The Briar Rose paintings

The Briar Rose paintings

It is one of the most remarkable paintings of a rose you will find – well worth a pilgrimage to visit. In this special blog, guest contributor James Henderson shares his insight of Edward Burne-Jones’ “The Briar Rose” series which is displayed at Buscot Park. James and his wife, Lucinda, live and manage the house and grounds on behalf of the National Trust.

What picture has the most roses painted in it? A contender would be the great Pre-Raphaelite artist Burne-Jones’s “The Briar Rose” cycle which can be seen at Buscot Park in Oxfordshire – a property that was in my family for many years and now belongs to the National Trust.

It is in fact a series of pictures depicting the Sleeping Beauty legend. The paintings do not present a sequential story but rather capture a moment in time. There are four main panels, each nearly 50 x 100 inches in size (1.25m x 2.5m) and seven smaller interlocking ones. We meet the prince in the first main canvas. In that one alone I have counted over a hundred rose flowers. Sleeping Beauty lies in the final panel.

The rose briar runs through the sequence of pictures giving it a narrative thread. It is beautifully painted. Burne-Jones wrote to a friend asking to be sent a briar rose “hoary… thick as a wrist and with long horrible spikes on it… Three feet would be enough.” Certainly, he captured this in the finished picture.

The painting was an immense success when it was first shown at Agnew’s galleries in Bond Street in 1890. It was subsequently exhibited in Liverpool and at Toynbee Hall, Whitechapel, London.

Burne-Jones visit

There was “enthusiasm amounting to ecstasy” as people flocked to see it. It was then sold to Lord Faringdon to hang at Buscot. When Burne-Jones was staying nearby with his great friend William Morris at Kelmscott, he visited and was disappointed with how they looked.

He moved them within the house and added the seven extra panels that now join them together spanning three walls, and in which he continued the rose motif. He designed a framework of carved and gilt wood to give unity to the sequence.

The Briar Rose: the Briar Wood, Edward Burne-Jones (1885-1890). Oil on canvas
This painting depicts the Knight discovering the sleeping soldiers who have become completely entwined by the barbed thorns of the briar rose discovery of the sleeping soldiers by a Knight. Courtesy of the Faringdon Collection

Morris provided a poem to run below the four main canvases. The first main panel is called “The Briar Wood” and the inscription below it runs:

The fateful slumber floats and flows
About the tangle of the rose;
But lo! The fated hand and heart
To rend the slumberous curse apart!

The last of the four main panels is “The Rose Bower” with the lines below it:

Here lies the hoarded love, the key
To all the treasure that shall be;
Come fated hand the gift to take
And smite this sleeping world awake

Meaning?

In between these two we have “The Council Chamber” and “The Garden Court”. What is the painting all about? The key is surely in this poem. Morris and Burne-Jones are harping back to a past before industrialisation. The world has walked in its sleep into a tawdry present from which it needs to be awoken.

The Briar Rose: the Garden Court, Edward Burne-Jones (1885-1890). Oil on canvas
Weavers are depicted asleep at their loom with the castle walls and arches of roses in the background. Courtesy of the Faringdon Collection

The Briar Rose: the Council Chamber, Edward Burne-Jones (1885-1890). Oil on canvas
The King, asleep and slumped on his throne, is surrounded by sleeping members of the council. Sleeping soldiers
can be seen under the draped curtains. Courtesy of the Faringdon Collection

Dreamlike

However, it is not just this. It is a dream – a deep beautiful dream. And like many of our deepest dreams, it makes little sense in the cold light of day. The Knight in “The  Briar Wood” canvas looks languid. He is not going to get far in cutting through the rose. The King on his throne in the council chamber appears to be wearing a papal gown. The weavers are in a highly polished, dirt-free room. Christian and Islamic motifs are muddled together. Where are we actually? It is all a glorious, beautiful absurdity, like the most extraordinary dream.

The picture is considered one of the greatest achievements of Victorian painting, but its huge popularity was short-lived. The horrors of the First World War were not far away, and a picture of roses and pretty girls seemed very dated as the new art movements on the continent came to dominate in the 20th century.

But in the past 40 years there has been a revival of interest in late Victorian art. “The Briar Rose” has bloomed again, appreciated by a new audience.

“The Briar Rose” can be seen at Buscot Park from March to September. Admission is free to National Trust members.

Banner image: The Briar Rose: the Rose Bower, Edward Burne-Jones (1885-1890). Oil on canvas. Part of four original paintings illustrating the Sleeping Beauty fairytale.

