It is over fifty years since I started to try and breed roses that would have the form and fragrance of the old roses I had known in Scotland, and still be hardy enough to grow in Manitoba without protection. At that time Rosa rugosa was considered one of the most promising parents to use with this objective in mind, and when I mentioned to Professor Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum that I intended to use R. rugosa as one of the hardy parents in my rose breeding work, he complimented me highly on my choice. However, I did not have the success I had hoped for with R. rugosa. Using Mermaid as pollen parent I secured approximately 2,000 seeds that seemed quite meaty but none of them germinated. Using the pollen of Mme. Norbert Levavasseur I managed to raise four hybrids, one of which was identical with the variety that later became known as F. J. Grootendorst. This variety never produced seed for me, and as it killed back quite a bit I decided to send it to Mr. Macoun with the hope that it might prove quite hardy at Ottawa.
By crossing R. rugosa with our native R. acicularis I got hybrids that were much easier to work with than the straight species. Wasagaming, George Will and Will Alderman have these species hybrids as seed parent and they all have large, fragrant, well-formed flowers. Wasagaming only flowers once but the other two continue to flower most of the summer. All three are quite fertile but any seedlings that I have raised from them have the same rose-pink colour that is so common to R. rugosa hybrids.
Hybrids were also raised from many of the garden roses and both R. blanda and R. acicularis, but the only real nice rose to come out of these crosses was Betty Bland which has proven hardy as far north as the Peace River; and in the hands of other workers has given some interesting roses. Most of the hybrids of our native species were either misshapen or sterile and none of the earlier moss rose hybrids were worth looking at. I had been unable to get any hybrids from the old Centifolia or Cabbage rose and by 1930 I felt I had gone as far as I could in the raising of hardy roses. True, I had succeeded in securing a hybrid from a China rose and a form of R. canina that had the everblooming habit, and full double fragrant blooms, but it lacked hardiness. After three generations of bushes I am only now getting hardiness into this type of flower. I have also managed to get hybrids from a form of R. altaica, known as R. hispida, and R. lutea that were hardy and had the bright yellow flowers of R. lutea, but they suffered badly from Black Spot and only one of them now survives. This last survivor has never set seed for me but this past summer (1960) I was able to get quite a lot of seed on other roses from its pollen.
In 1939 while on a visit to the Fruit Breeding Farm at Excelsior I saw a bush of the true R. Laxa of Retzius, and as I was anxious to get something that would give us white roses, and felt that it would be useful in my work, I begged a sucker. R. Laxa did very well at Dropmore, and I have scattered its seeds and plants throughout the Great Plains area. I was not long in finding out that it would mate readily with other roses and secured some very nice shrub roses in white and pink shades, but the public now wants only everblooming roses and there is little demand for these shrubs.
Among those who got R. Laxa and some of its hybrids from me, was Mr. Robert Simonet of Edmonton and he has done some nice work with them. One of his hybrids, R. Laxa x tea, is a tall-growing shrub with single flowers that are white flushed pink. It is hardy to the snow line and flowers from June until frost; not only that but it sets seed freely and its pollen is fertile. During the winter of 1958-9 I used this new shrub a great deal in my work and crosses made in the spring of 1960, and some of them germinated in the spring of 1960, and some of them are now 4 feet tall. These R. Laxa hybrids seldom flower until at least three years old, but this year one flowered when barely 3 inches tall. Some, which have my China Rose hybrid as parent, started flowering when about 15 inches tall and continued until frosttheir flowers were the typical China Rose in colour, shape and fragrance.
While in England in 1947 I visited the National Rose Society's trial grounds at Hayward Heath and the Royal Horticultural Society's collection at Wisley. There I saw a number of the old roses that I thought would be useful due to their dwarf habit, among them being R. gallica officinalis and Souvenir Alphonse Lavalle [Souv. d'Alphonse Lavallée]. Later on I was able to get either scions or plants of some of these very interesting dwarfs, and although they kill back to the snow line they flower freely without any protection, and a number of them will ripen their fruits out-of-doors here.
Many of these old roses have a fragrance and charm all their own, but at the present time the public want roses that will flower throughout the summer and these old roses are forgotten. However, I am still certain there is a place for these old roses, not only for their own sake, but it may be through them that we will at last have everblooming roses that will be sufficiently hardy to flower freely without protection, other than the snows of winter.
During the past winters of 1958-9 and 1959-60 I had both Souvenir de Alphonse Lavelle and R. gallica officinalis in pots and used them as both pollen and seed parents in conjunction with Simonet's Rosa laxa x tea, Independence, my hybrids of Donald Prior, and my China Rose hybrids. There was a good germination of seed during the winter and quite a few started flowering when two or three months old; among them some very good red shades having Souvenir Alphonse de Lavelle as one parent. Some seedlings having the China Rose hybrid as a parent were also precocious, but of course many, including the gallica hybrids, are slower in coming into flower. It is possible that they may develop the everblooming habit after reaching maturity; and it may be that further breeding will have to be done to bring out this character. Cuttings were made of those that had nice flowers which were produced early and the original seedlings were left outside without protection to test their hardiness.
Whilst in Winnipeg in February 1960 visiting some keen gardening friends I was shown a tall-growing yellow rose that did not appear to be either Persian Yellow or Harison's Yellow. It had been moved from Medicine Hat where it had been grown for years as the Yellow Rose of Texas, and while it was doing well in Winnipeg, having grown to 9 feet without any winter protection, it bore a certain resemblance to Persian Yellow yet there was a difference. I had never seen Persian Yellow in this district more than 4 feet tall and on examining it closer I found it alive to the tips.
I was permitted to take some scions home which were grafted and started into growth. Before the snow had gone one of these grafts had given me one flower which differed from Persian Yellow in that it had a lot of good pollen. I had never been able to grow Persian Yellow with any quantity of pollen. By good luck I had a number of potted roses coming into bloom, among them Independence and several of my hybrids derived from Donald Prior, and the pollen of the yellow rose was used on as many of them as possible. To my surprise and pleasure most of these pollinations resulted in hips from which at maturity apparently good seed was obtained. Though I have tried on several occasions to raise hybrids of Persian Yellow I have never been able to get any seed to set from the small amounts of pollen available.
On the numerous occasions that I have tried to grow the Persian Yellow rose it has always been the first in my garden to contract Black Spot, which eventually weakened it so much that it succumbed to the rigours of our winters. However, the grafts from the Winnipeg rose have finished their first summer at Dropmore, without a spot or blemish on their leaves. That this rose should have produced so much good pollen, when Persian Yellow has been notorious for its poor pollen, is a most interesting fact, and if it continues to give good pollen it will open up a new and interesting line of breeding in the search for hardy roses in Canada.