(April 19, 1915 – March 28, 1991)
By the time of his retirement as a Professor of Horticulture from ISU in 1985, he had named and introduced 85 new roses, 15 geraniums, and a heliotrope.
Griffith J. Buck was born in Appanoose County, Iowa, in the small town of Cincinnati, the son of Griffith A. and Mary L. (Inns) Buck. He moved from Iowa to Illinois, where he graduated from Rockford Central High School in 1932 and soon returned to Iowa, where he earned a teaching certificate. In 1936, he began teaching in Appanoose County, and, in that same year, became a member of the American Rose Society. His early love of roses would shape his long and distinguished career. After serving in the U.S. Army 13th Airborne during World War II, Buck enrolled at Iowa State College (ISC, now University), majoring in Horticulture. He completed his bachelor’s degree in 1948, and continued his horticultural studies at ISC, receiving a master’s in 1949 and his doctorate in 1953, with the subject of his dissertation research being on the histology of bud-graft unions in roses, a crucial topic in the large-scale, clonal propagation of rose varieties.
In 1949, Buck joined ISC’s horticulture extension staff as an Instructor and took leadership of its long-standing rose breeding program, which began with Joseph Budd in the 1870s and continued through the efforts of Thomas Maney and Emil Volz. Building upon his predecessors’ work, Buck established a program that focused on developing new rose cultivars that would combine cold hardiness, large flower size, a long season of bloom, and resistance to common diseases. At that time, Iowa gardeners had to spent considerable effort spraying their roses and protecting them from winter injury, often unsuccessfully. At the same time, he took on ISC’s geranium breeding program. There his goals were somewhat different. In that era, Iowa’s warm, humid summer nights caused common varieties to stop flowering, limiting their usefulness in garden settings.
Buck’s first new cold-hardy roses were released to the public through Iowa State University (ISU) in 1962. In 1965, he released his first heat-tolerant geranium varieties, which continued to flower through the summer and were sufficiently resistant to common diseases, allowing Iowa gardeners to grow attractive geraniums in outdoor beds throughout the growing season.
By the time of his retirement as a Professor of Horticulture from ISU in 1985, he had named and introduced 85 new roses, 15 geraniums, and a heliotrope. Notably, his rose, ‘Red Sparkler,’ received the first plant patent granted to ISU (1973). His second plant patent (1978) was received for a rose that has proven to be his most successful. It was granted under the name ‘Bucbi’, but has been commercially marketed under the name Carefree Beauty™ (Plant Patent No. 4225). Carefree Beauty™ combines vigor, cold hardiness with a very long season of bloom. It requires little spraying for leaf diseases, and its clear pink flowers are still often seen in Iowa gardens, a popular variety among gardeners more thirty years after its formal introduction. It was one of the first roses to receive the Earth-Kind® designation from Texas A&M University and has also been successfully used by other rose breeders as a parental source of disease resistance in the development of a new generation of hardy roses. Buck was posthumously honored by the American Rose Society, which established an award for shrub roses in his name in 1997.
ISU’s Reiman Gardens has assembled a comprehensive display garden of Buck’s roses, recently (2012) accepted into the North American Plant Collections Consortium by the American Public Gardens Association. Today, collections of the Buck Roses can also be seen at the Iowa Arboretum (Luther, IA), Bentonsport Gardens (Bentonsport, IA) and Elko County Rose Garden (Elko, Nevada). There are over 60 industry sources where the Buck Roses may be purchased including nurseries in the US, Canada, England, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, and India.
During his time at ISC he met and married his wife, Ruby Costello (1916-2017). They had two daughters, Mary (b. 1951) and Susan (b. 1954), who would also go on to be teachers.
Some of the honors and awards he received for his work are: Merit and Honor Awards from the Iowa State Horticultural Society, Iowa Nurserymen's Merit Award, Red Rose Rent Day Appreciation Award, All-American Rose Selections, Inc. award for judging services, Award of Appreciation - Society of Iowa Florists, Honorary Life Membership Award - Society of Iowa Florists, Texas Rose Research Foundation Award.
Griffith Buck passed away March 28, 1991 at the age of 75.
Griffith Buck Papers, RS 09/16/55, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.
Sheryl R. Bryson and Griffith J. Buck. 1979. Rose breeding in Iowa. HortScience 14: 98.
Diane Nelson. 2007. Griffith Buck: Rose hybridizer. ISU Extension Publication Hort 400, 2 pp.
Griffith J. Buck and Ian R. Lambert. 1968. Geraniums: Popular summer bedding plants. Iowa Farm Science 22(11), 3 pp.
Online records from: the U.S. Patent Office, ISU Parks Library, www.cad.iastate.edu/GriffithBuck.html, utgardens.tennessee.edu/pom/rose.html, http://www.reimangardens.com/collections/plants/napcc-buck-rose-collection/, and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griffith_Buck.