The sleeping beauty is surrounded by her slumbering attendants as she awaits the prince to wake her with a kiss. The princess was modelled on Burne-Jones’s daughter Margaret. Courtesy of the Faringdon Collection

How Reynolds Hole fell in love with roses

How Reynolds Hole fell in love with roses

Rose competitions take place across the world each year – the World Federation of Rose Societies has 39 member countries. It may be tenuous to suggest they all owe their existence to an event that happened above a small pub in Nottingham over 150 years ago, but it is a good story, so forgive a little exaggeration.

 

Samuel Reynolds Hole was the vicar of Caunton, a small parish near Newark in Nottinghamshire in the 1850s. One day in early April he received a note from a mechanic in Nottingham, inviting him to assist in judging an Easter Monday rose exhibition by local working men.

Samuel Reynolds Hole, later Dean of Rochester, pictured in his book of memoirs, 1892.

Though he had a large garden, Hole did not own a single rose and knew little about them. His first assumption was that he was the victim of an April’s Fool hoax. He wrote back somewhat sarcastically asking what roses bloomed in April in Nottingham and no-where else. “By return of post, I was informed, with much more courtesy than I had any claim to, that the Roses in question were grown under glass – where and how, the growers would be delighted to show me, if I would oblige them by my company.”

On a “raw and gusty day” he stepped on to the train to Nottingham, wrapped in a rug and nursing a foot-warmer against the cold. At the station he jumped into a hansom cab and asked to be taken to the General Cathcart Inn – a street corner pub in St Ann’s (one of about 50 demolished during the slum clearances of the 1960s and 1970s) – where he was warmly welcomed by the landlord, who was wearing a glowing red Senateur Vaisse rose pinned to his coat. Others similarly clamoured round to extend greetings. He was told the roses were ready and invited upstairs to judge – while the exhibitors waited downstairs anxiously.

What followed was to be a road to Damascus experience for Hole.

“I mounted and entered one of those long narrow rooms in which market-ordinaries are wont to be held, wherein the Odd-Fellows, the Foresters and the Druids meet in mysterious conclave, and where during the race-week and the pleasure-fair there is a sound of the viol and the mazy dance. What a contrast now! The chamber, whose normal purpose was clamour and chorus from crowded men, we found empty, hushed and still; the air on other public occasions hot with cooked meats and steaming tumblers, heavy with the smoke and smell of tobacco, was cool and perfumed; and the table – you could not see its homely surface of plain deal … for it was covered from end to end with beautiful and fragrant Roses! … A prettier sight, a more complete surprise of beauty, could not have presented itself on that cold and cloudy morning.”

Hole describes his first encounter in “A book about Roses”, first published in 1869. This is an 1877 revised sixth edition.

He recounted how despite many years spent subsequently judging and exhibiting roses, including launching the first National Rose Show, he never saw better specimens of some roses than were exhibited that morning by these workmen, many of them impoverished framework knitters.

Hole always had a mischievous sense of humour and later became a hugely popular writer. His prose still has the power to amuse today and it is worth looking out for a copy of his Book about Roses.

Even in his state of euphoria he noted wryly that some exhibits did not quite match their illustrious company. “I cannot forget a small and sickly exposition of Paul Ricaut, who, by some happy coincidence, which warmed my whole body with laughter, was appropriately placed in a large medicine-bottle, with a label, requesting that the wretched invalid might be well rubbed every night and morning. Poor Paul! a gentle touch would have sent him to pot-pourri!”

The Reynolds Hole rose – rare to find today.

Afterwards, when the judging was over and the men had rushed to see who had won, several invited him back to their gardens. Many of them had allotments on the edge of town and were growing roses in greenhouses to sell in Manchester and Liverpool. But the rest of the story can wait till another day.

Suffice to say that he was sent home clutching a bouquet. Within a week he had placed his first order of a dozen roses and before long … well, let’s leave it to Hole himself to tell us:

“Year by year my enthusiasm increased. … my Roses multiplied from a dozen to a score, from a score to a hundred from a hundred to a thousand, from one to five thousand trees. They came into my garden a very small band of settlers, and speedily, after the example of other colonists, they civilised all the former inhabitants from off the face of the earth… They routed the rhubarb, they carried the asparagus with resistless force, they cut down the raspberries to a cane. They annexed that vegetable kingdom, and they retain it still.”

 

Banner image – Hungerhill Gardens, St Ann’s Nottingham, c 1860’s – Nottingham City Council (photo credit Picture the past)

A fond farewell for Dickson roses

A fond farewell for Dickson roses

One of the great family names of rose-breeding history is “Dickson”. The Dickson rose nursery in Newtownards in Northern Ireland dates back to the first half of the 19th century and the family have been breeding roses since 1879. It makes them the oldest rose breeding family in the world.

But this story is coming to a close. Colin Dickson, the sixth generation of Dickson nurserymen, has hung up his budding knife. He is shutting up the business this December. But his final roses look to be as good as any he has created – a fitting end to a long family history of triumphs. 

