Rose breeding is mostly in the hands of just a few companies in Germany, France, and the USA. There are also Eastern European varieties whose genetic resources are of inestimable value, especially for continental climates. The work of Gergely Márk (1923–2012), a rose breeder of such Eastern European varieties, is in severe danger of being lost forever.
For a long time now, breeding for hardiness and disease resistance in roses has become more and more important. Rudolf Geschwind (1829–1910) made great strides throughout his lifetime, on which much of modern breeding work is based. One of his most notable breakthroughs in the history of putting roses to use was at the end of the 19th century when he crossbred with wild roses to create new, much more frost resistant varieties. These new varieties marked the start of a new era, where roses could be bred or grown in a greater variety of climates. About 100 years later, in Hungary, Gergely Márk also succeeded in breeding rose varieties that could withstand exceptionally harsh conditions. This made it possible to plant roses in locations where it was previously unthinkable. Examples of the increased resilience of Márk roses are, among other features: frost resistance; tolerance to heat waves; tolerance to humidity and cold temperatures; as well as large fluctuations in temperature. Some of his varieties can even tolerate soils with a pH higher than eight.
After becoming an agricultural engineer, Gergely Márk went on to work as a research associate at a state research institute in Budapest. There he founded a rose garden with several thousand varieties. He evaluated their properties and reported on them in his book “Die Rose” (VEB Deutscher Landwirtschaftsverlag, Berlin 1962). Shortly thereafter he began breeding his own rose varieties, although to just a limited extent. His rose ’Budatétény’, however, was awarded a gold medal at the IGA in Hamburg in 1963.
After his retirement in 1981, he was able to acquire two hectares of marshy land near Budapest. Armed with only his strong will and physical strength, he himself cleared the plot of land with just a pick and shovel. For 30 years, he grew his roses on this land, caring for them day after day, under extremely unfavorable circumstances, and selecting only the best.
Everything was difficult. First off, soil conditions were not particularly suitable for any kind of agricultural use, let alone for rose cultivation. Secondly, he had to make do with the bare minimum of resources, since his small pension was his only source of financing. Lastly, there was no running water or electricity, while facing the hot, dry summers, and the cold, harsh winters of Hungary.
All his varieties of roses were solely cultivated in the open, and they had to withstand the harsh conditions. Whenever some varieties did not meet his expectations, he immediately sorted them out. No pampering, no fertilizing, no use of fungicides – nothing like that was an option to him. After the successful relocation of the endangered rose population from his rose garden to a new location, the great resilience of the Hungarian Márk roses was accidentally put to a great test. The old garden was left unattended, only the lawn was mown occasionally. The rose bushes that happened to be left behind received no care whatsoever, yet they still bloomed splendidly despite these adverse circumstances.
One of the best-known varieties by Gergely Márk is ’St. Elisabeth of Hungary’, a shrub rose introduced in 1988, which was awarded a gold medal at an international competition organised in Rome in 2000. Her full Hungarian name is ’Árpád-házi Szent Erzsébet emléke’, meaning “dedicated to the memory of St. Elisabeth from the House of Árpád”. The name refers to Elisabeth of Thuringia, the daughter of a Hungarian king who was also known as “St. Elisabeth of Hungary”, and who enjoyed great popularity across Europe. This rose variety, which is commercially also available under the names ’Szent Erzsébet’ or ’ÁSZE’, is becoming increasingly popular for good reason: it has large, fragrant and abundant flowers with a long blooming period.
’St. Elisabeth of Hungary’ Shrub
This large shrub rose is also an impressive climber, and if possible, it should be grown in a space suited for an isolated specimen. In a good location, e.g. in front of a stone or brick wall, it can produce several hundred flowers in a single season. It is excellent for cutting. This rose is a must in every garden.
’Kigyóssy Éva’ Hybrid Tea
The writer of this article, Dr. Éva Kigyóssy-Schmidt, met Gergely Márk in November 2004. Although it was late autumn, lots of flowers in the rose garden still bloomed splendidly – this immediately convinced her of the incredible value of the floral treasure in front of her. At the same time, she realized that the future of this great floral treasure, these basically unknown Márk roses, was in great danger. In 2007, with the help of Elke Gottschall, managing director of the society ’Gesellschaft Deutscher Rosenfreunde e.V’, she managed to have the first 100 rootstocks of the rose ’St. Elisabeth’ placed in well-known German collections. Numerous other donations by her followed, not only in Europe, but also in Japan, Canada and the USA. Her lectures and publications attracted quite a bit of attention and interest among rose-lovers. However, this was just the beginning.
Rose friends: Eva Kigyóssy-Schmidt and Gergely Márk
After Gergely Márk’s death in 2012, his rose garden was left without a caretaker and the threat of being developed even loomed over the area. The 700 to 800 new rose varieties, grown exclusively on this plot of land, seemed to be doomed. To save them, the roses had to be moved to a new location without delay – one which had yet to be found. Eva was lucky enough to be in a position to cover the costs of this endeavor. She was also able to find a very competent companion to carry out the rescue project, Margit Pócs. Firstly, Margit Pócs is “the best rose gardener I know” – says the Austrian rose expert Erich Unmuth. Secondly, she is very skilled when it comes to organizing things, and she is relentlessly committed to saving the Márk roses. With her help, a piece of land was acquired in the Hungarian village Acsád, which is located very close to the Austrian border near Szombathely (about 130 km from Vienna). The “Márk Memorial Rose Garden” Non-profit Ltd. was founded by Éva Kigyóssy- Schmidt and Margit Pócs on this spot.
