The Gardeners' Chronicle 3rd series 21: 377-379 (June 12, 1897)
Plants of the Victorian Era: Roses
"Wild Rose"

AS everybody seems now to be engaged in recounting the glories and progress of the past sixty years, I do not think it will be out of place if we dwell for a little while on what has been done in the Rose-world during that time. We may not have to tell of such great things as have been accomplished in other ways, though we cannot but rejoice in the altered state of moat things around us. We think with pleasure of the improved condition of our labouring poor, and of the greater comforts which they now enjoy; we think, too, how many horrible practices have been done away with; how the prize-fights, of which Dr. Conan Doyle has given us such a vivid description in Rodney Stone, have ceased; how poor little boys are no longer sent up chimneys, nor girls of tender age sent down to work in mines, and we see in most places proofs of the increased prosperity of our country—but, sitting in my country vicarage, and looking round, and seeing the changes for the worse which have come upon all having to do with the land, landlords, parsons, and farmers, I feel that there must be some foil to the very bright picture people are continually drawing.

But passing from this digression, I think few Rose-growers have realised what they have gained during that period. Can we bring to our minds the time when hybrid perpetuals had not yet risen to the dignity of a class, when Tea Roses were almost unknown, and we were dependent on what are called summer Roses for the adornment of our gardens; when the dwarf Polyantha Roses had not been introduced, when in effect we had no Marie Baumanns or Charles Lefebvre, no Duke of Edinburgh or Mrs. John Laing, no Catherine Mermet or Comtesse de Nadaillac, no Maréchal Niel or William Allen Richardson, and no "Her Majesty." Such a state of things is hardly conceivable now, and yet such was the case at the beginning of Her Majesty's reign.

During the period of the last sixty years, it is very difficult to say how many Roses have been sent out into the world, but if we take the average as forty each year, there cannot have been fewer than between 2000 and 3000 Roses sent forth from raisers abroad and at home; and the question will naturally occur, what has become of them? Of course, the greater portion of them have passed into oblivion; hundreds were sent out which ought never to have been put in our catalogues, while others which were good in their time, have been superseded by better flowers in the same colours—and it is hardly fair to judge the Rose-growers of fifty years ago by the standard of to-day, for no doubt many of them did think when they sent out their flowers that they had reached the acme of perfection. I gather this not only from my knowledge of Roses, but also of other flowers. When a man names a flower which he has raised after his wife or some particular friend, it is evident that he means to put an especial honour upon it, and thinks it well worthy of it; thus, in the Gladiolus, when I recollect that dear old Souchet called one after Madame Souchet, I have no doubt he thought he had raised a flower of great excellence, yet if we could put it alongside of some of his own raising of recent years, he would be surprised to think he could ever have so called it.

Then, again, the price which is put upon plants is another pretty sure index of the raiser's estimation of their value. I can well remember when 5 guineas were cheerfully paid for Garth's Joan of Arc Pelargonium, and the public expressed their high opinion of it; yet ten years afterwards there was probably no collection in which it was found, and people wondered how they could have been so foolish as to give such a price for so starry and loose a flower. I write all this because I do not think it is quite fair to denounce the raisers and senders out of those older varieties as if they designedly took-in the public.


The three classes of Roses whose improvement have been so remarkable during the past sixty years are hybrid Perpetuals, Tea-scented, and Noisettes. The origin of the former is a matter of considerable doubt; but I believe that the Hybrid China, crossed with Damask, Hybrid Bourbon, and other Roses, have produced some of the magnificent flowers which we now possess. Two of the most celebrated raisers in the older days were Laffay and Vibert; but I do not think any of their productions have survived to the present day, except in a few garden Roses such as Gloire des Rosomanes and Aimée Vibert. The origin of the Teas and Noisettes is somewhat better known; they are the product of the China Rose crossed with the yellow China or Tea Rose; and I believe that all the fine varieties that we possess are traceable to this combination. The Noisette Rose was raised in America by M. Phillippe Noisette: it was produced from Old Musk fertilised with the common China Rose, and from the very first has been a great favourite with the French Rose growers; but its earlier admirers could never have anticipated the glorious results which have followed during recent years.