Looking at the Dickson history is a bit like reading one of those Old Testament passages with somebody begetting somebody else as we establish the family lineage. So it is only appropriate that we should start with “In the beginning….”.

Alexander Dickson I (1801-1880) established the nursery in 1836. Dickson was a Scot who had moved from Perth and settled in Northern Ireland, first working as a gardener before setting up on his own. Newtownards is just ten miles south east of Belfast – a fast growing city at the time. Dickson found customers plentiful and the business took root. He was not on his own for too long. His sons George (1832-194) and Hugh came into the business (though Hugh later left to set up on his own). George begat four more sons, who all worked for him when he took over. Two of them in particular took to rose breeding – Alexander II (1857-1949) and George II.

Science and competition

In the 1870s the rose-breeding market was dominated by the French. Few would have believed that someone in the Northern Ireland climate could breed blooms to compete. But then came Henry Bennett, a former cattle farmer from Wiltshire who changed the world of rose breeding. Whereas the the French left cross-pollination to the bees, Bennett applied a more scientific approach – the same one he’d used for breeding prize cattle. He began selectively cross pollinating. Bennett was a great marketer, in the Victorian tradition. In 1878 he exhibited his first “Pedigree hybrid of the tea rose”.

 

Clockwise from top right: ‘Lady Mary Corry’ [Dickson, 1900], ‘Duchess of Wellington’, [Dickson, 1909], Ards Rover’ [Dickson, 1898] and ‘Irish Elegance’ [Dickson, 1905] Images: Charles Quest-Ritson

We’ll learn more about him in another blog. Suffice to say he inspired the Dicksons who set out to breed their own roses the following year. Alexander II took their “First Set of Pedigree Seedlings” to compete in London at the National Rose Society Show in 1886 – a red Hybrid Perpetual, ‘Earl of Dufferin’, ‘Lady Helen Stewart’ (another red), and a pink Tea they called ‘Ethel Brownlow’.

 

The British were the first in the world to have a national rose show. It was a great way for breeders to advertise their creations and helped raise the bar – Britain now began to dominate the rose breeding industry. Dickson’s first Gold Medal came in 1892 with ‘Mrs W. J. Grant’. More successes followed.

The opening pages of The Rosarian’s Year Book of 1896 show an advert for Alex Dickson & Sons. It boasts that by this point Dicksons was the holder of “SEVEN gold medals by the National Rose Society”. By its centenary in 1936 the company had won so many gold medals the Dicksons had them melted down and formed into golden roses, mounted and presented as a mayoral chain for the Borough of Newtownards.

 

Left: An advert for Dickson Nurseries from The Rosarian’s Year Book of 1896. Right: ‘Tom Wood’ [Dickson, 1896] Image: Charles Quest-Ritson

 

Post-war recovery

During the second World War rose production ceased in Britain and the fields were turned over to food production. It took time for breeding to start again. Alexander Dickson III (1893-1975) – known as ‘Sandy’ – began slowly rebuilding his rose breeding department.

In 1958 he produced a fiery orange red Floribunda, ‘Dickson’s Flame’, which won the National Rose Society’s supreme award, as well as a beautiful orange and red Floribunda, ‘Shepherd’s Delight’.

Sandy’s son, Pat Dickson (1926-2012), began breeding in 1957 producing some outstanding roses over his lifetime, including ‘Grandpa Dickson’ (1966) and ‘Red Devil’ (1967). ‘Redgold’ (1967) won an All America Award. ‘Beautiful Britain’ (1983) was voted ‘Rose of the Year’ by professional growers.

Pat Dickson’s son Colin started in 1977. It was one of his best years, resulting in ‘Elina’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’ ‘Disco Dancer’ ‘Lovely Lady’ and ‘Freedom’. He says: “I was just brought up with breeding. I was at boarding school from 13 to 18 and we were allowed out on Sundays to go home. My father would come and pick me up and he was doing the hybridising at the time. He’d say he hadn’t finished and needed some help, so that’s how I got started. It was in my blood!”

Pat and Colin Dickson evaluating the rose field with Sammy the dog, about 2007. Image Dickson Roses

Picking winners

At the height of production, working in greenhouses 110 feet long x 30 feet wide, he was generating 15,000 crosses and quarter of a million seeds a year but found that was too many. He was brutal in weeding out weaklings. He says: “You know what a good rose is – you have to cut the rubbish out quickly. The French breeder, Meilland, would save everything but as soon as I could tell it wasn’t going to make the grade I kicked it out to let the others mature and give them space. I like a rose that stands up and has a good neck so you don’t have to bend yours to look at it.”

