Jour. Roy. Hort. Soc. 209-217
MODERN ROSES AND HYBRIDISATION
By the Rt. Hon. LORD PENZANCE
IT is about seventy or eighty years since the Dutch began that system of Rose-culture which has yielded us by far the greater number of the beautiful varieties which decorate our gardens at the present day, the propagation of the Rose from seed. In their steps quickly followed the French. Monsieur Descemets and Monsieur Vibert in the immediate neighbourhood of Paris pursued the new culture with ardour, and their labours received a fresh impulse from the extended operations of Monsieur Dupont under the immediate patronage and the active sympathy of the Empress Josephine at Malmaison. Since that time this interesting culture has never flagged; and we have arrived at a state of things in which every succeeding year produces, at the hands of those who sow Rose seed, some fifty or sixty new Roses from France, as well as a smaller contingent from the labours of our own countrymen. If the were acquisition of new varieties were the sole thing to be desired, we might rest and be thankful, well content with a supply which gives us novelties as fast, or faster than we can make up our minds to cast away old favourites to make room for them.
But to my mind this is by no means the only thing to be desired. Out of these yearly little strangers, how many are there which present any new and distinctive features distinguishing them from those that preceded them? Here and there, no doubt, an individual plant falls from the full lap of Nature, which delights the lover of the Rose, such as "La France" or "Maréchal Niel," and fills us with the hope of greater and better things. But the hope is delusive and melts away. The next year and the next bring with them the usual crop of the usual types—here and there a Rose of admirable quality, but formed on the old models, drawn on the old lines, and no one of them of such marked merit that by anything like a general consent it can be pronounced superior to the acquisitions of the past.
If this be a true description of the general quality of our annual crop of novelties, have we any right to console ourselves with the idea that we have achieved increased strength of growth or constitution—increased durability—greater immunity from mildew or other parasites—a more redundant flowering capacity, or what the learned in Rose-culture seem to despise, but what the world at large, and some lovers of the Rose (of whom I confess myself one) set a high value upon—I mean fragrance? I fear not.
On the contrary, I can speak from a recollection of many years, and I think those who cultivated Roses five-and-thirty years ago will admit with me that standard Rose Trees—and it was almost entirely standards that were then in vogue—were far more durable then than they are said to be now. One often hears now of Rose Trees lasting only three or four years, and the loss of them within five years is regarded as not an unusual or unnatural thing. This certainly was not the case at the time to which I have referred.
Then as to autumn flowering—it is the fashion now to put on one side all Roses that cannot call themselves "perpetuals"—and fashion in this, as in all things in which its voice is heard at all, is supreme. But what is this vaunted property of a second blooming really worth?
How many "Hybrid Perpetuals" are there which, in an average year and under average circumstances of culture, can be relied upon to produce—well, say, half-a-dozen healthy blooms in the course of the autumn? Then as to fragrance. I cannot call to mind any rose of modern date (if we except "La France") that can equal the old Cabbage Rose or surpass many of the old summer-flowering varieties; while, on the other hand, there are plenty of new Roses now, and public favourites too, at the head of which I should place the "Baroness Rothschild," which, however beautiful, are absolutely without any scent whatever. Indeed, so little is scent now regarded, that the nurserymen take little notice of it in their catalogues, and at the great Rose exhibitions and contests the possession of a fragrance, however exquisite, is not even accounted a merit.
If we have not gained in these particulars, what have we lost? Now there was, at the time to which I have referred, a class of Roses in general cultivation, very few of the true varieties of which are now to be obtained—I allude to the "Bourbon" Roses. The true Bourbons were certain autumn bloomers—and what is more, their autumn blooms in general surpassed those which they produced in summer.
But they were not large—and though they had a scent, and a very sweet scent too, and were of a hardy constitution, they have not been allowed to survive. What has become of them?
No man has done more than Mr. William Paul of Waltham Cross for the cultivation of the Rose, or so much to render it attractive to the amateur. In my copy of his delightful book "The Rose Garden," which was published in 1848, the list of Bourbons contained the names of one hundred and eighty-eight varieties. They were of all colours, passing from the pure white of "Acidalie" to the beautiful fawn colour of "Madame Angelina," through various grades of rose and crimson to "Margat Jeune," "Madame Margat," "Julie de Fontenelle" and others, and then to the rich crimson and the deeper shades of "Proserpine," "La Quintinie," and "Réveil."
Nothing could exceed the attractive charm of these Roses early on an autumn morning, with their firm, substantial, and evenly disposed petals, and their handsome foliage; but they were not what an old-fashioned gardener in one of Mr. Trollope's novels contemptuously spoke of as "wallopers," and this had been fatal to them. Fashion issued her decree that admiration and enjoyment is only to be had in combination with a certain size, and so the Bourbons have been improved away. The last edition of Mr. Paul's book, that of 1888, can boast only of thirty-three Bourbon names, and of these many have been so crossed with other races that they cease to exhibit their original characteristics.