The onward progress of hybrid perpetuals has been very remark able, although at the same time, notwithstanding all the efforts of acute and persevering hybridisers, there are some that seem to hold their own amid the more recent productions. Take, for example, General Jacqueminot, whose introduction I well remember in 1853; there are times when it still maintains its position against all competitors. But probably few persons have realised the fact that there are no Roses in this class which go back to the period of Her Majesty's accession, and that by far the greater number of the exhibition Roses date back to the '60's and '70's, so that when we take the lists of Roses recommended by the National Rose Society, or by such authors as Mr. Foster Melliar, or the Dean of Rochester, or those of any of our great nurserymen, you may be sure that all of them are of the Victorian Era. There are some of the Roses in the earlier portion of that period which were very beautiful, but for one reason or another, they have had to give place to others: thus, that exquisitely-formed Rose Comtesse Cécile de Chabrillant, which after its introduction in 1858 used to be so exquisitely shown by the late Mr. Hedge of Colchester, was to be seen in every exhibitor's box, has been deemed too small for the present generation, which in true barbarian fashion worships size; while such brilliant flowers as Eugène Appert, which I recollect the late Mr. Standish showing in good style, and which for brilliance of colour and beauty of foliage has never been surpassed, has been forced to succumb, owing to its imperfect form. And so, again, Géant des Batailles, which the late Mr. Rivers looked upon with such favour, and which became very popular after its introduction by him towards the end of the forties, is now rarely to be met with, one reason being its great tendency to mildew. But after all these eliminations, what a galaxy of glorious flowers remains, all the productions of this reign; and the scarcity of the additions during the last few years, shows, I think, that there is not much more to be done in the improvement of this class—and this is certainly true, at any rate, with regard to foreign raisers, who have added nothing valuable to it in the past few years. A trenchant remark of the doyen of Rose exhibitors—Mr. B. R. Cant—confirms this statement. Knowing that he had kept a memorandum-book of all the foreign Roses that he had bought in each year, I asked him to let me have a look at it, which he has most obligingly done. It is now before me, and it is very curious to see how many there are which he propagated which never made any mark; while others which were much sought after once have dropped out of cultivation altogether. We received the Roses direct from the raisers, and hence it is worthy of note, that whatever may be said to the contrary, Guillot, the raiser of La France, put her down amongst the Hybrid Perpetuals. Mr. Cant says, "I became so disgusted with the lot of worthless Roses that were sent out, that I gave up buying in any quantities as years went on." How prolific the '60's were in good Roses may be seen by the following, which are noted in Mr. Cant's list, and which still maintain their position as exhibition Roses:—Alfred Colomb, Annie Wood, Baroness Rothschild, Camille Bernardin, Charles Lefebvre, Comte Raimbaud, Comtesse d'Oxford, Devienne Lamy, Dr. Andry, Duchesse de Morny, Duc de Wellington, Dupuy Jamain, Eugénie Verdier, Fisher Holmes, Horace Vernet, Louis Van Houtte, Madame Victor Verdier, Marguerite de St. Amand, Marie Baumann, Marie Rudy, Marquise de Castellano, Maurice Bernardin, Mons. Noman, Pierre Notting, Prince Camille de Rohan, and Xavier Olibo.

The '70's produced much fewer, the most noticeable among them being A. K. Williams and Madame Gabrielle Luizet; while during this time we received several Roses with high-sounding descriptions which turned out only to be reproductions of Roses already under cultivation, and which had to be classed in our catalogue as Roses synonymous with much older varieties.

Fig. 143. Her Majesty

Hitherto, I have dealt only with the foreign Roses. There were during this period a few English-raised ones of note, although it was somewhat difficult to determine their exact position, as it was a custom with some people to purchase the stock of some French Rose, to give it an English name, and bring it out as if it were an English Rose; however, a new era dawned, and the late Mr. Henry Bennet, of Stapleford, near Salisbury, commenced his work of hybridising, and began to send out what he called "pedigree Roses." This term, as I contended at the time, is an incorrect one, as it is generally used to signify those things of which the preceding generations may be traced. Thus, for instance, we speak of the pedigree of a race-horse or of a shorthorn, because, if we enquired of the origin of either we should be shown books in which their forefathers could be traced back for several generations; whereas, as in the case of Mr. Bennet's Roses, nothing more was implied than that the father and mother of the variety were known. I remember well going to see him at Stapleford, where I saw his earlier productions and experiments. I felt convinced that he was upon a right track, but thought but poorly of the first half-dozen that he sent out; he was too hasty in so doing, naturally enough, perhaps—but not one of them, I believe, remains in culture at the present time. His practice seems to have been mainly to cross hybrid perpetuals and Teas; and certainly the results were very remarkable. He afterwards removed to Shepperton, and unquestionably left a name behind him as a most successful raiser of new Roses. In Mrs. John Laing we have, I think, the best Rose of its colour in cultivation; this is shown by its heading the list in the selection of Roses, and by its being included in almost every stand of superior merit. Again, "Her Majesty" (fig. 143) is, no doubt, a grand Rose of its colour, though, unfortunately, dreadfully subject to mildew. In Lady Mary Fitzwilliam and Viscountess of Folkestone, we have flowers which very plainly show the admixture of Tea-blood in them; the former a very poor grower, and the latter a Rose which is a great favourite with some, though I confess I do not care a great deal for it.