 

Hall of Fame rose ‘Elina’ [Dickson, 1983] Image: Charles Quest-Ritson

 

His favourite rose is the beautiful pale-yellow Hybrid Tea, ‘Elina’ (1983), which is a Hall of Fame rose. There is a family dispute as to who bred it. Pat believed he had because it was not in Colin’s main breeding house. Colin says he was using the greenhouse as an overspill and that it was he who decided to take pollen from the Kordes rose, ‘Lolita’, and cross it with Pat’s creation, ‘Nana Mouskouri’. Was the dispute ever resolved? “We agreed to disagree,” he laughs.

But this story shows how breeders use each other’s creations. Colin was using roses from the great Kordes family business (which goes back to 1887); his friend Wilhelm Kordes III (1953-2016) was also using Dickson roses. “You will definitely find ‘Elina’ in the genes of many Kordes roses,” says Thomas Proll, the head of breeding at Kordes today.

Caption: Since the inception of the Roses of the Year Competition, Dickson Roses have won ten: 1983 – ‘Beautiful Britain’ (Dicfire), 1987 – ‘Sweet Magic’ (Dicmagic), 1990 – ‘Harvest Fayre’ (Dicnorth), 1991 – ‘Melody Maker’ (Dicqueen), 1986 – ‘Gentle Touch’ (Diclulu), 1993 -‘Dawn Chorus’ (Dicquasar), 1996 – ‘Magic Carpet’ (Jaclover), 2000 – ‘Irish Eyes’ (Dicwitness), 2018 – ‘Lovestruck’ (Dicommatac), 2022 – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (Dictwix) (pictured above – Dickson Roses).

The last great Dickson roses

If Colin’s rose breeding career got off to an astonishing start, his finish looks to be just as strong. ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ (Dictwix) was named Rose of the Year in the UK in 2022. This was the tenth time Dickson’s had won the accolade since the competition’s inception. Colin’s last rose was meant to be ‘A Fond Farewell’ (Dicchiffon – pictured at the top of this piece) but then came another ‘Honey, Bee Mine’ (Dicsolar), which won the gold medal at the Rochfords rose trials in 2023. All three look like stunning roses – A fitting end to a rose breeding dynasty.

These roses are now with contract grower Griffins Roses. ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is available now. ‘A Fond Farewell’ should be available for garden centres and nurseries to pre-order next year, with ‘Honey, Bee Mine’ available from 2025. You can order directly through The Garden Rose Company and plant a bit of rose history in your garden.   

Dickson roses

Left: ‘Honey, Bee Mine’ (Dicsolar) and ‘Storyteller’, a particular favourite of mine for obvious reasons. Images: Dickson Roses

 

 

Banner image: ‘A Fond Farewell’ (Dicchiffon) [Dickson] Image: Dickson Roses

The Empress and the postman

The Empress and the postman

One of the relatively rare roses in my garden is a luscious purple crimson Gallica, ‘La Belle Sultane’, from 1795 (pictured), sometimes attributed to ‘Dupont’.

 

Though not talked about much today, André Dupont (1742-1817) is an important player in rose history. He is best known as the man who sold roses to the Empress Josephine.

Dupont’s early career was in service to the aristocracy. He was the chief steward at the Palais du Luxembourg, looking after the brother of King Louis XVI. There was an obvious drawback to this profession in the 18th century – your employers got their heads chopped off. But even before the French Revolution in 1789, serving the aristocracy came with major drawbacks. They may have been the richest people in France, but they could take a year to pay their staff.

Palais du Luxembourg, Paris

Dupont was a smart man. In 1780 he took on a side hustle, working with the post office. He soon won promotion to a senior position that came with a useful perk – free postage. You might think the man would not have the time for an allotment, but in 1785 he leased a plot of land close to the Palace to nurse a fledgling passion for gardening. During the revolution he kept his head down and, more usefully, on, and developed a special interest in roses.

In 1796 Dupont decided to build an école of roses – a collection of all the known specimens. He began making the most of that free postage, swapping roses with fellow collectors and nurserymen in the Netherlands, England and Italy. ‘La Belle Sultane’ may have originated from the Netherlands and been introduced and popularised by him at this period.

But he also began growing roses from seeds – breeding his own creations. These seeds were cross pollinated by the wind and insects.

Early rose breeding

Nehemiah Grew

Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) is known as the “Father of Plant Anatomy”

Sexual reproduction in plants had been recognised since the end of the 17th century. The English physician, Nehemiah Grew, first proposed a sexual theory of plant reproduction in 1684. Thomas Fairchild’s experiments crossing sweet William and carnation are known to have been made as early as 1717, and Philip Miller described insect pollination by observations on tulips before 1721[1]. But even as late as 1870, when the English rose breeder Henry Bennett began visiting rose breeders in France, he could see little evidence that they were doing anything other than relying on the wind and insects to cross pollinate[2].

