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Hot Cocoa roses will warm your soul

You either love it or hate it: That's the read on the new rose 'Hot Cocoa.' The color is so unusual, people give up trying to describe it after using words such as 'velvety' or 'brownish-orange.'

The color is the darnedest thing. What amazes me about 'Hot Cocoa' is the thought that in the past, some rose hybridizer with a less discerning eye might have thrown it out, thinking it wouldn't be popular enough for mass consumption.

Today it is the most unusual of the four All-American Rose Selection winners for 2003. The other three are 'Eureka,' 'Cherry Parfait' and 'Whisper.'

Let's look back at the origins of 'Hot Cocoa.' Years ago, Tom Carruth, a meticulous plant geneticist, wondered what would happen if he cross-pollinated three rosebushes into one. He mixed 'Playboy,' 'Altissimo' and 'Living Easy.' Keep in mind, he grew a half-million other seedlings that year, too.

After the first year, Carruth plucked out about 1,000 keepers. Subsequently, he winnowed it down to 50 and then to five. Out of that handful, 'Hot Cocoa' became an All-American contender. That was just the beginning of the selection review: Contenders go through two years of cutthroat trials in 27 test gardens nationwide.

Portlanders can see 'Hot Cocoa' for themselves: It is growing at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, as we speak.

This year, Phil Edmunds of Wilsonville is president of AARS, a nonprofit association of rose growers that has been around since 1938. All-American designation means big sales and lots of money in patents and royalties, not to mention prestige.

Edmunds describes AARS as 'the Academy Awards of roses.' Let's just say roses run in the Edmunds family. His father, Fred Jr., was president of the same organization when Ronald Reagan was president. His grandfather, Fred Sr., was curator of the Washington Park Rose Garden for 20 years starting in the 1930s.

Edmunds first saw 'Hot Cocoa' four years ago when he visited Carruth in Upland, Calif., and he knew then it was a winner. He sells it in his catalog, Edmunds' Roses, and it's available at many local nurseries for around $20.

So if you're looking for new roses and don't have a clue what to look for, All-American winners are a great place to start. These cutting-edge roses are beautiful and disease-resistant, and they passed their test garden trials with flying colors. With all the spring rain we're having we'll need the help.

'Hot Cocoa,' anyone?

This week's to-do list:

• It's a great time to transplant unwanted seedlings from one part of your yard to another or give them to friends.

Garden gossip:

The Oregon Orchid Society will show you how to repot your old orchid at its spring show and sale Saturday and Sunday at the Washington County Fair Complex, 873 N.E. 34th Ave., Hillsboro. Sale hours are11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The admission fee is $3 per person and covers both days, with re-entry encouraged.

Information: 503-280-5455.

'Anne Jaeger's Gardening Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays on KGW (8). Jaeger's Web site is www.gardengal.tv.