Margit Pócs takes care of the Márk Heritage Rose Garden in Acsád
Lajos Somlósi, well known in professional circles, donated a plan for a long brick wall to decorate the show garden. Margit planned and designed the show garden with considerable expertise and planted it with great persistence. Some years she grafted several thousand roses. It is now evident, why it became an urgent matter to rescue those roses. Eight years after Gergely Márk’s death, specimen of a large number of his varieties can only be found in the “Márk Memorial Rose Garden” in Acsád.
Support the preservation of the intellectual heritage and the varieties of the rose breeder Gergely Márk by becoming a sponsoring member (without any obligations), or by donating directly to
“Márk-Rózsa Barátok Egyesület”
OTP BANK NYRT – H-9700 Szombathely, Hungary
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The caretakers of the Márk rose collection are guided by two basic goals:
First off, the rose varieties should be preserved in the botanical sense, and previously unnamed seedlings should be observed and evaluated. Secondly, the intellectual heritage of the rose breeder Gergely Márk must be catalogued and preserved. In addition to their own personal experience with Gergely Márk and his work, there are also his own writings and documentation. This mission is extremely important because more and more information is lost over time.
The caretakers have permission to carry out these objectives, including the introduction of new varieties. For example Erich Unmuth, the famous rose expert, has a high opinion of the Márk roses. He is a rose specialist in the historical rose garden in Baden, Austria, where there are currently around 20 varieties of Márk roses. Erich is determined to plant another 10 to 20 there, and, if possible, also in the European Rose Garden in Sangerhausen. He believes there are other Márk roses with outstanding characteristics, similarly to the ’Saint Elisabeth’.
Further continuation of the rescue project is thus also important because the evaluation of the seedlings and their propagation take time. The best candidates were selected for the first time this year. A small number of them will likely be available in the fall.
Many new varieties are still waiting to be introduced in the breeding garden
With great effort, the first step towards securing Márk’s legacy in a new location has been successfully undertaken. However, the preservation of the rose collection is still in danger, as funding is coming to an end. Currently, the maintenance of the garden is taking such a toll on their energy and resources that the caretakers are unable to pursue any major economic activity. Advertisements, publications, website management… there is little time or money available to accomplish all of these tasks. To ensure the continuation of the rose garden, the registered society of Márk Rose Friends was founded. According to the statutes, the society’s sole aim is to support preservation the Márk rose varietes and candidates, to catalogue Gergely Márk’s research materials on rose breeding and to save the breeding stock that is threatened with extinction. Since there is no public funding, the society relies exclusively on donations and private funding.
As mentioned in the beginning, there are various similarities between the two Eastern European rose breeders Rudolf Geschwind and Gergely Márk: In their respective times, and both over durations of about 50 years, Geschwind and Márk were able to grow new types of roses that are particularly resistant to diseases and to extreme environmental conditions. It is estimated that each of their life’s work amounts to 800-1000 new rose varieties. According to experts, however, less than 30 of Geschwind’s varities are still around today. There are a couple of volunteers committed to pushing themselves to their limits, and who invest all their personal resources, so that the Hungarian Márk roses will not suffer the same fate. And it is not just about a few beautiful roses that we can grow in our gardens. Márk’s work represents a spiritual heritage of inestimable value, and we are obligated to preserve it for future generations.
Translation of the text attached to the article ’The Legacy of Gergely Márk’ (Precious, dormant roses), issued in the magazine “GARTEN + HAUS", published by the Austrian agricultural publishing house “Österreichischer Agrarverlag” (ÖAV), and by the Austrian Horticultural Society “Österreichische Gartenbau-Gesellschaft”, issue June 2020, page 92.
Many rose enthusiasts share our concerns for the further fate of the endangered Márk rose varieties. At the beginning of 2020, Thomas Marschall from Berlin consulted with Austrian and Swiss rose experts to publish an article about the Márk rose varieties in the renowned garden magazine "GARTEN + HAUS", published by the Austrian agricultural publishing house “ÖAV” and the Austrian Horticultural Society “Österreichische Gartenbau-Gesellschaft”. With the help of Elisabeth and Hugo Hersberger-Tschudin, and the contributions made by Behcet Ciragan, Theo Keller, Niklaus Kienast and Erich Unmuth, the Austrian Horticultural Society gave their support. Upon recommendation by Elisabeth Kalous, they approved the publication of the article about Gergely Márk’s legacy. We are especially grateful to her – she took on the task of helping preserve the Márk roses and went above and beyond in getting the article published.
On behalf of all the friends who contributed to the Márk rose preservation effort, we want to send out a thank you to Rudolf Blasnik, Tibor Papp and Hans-Werner Schmidt.
The author, Eva Kigyóssy-Schmidt, would like to thank everyone who helped make this article possible. She believes that this article will help the society of Márk Rose Friends expand into a tremendous community of people who now all share the goal of preserving Gergely Márk’s roses and his legacy.
Berlin, June 2020