A number of authors in the 20th century have claimed Dupont was an early exponent of art of selective pollination of roses by hand[3]. His recent biographer, Vincent Derkenne[4], hesitates to go so far.

He says: “At the time botanists were only interested in natural varieties – the species roses. For them flowers were an object of study and scientific classification. For Dupont they were also an object of aesthetic delight. He was a pioneer who applied a scientific approach to breeding roses intentionally for the pleasure of garden owners.

“We do not know if he hand-pollinated but what we can say with certainty is that Dupont sowed rose seeds and showed a particular interest in mutations and abnormalities, fixing some of these through grafting onto dog-rose roots and then disseminating them. He earned the respect of fellow naturalists from the Enlightenment period.”

Empress Josephine

By the end of the 18th century, André Dupont and his collection of roses has become well known. So, in 1799, when Napoleon and the Empress Josephine moved into the Luxembourg Palace for three months, she undoubtedly went to visit him. And so began a very special relationship.

Later that year, while her husband was attempting to conquer Egypt, she went house hunting and bought a chateau on the outskirts of Paris, called Malmaison. Josephine spent a fortune on the place (to Napoleon’s annoyance) and another doing it up and building her plant collection.

Portrait of Empress Josephine by François Gérard (1801)

Chateau de Malmaison (by Pedro Faber – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Napoleon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand, was once asked whether Josephine had intelligence. He is said to have replied: “No-one ever managed as brilliantly without it.” Cruel and unfair. Her passion for botany and the plant collection she built at Malmaison bears better witness to her intellect.

She had impressive glasshouses at Malmaison and took pleasure in taking her poor ladies in waiting and courtiers around them, introducing them – or reintroducing them ad infinitum – to the rarities it held.

“When the weather was fine, the green-houses were inspected; the same walk was taken every day; on the way to that spot the same subjects were talked over; the conversation generally turned on botany… her wonderful memory, which enabled her to name every plant; in short, the same phrases were generally repeated over and over again, and other circumstances were, at the same time, well calculated to render those promenades exceedingly tedious and fatiguing.”  – Georgette Ducrest, Memoirs of the Empress Josephine 1829

Josephine’s roses

Josephine’s interest in plants was wide-ranging, but she is best known for her roses. Born Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, until her marriage to Napoleon she was generally known as “Rose”.  Dupont became an important supplier for her. Vincent estimates that she bought as many as 1500 from him for the Malmaison estate (though accounts show that – guess what? – she would take at least a year to pay). She may have not had the most comprehensive rose collection in France, but it was still significant[5].

Dupont was not her only supplier. Famously, during the Napoleonic wars the Royal Navy blockaded French ports, but ships were allowed through to deliver rose bushes and other plants from the Lee & Kennedy nursery in London to the Empress for Malmaison. Suffice to say she failed to pay all her bills.

In 1803 Josephine engaged a talented Belgian artist to come and paint her plants. His name was Pierre Joseph Redouté. He started work painting the roses at Malmaison in 1813. The following year Josephine died of pneumonia. Redouté carried on painting and produced three volumes of hand-coloured engravings between 1817 and 1824 – more than 250 roses, including Rosa Gallica Pontiana, more widely known as ‘Manteau Pourpre’. 

Rosa x dupontii Déségl. Photo copyright of Vincent Derkenne

Hard times

The year Josephine died was a difficult one for Dupont in other ways. Aged 72, he was forced to retire from the post office. He exchanged one set of his école of 537 different roses for a small state pension. Each rose was on its own roots and doubled with a specimen grafted on to dog-rose roots. Planted at the Palais du Luxembourg, under the care of its director Julien-Alexandre Hardy (husband of Mme Hardy, after whom the famous rose is named), it became the foundation of what was then Europe’s largest collection of roses. It is believed that a second école was later sold to Louis Claude Noisette for his own extensive collection of roses.

Rosa Gallica Pontiana, by Redouté in Les Roses – photo by Vincent Derkenne © Coriallo-Ville de Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. Today the rose is known as ‘Manteau Pourpre’. Photo by Vincent Derkenne.

Three years later Dupont died. Vincent sums up his life. He says: “André Dupont was the great precursor to the important period of rose breeding that followed in France. He was an experimental gardener and a pioneer; he collected and distributed roses, he propagated them by seed, and helped popularise roses as ornamental garden plants, inspiring and helping fellow breeders and enthusiasts across Europe.”

In keeping with his scientific approach to studying the genus Rosa, Dupont kept a rose herbarium – a collection of preserved plant specimens, pressed, dried and mounted. Little is published about this herbarium, so it surprised Vincent when, in the spring of 2013, while studying the National Archives, he found the minutes of a meeting of the Professors’ Assembly of the National Museum of Natural History.