And why have they thus passed away? Fashion has killed the demand for them. As the yearly batches of new "Hybrid Perpetuals" come into the market, their glories are trumpeted forth in all the floral publications—they shine resplendent at the exhibitions and floral contests—the nurserymen must needs supply the demand which is thus created in a public ever hungry for novelties, and some of the old favourites musts necessarily stand aside to give elbow-room to these beautiful swaggering strangers.
To those who can find room in their sense of beauty for the admiration of different forms of it, this loss of an entire race of Roses with their special characteristics is a real loss; and unfortunately they have other losses of a similar kind to deplore. Once the race of Alba Roses, perfectly distinct from all others in the glaucous colour of their foliage, and their delicate tints of pink and white, of which the "Maiden's Blush" is pretty nearly the only one now in cultivation, could boast of many varieties. and of many colours. This, however, was a long time ago. But to come down to a much more modern period, what, may I ask, has become of the "Perpetual Damasks," as they have always been called in England, though in France, for some reason which I have never been able to discover, they have always been known as "Portlands"?
They were never a very numerous race, but Mr. Paul's book in 1848 recorded at least eighty-four names. Now their place knows them not; and, unkindest cut of all, Mr. Paul in his last edition, that of 1888, ignores their existence as a separate family altogether, and drafts the once celebrated "Rose du Roi," or "Lee's Perpetual" or "Crimson Perpetual," for it gloried in all three names, into the class of "Hybrid Perpetuals." To many people their chief attraction, I dare say, was their scent, but what a scent!—it is enough to say that it was that of the Eastern Attar of Roses.
While old races have thus been passing away—not varieties, but distinct races, with flowers and a wood, a foliage, and a habit of growth distinctively their own (I do not venture on botanical terms, but speak only in popular language)—while old races. then are thus passing away, why is it that no new ones are forthcoming?
How, it may be asked, is it possible that this should be otherwise? Where are we to find a new race of Roses? I answer without hesitation, new races are to be found where the "Noisette Rose" and the "Bourbon" Rose had their origin—in the union of two of the existing races. New races without limit may be yet within our reach. They lie packed away in the unexplored storehouse of Nature, just as the triumphs of the sculptor's art have been said to lie enfolded in the yet unfashioned marble, ready to stand forth at the call of man, and reward the labours of intelligent quest.
Monsieur Vibert, who in 1815 saved the whole of Monsieur Descemets' seedlings from the ravages of the allied armies which then encompassed Paris, by removing them to a distance, was an ardent enthusiast in Rose culture. He cultivated the Rose for profit as a nurseryman, but he has left behind him some essays on the Rose which show him to have been a man of a very intelligent and thoughtful mind, and indeed of no mean literary ability.
This is what he says of the improvement of the Rose:—
"Our knowledge is still in its infancy, and I am strongly convinced that one day for the discovery of varieties of the greatest interest, we shall have to owe more to art than to unassisted nature. The most fortunate, the most expert, will be the man who knows Nature best, and it is less in the caprices of chance than in a profound study of the subject that we should seek the elements of success. It is in the crossing of species of a very opposite character, or of varieties very unlike, that hope is to be found of probable success; departing from the beaten paths, we must study and interrogate Nature with perseverance, and constrain her by force of art to new productions."
Monsieur Vibert was right. I have seen enough myself to believe that there is hardly any limit to the new races which may be produced by cross-breeding, as it is called. And this brings me to the principal object of this paper. The new varieties which are now yearly raised are not, with rare exceptions, the result of the artificial application of the pollen of one plant to the stigmas of another, which is what I mean by cross-breeding or hybridising.
So understood, hybridising is not practised on any systematic and extended scale, either in this country or in France. By far the most able and scientific modern book on the culture of the Rose which I have met with is that published by Monsieur Eugene Forney.
This is his description of the culture of the Rose in France at the present day:—
"People have often tried to provoke hybridisation between two opposite species of plants. The first experiments of this kind were made in Germany in 1820. They obtained in respect of certain plants some remarkable results. As far as the Rose is concerned I am ignorant whether any serious and systematic experiments have been made. Some individuals have tried at times to practise hybridising the Rose by passing lightly over the stigma of one plant a small paint-brush loaded with the pollen of another. But our more successful sowers of Rose seed have abandoned this method, of which the results appeared somewhat doubtful. Some people contented themselves with shaking over a rose a bouquet of roses of a different variety. The most certain results have always been obtained in following the method of selection, that is to say by sowing the seeds of the most remarkable varieties both in form and colour. Roses of the first order are after all very rare in a sowing of seed, and their production is a veritable lottery in which chance plays the principal part."
