Knight’s Roses is a family-owned and operated company with a long and proud history dating back over 50 years. From humble beginnings, the SA company has flourished to become one of the largest rose suppliers in Australia. We are located in Gawler, the gateway to the Barossa Valley in South Australia.
Knight’s Roses was founded in the 1950s by the late George Knight and his wife Aileen. In the early days, George sourced rootstock for the nursery, collecting briar and borsal from creek beds and roadsides. Knowledge about rose budding was scarce and competition fierce, so the couple gleaned much of their information from textbooks borrowed from the library. Tragedy struck in 1960 when George, the oldest of four brothers, suffered a severe heart attack. It not only left him hospitalised for six weeks, but changed the face of the company forever.
With 5,000 roses in the ground and the outlook grim, George’s younger brothers Julius and Ian left their sheep farm and joined their brother’s business to ensure George and Aileen could meet their commitments. It was the start of a successful family partnership that would span many decades and millions of roses.
Officially registered in 1963, the company sourced buds of new varieties from overseas, including from Germany and France, which were put through a rigorous quarantine process by customs officers on arrival in Australia to prevent potential contamination and disease. Ironically, the ‘Iceberg’ variety that has become one of this era’s most enduring roses was not popular in the early days. The family found most success with its ‘bread and butter’ lines that included Superstar, Peace, Mr. Lincoln, Blue Moon and Eiffel Tower. Today, Mr. Lincoln, Blue Moon and Peace are still among our top sellers.
Within three years of operation, the company was planting 100,000 roses annually and experiencing phenomenal growth that no one could have foreseen.
Attributing their early success to hard work and backbreaking labour, George, Julius and Ian would often burn the midnight oil packing roses into wooden crates lined with sawdust in preparation for the early morning carrier. Initially selling to retail outlets in South Australia, including GJ Coles and Cashworths in Grote Street, it was not long before the company had expanded its operations into the eastern states. In 1969, the average standard rose sold for 85 cents while bush roses wholesaled at just 42 cents.
For all its success, Knight’s Roses also had its share of trials and tribulations. Many unestablished roses suffered the devastating effects of bitter winter frosts, hailstorms and fierce winds. Not all rootstock varieties were a success in the Adelaide Plains soil, either. George was the first to introduce the Dr. Huey rootstock from Western Australia, but it proved unsuccessful and the family sold it to another grower, who discovered it thrived in heavy clay soil. Today, Dr. Huey is now found among the stocks of every South Australian rose grower.
Today’s modern, state-of-the-art equipment is a far cry from the company’s earliest investment: a two horsepower Landmaster Rotary Hoe, which literally bounced the Knight brothers across their 20-acre property. Ever the inventor, Julius spent hours creating machinery prototypes to make the labour-intensive industry less physically demanding. Perhaps his greatest invention was a foot-propelled machine for grafting. It comprised a wooden plank between two bicycle wheels that would shunt a grown man along the rows, dispensing with the need to physically bend over each rose to graft it.
It was not only technology that changed — so too did the seasons. While the brothers recall downing tools to listen to the Melbourne Cup in the early 1960s, today they only start budding in December and rarely have all of their orders in by November. Around 1970, land was purchased at Willaston and it was also around this time the company diversified into the production of cut flowers.
A short time later, Knight’s Roses returned to its core business, and in the 1970s, was growing and supplying 250,000 roses to nurseries across Australia. More than 20 seasonal labourers were employed at the height of the season, carrying out a variety of tasks from digging, pruning and grading to planting and cutting stock.
During the mid 1970s, the three brothers went their separate ways. Julius remained in the industry, taking the Knight’s Roses brand to Mannum, where he and his wife Loraine downsized the company and branched into the retail sector, growing approximately 60,000 roses annually.
After a brief hiatus from rose growing, a new era began for Knight’s Roses when Julius’ son Daniel became the second generation of the Knight family to join the business in 1985. Inheriting his father’s passion for roses, Daniel planted his first crop at the age of 18. Expanding their holdings into the Salisbury area, the father-son team returned to Gawler in 1992 because of the abundant water and land supply.