Dated February 16, 1814, they note: “M. Dupont, owner of a collection of roses, offers a herbarium of rose varieties and a plant of the Rosa monophyla[6]. M. Desfontaines is invited to thank M. Dupont on behalf of the administration.”

Top left: Page from A.L. de Jussieu ‘s Herbal in Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle – the flower comes from Dupont’s garden. Right: Rosa bifera variegata & Rosa monophila in Dupont’s Herbal. All photos by Vincent Derkenne.

The Dupont herbarium

Vincent was astonished. He says: “I felt certain that these plates of dry specimens were still present somewhere within these venerable buildings. Nothing is lost in a museum. All we had to do was look for them. Fortunately, at the time there was a campaign to digitise the collections of the National Herbarium, which made it possible to bring together folders that were sometimes scattered in cupboards within different departments. It took some time but eventually the staff became enthused by the thought of the vieil herbier de roses du Muséum.”

On April 9, 2015, Derkenne was invited to the museum. He says: “Staff brought out three boxes of herbarium plates, all dedicated to roses, dated from the beginning of the 19th century. We looked at the plates, especially some with long handwritten notes. I could not hold back my emotion. It was the handwriting of our old friend André Dupont. There was no doubt about it. It was his collection.”

Vincent Derkenne’s book, “André Dupont 1742-1817 – Un palais des Roses” is available through amazon.fr  ISBN: 978-2-322-23774-6 and also an abridged paperback summary in English.

[1] Discovery of Sexuality in Plants. Nature 131, 392 (1933). https://doi.org/10.1038/131392b0

[2] The makers of heavenly roses, by Jack Harkness p.23 1985

[3] The first of these was Mrs Frederick Love Keays in Old Roses, published 1935.

[4] Interview with Vincent Derkenne, author of “André Dupont 1742-1817 – Un palais des Roses”

[5] The respected French scholar François Joyaux says that all her roses were grown in pots. Some were displayed around the grounds when in bloom, but there was never a rose garden.

[6] Rosa monophyla is a synonym of Rosa persica

Dot to Dot

Dot to Dot

I am sitting in the passenger seat of a dusty old Fiat as it climbs through back roads to a rose nursery in the hills near San Feliu de Llobregat on the outskirts of Barcelona. We have just been to the 65th National Rose Festival in the small town, escaping the noisy crowds for a long celebratory lunch.

 

Struggling with the language differences, we drive in companionable silence. After so much exuberance it is a poignant moment. The tall, elderly man at the wheel is Pedro Dot – the third generation of Spain’s greatest family of rose breeders.

It turns out, he is also the last. I am here to record the end of an era. Pedro, who is 71, is retiring. His son has not followed the family tradition. In the coming months, after a century in business, the Dot nursery is closing.

Martin with Pere Dot at his nursery near San Feliu de Llobregat on the outskirts of Barcelona

My journey to this spot began a few years earlier. I cannot remember what caused me to plant Mme Gregoire Staechelin’ in my garden, but it was a good decision. She is one of the first roses to pop each spring and a favourite.

The buds are shaped like a long pout. Looking at them you want to pucker your lips in imitation. But if the bud is a pout and the bloom a kiss, this is no polite peck on the cheek. It is a flamenco dress of a rose – a large swirl of ruffled petals in myriad shades of pink. Leave it be and in the Autumn the wall will be adorned with huge orange hips.

Rosa ‘Madame Grégoire Staechelin’, taken in my garden.

This is my only Spanish rose – the country is not renowned for being at the forefront of rose- breeding. And the year of its creation – 1927 – places its breeder on the brink of a period of political upheaval that must have made the business incredibly difficult. So, who was he?

Pedro Dot

Pedro Dot – in Catalonia known as Pere Dot i Martínez – was born in 1885 on the estate of the Marqués de Monistrol near San Feliu de Llobregat. His father, Simón, was estate manager and specialised in trees. In 1899 Simón made the bold decision to start his own general nursery.

That same year Pedro left school, aged 14, but rather than join his father he was apprenticed to pioneering, if not hugely successful, Spanish rose breeder Joaquín Aldrufeu. From there Pedro went to Belgium and France to extend his gardening education. In Paris he learned how to hybridise roses and worked at the Bagatelle gardens, under their creator, Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier. Here he spent time in the new rose trial beds – the world’s first – seeing the latest varieties and, occasionally, the breeders who had created them.

When the First World War broke out he returned to Spain to work with his father but the two fell out when Pedro said he wanted to breed roses and do so exclusively. His father told him there was no money in roses. Pedro decided to prove him wrong.

