Seizo Suzuki: A Luminary Among the Roses

Descanso Gardens 4At Descanso Gardens, nestled in La Canada Flintridge, California, there are 150 acres of woodlands and gardens, but a few weeks ago John, his wife Shannon, my husband Bruce and I spent most of our time at the rose garden. Encompassing 5 acres, there are more than 4,000 rose plants, including a collection of rare Japanese roses. We had received permission to take some cuttings for a fundraiser at the Coastal Rose Society.

We were amazed at the number of Japanese roses, quite a few unknown outside Japan and many hybridized by the late Seizo Suzuki (1913-2000). It is thanks to his talent and persistent efforts, often at great personal sacrifice, that Japan has come to enjoy a well-deserved international reputation.

Mr. Suzuki hybridized 160 new rose varieties, 30 of them were awarded the ARRS and other global competition prizes. In addition he collected approximately 2,000 species and old garden roses as the basis for his breeding programs at his research institute, the Keisei Rose Nursery. Even legendary rosarian Peter Harkness was so impressed by Suzuki’s nursery “For quality of growth and richness of variety I have never seen its like. I could have stayed for days.”

Seizo Suzuki’s father was an amateur horticulturist and it was the prize of his father’s garden, Gruss an Teplitz, a red rose that bewitched Seizo and led him to study roses as his lifelong occupation and passion.

Suzuki24At twenty-four, he opened Todoroki Rose Institute in Tokyo and two years later in 1940, married Haruyo who became his devoted wife and colleague. In 1941, World War II began and when food became scarce, most arable land was used to grow barley or sweet potatoes. Suzuki was criticized for growing not only a crop that was not producing food for Japan, but for growing an enemy’s national flower. And for 2 years while serving as a medic for the Japanese navy, it was Haruyo who managed to preserve his 1,000 roses under the most difficult of conditions. Because of Haruyo, Seizo was able to reopen his rose garden after the war with 300 varieties and in 10 years increased the selections to over 1,000 varieties of species roses, OGRs and modern roses.

In 1948, although much of Tokyo remained in ruins, the Suzukis and their friends organized the first post-war rose show. It was a great success because it appealed to the Japanese as a symbol of peace and resurrection.

KagayakiAfter 10 years, Suzuki became the president of Keisei Rose Nursery where he developed a scientific breeding program with the advice and support of rose scientists around the world for the latest in genetic engineering, analysis of pigments, mechanism of color changes and research on fragrance. His efforts led to the development of acclaimed roses such as ‘Kagayaki’ (translation brilliance), ‘Seika’ (Olympic Torch), ‘Honju’ (means pure fragrance and is made up of all the components of the rose perfume known at the time), ‘Kampai’(Cheers! another of his famed fragrant roses that was awarded the Grand Priz at the International Rose Trials in Rome) and Kosai (Mikado, 1988 AARS).

Although Seizo Suzuki died in 2000 at the age of 86, his legacy of artistic sensibility combined with the scientific aspects of rose breeding continues throughout the rose world. The Indian Rose Federation has taken over part of his rose collection and oversees a garden featuring species and OGRs.
There is also a movement to fulfill his vision of opening a rose museum. Katsuhiko Maebara who was mentored by Suzuki, also took over part of the Keisei Rose Nursery collection and in 2006 created a rose garden in Sakura City (near Narita International Airiport) called Sakura Kusabue-no-Oka* embodying his and Mr. Suzuki’s ideals. In addition to roses donated from the world over (France, China, India, USA), the roses bred by Seizo Suzuki are planted near the garden’s entrance impressing all visitors with their colors and fragrance:  SuzukiOlderthe 2 qualities particularly important to Mr. Suzuki. Closer to home, visit Descanso Gardens, particularly during spring to stroll through their Japanese rose garden and think of Seizo Suzuki (and his wife Haruyo**).

*Kusabue is a grass pipe made from a piece of leaf and is used to blow playing melodies and vibrating it like the reed of a wind instrument; “no Oka” means of a hill; Kusabue-no-Oka alludes to an idyllic scene where people might play the grass pipe)

**Haruyo donated her late husband’s extensive private library of 9,000 books and documents reflecting his interests in the botanical, historical, scientific and artistic study of roses as well as his favorite gardening tools and camera to Sakura City. The city is establishing the Seizo Suzuki Memorial Library to properly preserve and display his important contributions to the rose world.