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Geneva says it with flowers

Geneva loves roses. There are more than 40,000 of them adorning the city's green spaces. Little wonder that every June, it stages one of the most prestigious rose competitions in Europe.

This year's Geneva International Competition for New Roses was won by Robert Laperrière, from France. His winning variety was a velvet red hybrid tea which will be named after Geneva's cantonal education minister, Martine Brunschwig-Graf.

The competition, which began in 1947, is staged in the magnificent setting of the Parc la Grange, which overlooks Lake Geneva, and has its own separate rose garden. There are other fine rose gardens along the Quai Gustave-Ador and in the Parc des Franchises.

"Geneva decided to create its first rose garden in the Parc la Grange in 1943," says Roger Beer, head of the city's parks and gardens department and president of the competition.

"It was one of the first cities in Europe to take roses out of the big private parks and plant them en masse in public spaces," he told swissinfo.

There are five different categories in competition in Geneva: hybrid tea, which have large individial flowers; floribunda, which have clusters of smaller blooms; miniature roses; climbers and bush roses, which are used in parks.

Each competitor enters five plants of each variety so that they can be checked for consistency. The plant which gains the most points is named the Golden Rose. Its grower receives a golden rose made by the famous jeweller, Yves Piaget.

There are a whole variety of criteria that the judges are looking for in a rose: the colour of its flower; the quality of its foliage; the contrast between the two; its scent; length of flowering season; resistance to disease, pests and weather; and how novel the flower is.

"A rose may be wonderfully perfumed, but its flower may not be so nice, or it may lose its petals in the rain. Its colour may not be very original. It will be marked on all of these aspect," Beer says. "Some roses, although they are new, seem very natural. You can't see the research and hybridisation that has gone into them. That's really appreciated by the judges."

"Every year we have around one hundred roses entered in the competition. This year there are 96. But only ten or 20 of them will be sold commercially. The rest will by used for further research into other new varieties," he adds.

Geneva may not be the oldest rose competition in Europe, but Beer says it has developed an important place in international rose circles: "I think we have most original, objective and representative jury. We have no links with sponsors and the judges come from many countries. The other big rose competitions in Europe don't have as big a jury as Geneva."

The roses are not judged according to their condition when the competition happens. These plants are already two years old, and a permanent jury in Geneva has already given them marks on how they performed the previous summer. These are added to the assessment of the international judges.

by Roy Probert

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