The rift may have widened when the Condesa de Sástago – wife of Simón’s old boss, the Marqués de Monistrol – lent Pedro Dot enough to buy a field and begin his adventure.

His first creation, in 1923, was the pink Hybrid Tea, ‘Francisco Corbera’. More roses followed. In 1927 he produced ‘Mme Grégoire Staechelin’ and the hybrid spinosissima, ‘Nevada’.

It is ironic that these two roses – probably the most widely cultivated Dot roses today – are pink and white. As a breeder Pedro Dot was interested in strong colour, perhaps driven by the fact that the brilliant Mediterranean sun can drain life out of subtle colours, making the blooms look insipid. He built on the work of Pernet-Ducher, who bred ‘Soleil d’Or’ – the world’s first repeat-flowering orange-yellow rose. The roses in this series of Hybrid Teas are often called ‘Pernetianas’.

In 1929 Dot introduced the coppery orange ‘Federico Casas’. Soon after followed ‘Condesa de Sástago’, one of the world’s first bi-coloured roses – red one side of the petal and yellow the other. It was named after the patron that helped him get started.

These vivacious Spanish roses had appeal in the US, where the entrepreneurial Pennsylvanian nurseryman, Robert Pyle, scented an opportunity. Knowing they would sell well in similar climatic conditions, Pyle agreed to sell Dot’s roses under licence. Before the introduction in America of the world’s first plant patenting legislation, in 1930, Pyle would pay Pedro Dot royalties for three years. The legislation gave the breeder patent protection for 17 years. The relationship with Pyle was to play a key role in keeping the Dot business afloat.

Civil war

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century there was political turmoil in Spain. In July 1936 civil war broke out when Nationalist generals attempted a military coup to overturn the left-leaning Republican government. Supporters from around the world came to Spain to fight for both sides. Hitler threw his weight – and aircraft – behind the Nationalists. The violence that followed was seen as a dress rehearsal for the Second World War – aerial bombing, the destruction of cities and the deaths and murders of thousands of civilians.

Catalonia was pro-Republic. Dot’s two sons Marino and Simón were conscripted to the Republican army in 1938 and, when the war ended in 1939, were detained in a concentration camp for a year.

Pedro Dot had been a member of a socialist party before the war and his political leanings are not well hidden. In 1931, he produced ‘Catalonia’. That was the year his homeland received its first statute of autonomy from the Republican government, granting it significant powers of self-government. During the war he released roses named after Catalan patriots killed in the fighting, like the poet ‘Ramón Bach’, as well as Republican towns (‘Girona’ and ‘Lleida’) not yet overcome by Franco’s nationalists. These roses may have been commissioned by the Republican government of Barcelona.

He also received valuable support from Pyle who was still able to propagate and market Dot’s roses when the breeder could get them out across the Atlantic. Nurserymen elsewhere, like Harry Wheatcroft in England, and Henri Guillot and Francis Meilland in France, were also keen supporters, though the Second World War brought a pause in their efforts.

After the war, in the 1950s, fellow Catalan breeder Cebrià Camprubí’, dedicated one of his roses to Franco’s wife – ‘Su Excelencia Señora de Franco’. Politically astute and commercially savvy perhaps, but not something Dot ever did.

Miniatures

Pere Dot with a rose of his own creation, ‘Joana Raspall i Juanola’, named after the Catalan writer.
Image: Martin Stott

In 1940 Dot had begun a new stream of experimentation when he created one of the first miniature rose bushes, crossing Correvon’s small rose ‘Rouletii’ with a Hybrid Tea of his own, ‘Eduardo Toda’, to create ‘Estrellita de Oro’ (‘Baby Gold Star’ in the US). Others followed over the next 20 years, like the creamy white ‘Para Ti’ (1946), ‘Rosina’ (1951) and the pretty white rose, ‘Si’ (1957).

After the war his sons joined him in the business. He continued breeding miniatures. They focused mainly on Hybrid Teas, attempting to grow roses with purple and deep blue hues.

At the age of 60, Pedro Dot decided to retire, moving to Majorca from May to October, leaving his sons and then grandsons, Pere, Jordi and Albert to carry on the work. He died in November 1976, aged 91.

End of the line

Today Pere is the last of the Dots left in the business. As we stand in the glasshouses looking at the benches of remaining plants, the old man reflects on a life in roses.

He says: “It has been many years. I started helping in the greenhouses when I was 12 during the school holidays. My father and grandfather worked together and taught me how to graft. We used to propagate 25,000 roses a year, but I’m getting tired. I’m selling down the stock and once it is gone then it’s over.”

His great grandfather once argued there was no money in roses. This Pere Dot agrees. “It has been a lot of work and not much money,” he says with a wry smile. “But I have had a happy life.”

Who was ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’?

