The late Dr. Toru Onodera

Even though I did not have the chance to photograph Dr. Onodera, it’s a great privilege to include him in my “Famous Hybridizers” gallery. All photographs are courtesy of Mrs. Keiko Watanabe, with thanks to Prof. Akira Ogawa (both of Japan), who send the prints to me for scanning. Also thanks to my son Michael for scanning and adding this World-famous Japanese hybridizer to my galleries.

Even though we both were at the WFRS World Rose Convention in Toronto, Canada in 1985, I did not meet him in person until 6 years later in San Jose. Dr. Onodera admired my HT ‘Canadian White Star’ (CWS) at the show in Toronto. A few month after the Toronto convention in 1985, long before CWS was commercially available anywhere, he wrote to me and asked where he could order CWS. As it was not in commerce until 1986/87 we lost contact again.

In early 1991, when I registered for the ARS National in San Jose, I read that Dr. Onodera was presenting a slide show of his roses. Without delay I informed him that I was also attending the San Jose National. On the first evening after his slide show, we finally met and spent all of the convention days together, including bus tours, restaurants etc. and the convention's farewell dinner. During the few days we toured together, he very much encouraged me to do even better in my hybridizing efforts.

In San Jose, Dr. Onodera wore a bolo-tie with his ‘Nozomi’ rose embedded in fibreglass which I admired very much. To my great astonishment, he took it off, put it on me as a gift and said, “I can get another one made when I go back home.” This gesture was incredibly touching and I'll never forget his generosity. See photo of the bolo-tie in the Famous Hybridizers gallery. Dr. Onodera was always very polite and I'm thankful that I spent so much time with him during the Convention. “Nozomi” means “hope” or “wish” in Japanese, and is often used as a girl’s name.

At the farewell dinner, four of us hybridizers were sitting at the same table! Dr. Onodera sat next to me, across the table was the “Famous Mr. Miniature” Ralph Moore and also a lady from San Francisco. To my right sat the late Ray Spooner, of Oregon Miniature Roses, and his wife. During our conversations, mostly about rose-hybridizing, I remarked, “That’s great, four hybridizers sitting at the same table!” To this, Dr. Onodera turned around and said, “Only three-and-a-half hybridizers”! So I asked him why, and his answer was, “I am only half a hybridizer...!” It struck me how modest a gentleman he really was.

Dr. Onodera became famous when he introduced his first rose “NOZOMI’ in 1968. From the early 1970’s to the 1990’s, Dr. Onodera then attended many overseas rose conventions. When I first met him at the San Jose convention in 1991, I was impressed by his immense knowledge of rose hybridization. As an internationally-minded rosarian he had a great number of friends among eminent breeders and rosarians of the world. The 14th WFRS World Rose Convention 2006 held in Osaka, Japan, was largely the result of Dr. Onodera’s lifelong effort to promote international exchange with rosarians of the world. The following information is courtesy of Mr. Yutaka Abe of Japan from his ‘Tribute to Dr. Onodera’, published in the Japan Rose Society Journal, November 2003. Special thanks go to Mr. Abe, who gave me permission to use the following excerpt from his article:

Dr. Toru Onodera (1913 – 2003)
(translated by Prof. Akira Ogawa)

Dr. Thoru Onodera, the raiser of ‘Nozomi’ and many other beautiful roses, passed away on the 21st of September 2003. He was a prominent scientist, and though always modest and self-effacing, was a great educator, too.

Dr. Onodera used to consider that his ultimate aim as a rosarian was to create unique roses not to be found anywhere in the world, that is, to hybridize some totally new varieties. In his lifetime, he raised a large number of lovely roses. Among them, 'Nozomi', which he produced in 1968, is regarded by most breeders of the world as an epoch-making cultivar, a forerunner of ground-cover or landscape roses very popular today. Today we find this pretty rose in gardens the world over. He further raised some twenty ground-cover roses, 'Nozomi Family' so to speak.

It is well known to many rosarians that ‘Nozomi’ was named after his niece who tragically ended her brief life on this earth just before she reached her home after a long and painful journey from Manchuria immediately after the termination of the second world war. This story of “the girl who lives with us as a rose” will be told from generation to generation by all the peace loving rosarians of the world.

I will close with some Biographical Details of Dr. Onodera, taken from Mr. Yutaka Abe's tribute:

George Mander
Feburary 2007

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