From various passages in Monsieur Forney's book it is evident that before writing it he consulted the principal Rose-growers in France, and I have little doubt but that this is a fair account of the method by which our new varieties are produced.
There is only one Rose-grower, so far as I know, in this country (I do not speak of amateurs) who has steadfastly pursued the system of artificial crossing, or hybridising, and great has been his reward.
The delicate and exquisite flowers which Mr. Henry Bennett has offered to the public under the now well-known name of "Pedigree Roses," have found a ready appreciation both here and in America at the hands of the learned in such matters, and have not failed also to secure the admiration of the general public.
The work hitherto done then in this direction is but a step on the threshold of Nature's treasury. Those whose patience and perseverance will sustain them in the determination to cross that threshold and search for the reward which she is only too ready to bestow, will find pleasure and excitement enough in the search, even though their labours may not meet with immediate success.
Mr. Bennett's Roses are, I believe, for the most part, derived from the union of the Tea-scented Roses with the "Hybrid Perpetuals." But there are numerous other races quite as well adapted to this treatment—some of them originating in far different climes from ours, but now grown in this country without difficulty or special treatment—and of these many have been cultivated here time out of mind. There is the Macartney Rose, with a foliage of surpassing beauty and a most fragrant flower; the Rosa camelliaefolia [laevigata], with its deep green shining camellia-like leaves, on which no mildew could find a foothold, and no caterpillar could roll into a dormitory. Then there are the Ayrshire and Sempervirens Roses, small indeed of flower, but of growth equipped in seven-leagued boots. The Japanese Rosa rugosa too, hardy of constitution, and, when the bloom is over, showy with its scarlet fruit; and lastly, there is our own Sweet Briar, or Eglantine, capable of carrying into any family with which it should mate the dowry of a sweet-smelling leaf and a constitution that defies the ravages of mildew, and the crippling cruelties of frost. That the union of these races, or some of them, with our present beautiful "Hybrid Perpetuals" is possible, I venture to assert. It would be over-sanguine to expect as an immediate result from any such unions, flowers which in size and colour would surpass what we already possess. But strength of constitution—freer habit of growth—the production of clusters in place of triplets or solitary flowers—novelty in foliage and colour, including that of a true yellow—and last, but not least, a variety of exquisite odours—all these may be within the reach of those who will stretch out their hand to grasp them.
The time and trouble which a carefully executed system of hybridising would demand, might well be the dread of the nurseryman, but they should be the attraction of the amateur. It is to the amateurs, then, that I address myself. I offer them a pursuit the interest of which never flags. The constant revelation of new results supplies a pleasurable anxiety which surpasses that of the fishing-rod—if it does not equal that of the lottery. Followed amid the ever fresh delights of the garden, this pursuit groups around itself everything that can charm the senses and tranquillise the mind.
To the young and vigorous it would prove an incentive to manual labour in the open air, after hours perhaps of confinement and a long strain of mental effort. To those whose health and vigour have been over-lavishly expended in the sterner struggles and duties of life, it offers the only species of repose that an active mind can accept—a pleasurable occupation for hand and head, flavoured by the condiments of expectation and hope.
Though I can speak only from an experience of four years of careful work in hybridising, I have seen and done enough to prove beyond question that union among these opposite races is a perfectly practicable thing.
I have no right to expect the addition of many more seasons to my own stock of seedlings; but if life and sufficient health are accorded to me, I hope before long to place in the hands of those who care to tread the ground over which I have travelled, some record of my steps, some details of manipulation, and some conclusions that may help them on their way.
Dr. MASTERS said that Lord Penzance practised what he preached, for he exhibited at a recent meeting of the Society various specimens as follows:—
His lordship seemed to have completely grasped one of the most important objects which the promoters of the Conference had in view. If gardeners and florists had done so much by mingling two or three, or at the outside, half-a-dozen species, what might they not do if they took more of the 50 or 60 species instead of the two or three? In the future they might get beauties which they did not dream of at present.
Mr. FISH said while they could not use Hybrid Perpetuals as parents they often found pollen amongst them. He did not agree with Lord Penzance's remarks on the Bourbon rose; their perfume was rather curious, but they could not be called sweet roses.
Mr. MAWLEY said they owed a debt to Lord Penzance for his valuable communication. He did not agree with a good deal that was said in it, but it was one of those papers which excited discussion. It was very desirable that they should strike out into new lines, because it would seem that they had reached the end of their tether as regards Hybrid Perpetuals.
Mr. FISH said it was most important that the perfume of the leaves as well as of the flowers should be thought of. If they could get back to the Sweet Briar that end would be accomplished. The improvement of foliage should not be lost sight of.
Lord Penzance's gardener (Mr. BASKETT) said his lordship had been carrying out several experiments in the direction indicated by Mr. Fish.