Unfortunately for the Rose-world Mr. Bennet died before he could carry out all his plans; at his death his stock was dispersed, and many of his plants came into the hands of other growers, by whom they were sent into commerce—we may instance among them Captain Haywood and Clara Watson, and perhaps there may be others yet to come. Before Mr. Bennet had passed away another firm had entered upon the same course, namely, Messrs. Alex. Dickson & Sons, of Newtownards, co. Down, Ireland; they have each year sent out varieties of their own raising, and have been successful in obtaining several Gold Medals of the National Rose Society  for new seedling Roses. Commencing with Earl of Dufferin, in 1887, they have sent out twenty-seven Roses, some of them of undoubted merit, while others, I am afraid, will have but a temporary popularity; they are mostly light-coloured Roses, and I think probably amongst them the best are Mrs. Sharman Crawford, Helen Keller, and Mrs. W. J. Grant. The last-named was purchased by an American firm, and was brought out as Belle Siebrecht; it is called a hybrid Tea, but I cannot say that I see much of that cross in it.


In Tea Roses we have, on the other hand, received nearly all our most valued varieties from France. It is a curious fact that Devoniensis, which was for a long time the only English raised Tea of any value, dates back from a period almost coincident with the commencement of Her Majesty's reign, for it came out in 1838. Indeed, until Miss Ethel Brownlow was sent out by Messrs. Alex. Dickson & Sons, it stood alone, and very few additions have been made on this side of the Channel. All the grand Teas from Niphetos sent out in 1843, down to Maman Cochet in 1893, have some to us from abroad; we have received some from America, but they have been mainly sports, and it seems now almost as if, in this class as well as in H.P.'s, France has done all she can for us.


In garden Roses also there have been charming additions in the class of Noisettes; what garden is complete without William Allen Richardson or L'Idéale? I say nothing of Maréchal Niel, as it is more suited for the greenhouse.

Other classes of Roses have, during the latter portion of this period, come into much notice: one is the class of hybrid Teas, and to which some good additions have latterly been made, although I quite think, with the late Mr. Rivers, that the fewer the divisions, and the more simple the classification, the better; still they serve the purpose of keeping the more decided Tea and Noisette Roses in a class by themselves. It is somewhat remarkable that no attempt has been made in what are called summer Roses, hybrid Chinas, hybrid Bourbons, Gallicas, &c., and lamentations are continually poured out about their absence from our gardens, and laudations of the grand bushes of former days are continually made; but I cannot but think that if some of our more brilliant-coloured H. P.'s were treated somewhat in the way these Roses used to be, we should have as grand a display as the most brilliant colour among them ever gave. Thus, if for instance a plant of General Jacqueminot budded on a standard were allowed to have free course, we should have a grand bloom in June or July with a prospect of autumnal flowers also, in that case the blooms would have to be left on in clusters, for no one used even to think of disbudding summer-flowering Roses, and, doubtless, the desire to have large and well-formed flowers has prevented this plan from being adopted.

The bold attempt so successfully carried out by Lord Penzance of hybridising the Sweot Briar has given another charming class to our Rose gardens. He has in the pages of the Rosarian's Year Book showed with what care he has carried out his plan; while the beautiful varieties which, with the exception of the first two raised (Lord and Lady Penzance), bear the names of Sir Walter Scott's heroines, have been distributed by Messrs. Keynes, Williams & Co., and are now to be found everywhere—their tints are very varied, and they are not quite single, and are, therefore, not quite so evanescent. For covering a fence they are admirably suited, while the delicious fragrance of the type is found in the foliage of all of them.


There is yet another class which has received some remarkable additions during the past few years, that ordinarily called Polyantha; the Japanese Rose multiflora or simplex has been crossed with some of our Teas, and has produced a delightful class of dwarf double Polyanthas, and such flowers as Cecile Brunner, Ma Paquerotte, Gloire de Polyanthas, Perle d'Or, and others, form a class which we cannot now afford to neglect, blooming, as they do, in large clusters, and of a bright and pleasing colour. To these must be added that remarkable Rose, Crimson Rambler, introduced by Mr. Charles Turner, of Slough, and probably the most successful Rose of recent years. It is suitable for pots and pillars, but not for walls, for it suffers much from thrips.

To the Japanese we also owe those Roses of the ferox or rugosa character, which, whether in flower or fruit are valuable, and which may probably yet give us, under the hands of the hybridiser, a new class; the attempt has already been made, and the double flowering one, Madame Georges Bruant, may be the avant courier of many others.

I have not noticed, as I might have done, the many good Roses which we owe to sports, such as Prince Arthur, a dark and highly-coloured sport of General Jacqueminot, brought out by Mr. B. R. Cant; Sir Rowland Hill, dark claret sport from Charles Lefebvre, brought out by Messrs. Mack & Son, which obtained a Gold Medal of the National Rose Society; Souvenir de S. A. Prince, a sport from Souvenir d'un Ami, sent out by the late George Prince, of Oxford—but, in truth, I have trespassed too much on your space already, and must close this imperfect but honest attempt to give some idea of how much English gardens owe to the Roses of the Victorian Era. — Wild Rose.