pay special attention to the quality of the photograph that they use. The consumer needs to see two images:- one, a close up of the rose when it is still a deep coral color and two, an image of the shrub coated in multi-hued flowers.
On the other hand, I’ll bet the breeders are now working to develop an improved Rainbow Knock Out that will present well at retail. In the gardening business, the market is a powerful and influential force that drives change. Meanwhile, I will continue to hunt and collect as many of these roses as I can. This plant belongs in the category of takes your breathe away.