Who was ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’?

Read about ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ online and you usually learn that the famous noisette was named after the wife of Monsieur E. A. Carrière, who for three decades – from 1866 to his death in 1896 – was editor of the French gardening journal Revue Horticole [1].

 

But that was Élie-Abel Carrière. Not Alfred. So who were Monsieur and Madame Alfred Carrière?

The rose

‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ was bred by Joseph Schwartz – an important figure in France’s rose breeding capital of Lyon. And a rather sad one.

Joseph Schwartz

Schwartz was born in 1846 and apprenticed to the famous rose breeder Jean-Baptiste Guillot, succeeding him when the old man retired in 1870.[2]

Only 25, taking on such a well-known nursery was a big step for Schwartz. But he flourished, with the help of his wife, Sophie, who he married in 1872. Both were the children of professional gardeners and shared a passion for the industry. In 1875 he bred from seed ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’, putting it into commerce in 1879.

 

Tragedy

The following year Sophie died from typhoid fever, aged 33, leaving him alone with two young children. He remarried in 1881. His new wife Marie-Louise Trievoz also worked alongside him in the nursery and learned the craft of rose breeding.

She soon became pregnant and in 1882 gave birth to her first child, Georges. He did not live long and when the following year she had another son, the couple baptised him Georges, too.

In that same year the growers of Lyon honoured Schwartz. They chose him as one of two delegates to be part of an international jury of rose experts at a large exhibition in Saint Petersburg – then the capital of Russia. He set off the following spring but during the trip caught a serious cold. Schwartz returned exhausted and thin. He never recovered.

The great rose breeder lived long enough to see his last child, Joseph, born but died in October 1885, aged just 39.

Remarkably, Marie-Louise continued where he left off, growing the reputation of the nursery with roses of her own, as well as discovering ‘Mme Ernest Calvat’ (a sport of ‘Mme Isaac Péreire’).

Mme Alfred Carrière?

Signatures from the public register

A number of leads give a clue as to the true identity of the woman after whom ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ is named. An edition of the Journal des Roses, published in 1886 – a year after Schwartz’s death – includes an article on noisettes. It features ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ and welcomes the rose as a good addition to the growing list of repeat flowering roses. The article reveals: “It was dedicated to the wife of a great rose lover from the province of Dauphiné.”

In the 19th century Dauphiné was a province in Southeast France dominated by Grenoble – just over an hour’s drive from Lyon.

The Schwartz’s clearly had connections with the city – Guillot Père grew up there and Mme Ernest Calvat was the wife of a glove maker in Grenoble whose father-in-law had been a respected mayor of the city.

It is here that we find Alfred Carrière – a manufacturer of cement and concrete fountain pipes [3] who had a passion for horticulture. His firm is listed as an exhibitor at the 1862 International Exhibition, a huge trade fair which took place beside the site of the old RHS gardens in South Kensington, London.

If we want further evidence that this is the right Carrière, we learn that he was the President of the Dauphinoise Horticultural Society in the same year (1891) as Ernest Calvat fils won a grand diploma from the society for his roses and chrysanthemums. [4] The Journal Officiel of 25 July 1891 reports that Carrière was awarded the Medal of Agricultural Merit.

And his wife? She was Louise Élisa Marie Périer from Pontcharra, a town 40km north of Grenoble. Born on 25 August 1836, she married Léon-Antoine Alfred Carrière on 10 December 1862. And that is about as much as we know about her!

Awards

‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ was not a universal success on its launch. Henry Ellwanger described it as ‘undesirable’ in his book, The Rose.[5] But in 1902 Gertrude Jekyll described ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ as the best white climbing rose.[6] In 1908 the National Rose Society gave it the same accolade. It received an RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1993 and in 2003 was inducted into the World Federation of Roses Hall of Fame.

Mme Alfred Carriere – ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ climbing up the house of Walter and Kay Duncan’s Heritage Rose Garden in Sevenhill, South Australia. Copyright Martin Stott

Neither its creator nor the Carrières lived long enough to see Schwartz’s rose become so well loved. Alfred died on Christmas Eve 1894. Louise Élisa Marie died on New Year’s Day in 1903, both oblivious to the fact that, thanks to this rose, 120 years later people would be asking: “Who was Mme Alfred Carrière?”

I am indebted to my friends, the French garden historian Vincent Derkenne and rose breeder Dominique Massad, whose research has helped uncover the true identity of Mme Alfred Carrière.

Kari-Astri Davies has also discovered a heliotrope named Madame Alfred Carrière

 

  1. The journal of the National Horticultural Society of France, the Revue Horticole, was published across 146 volumes from 1829 to 1974.
  2. Much of the Schwartz biography is taken from Gérard Petit’s article in Roses Anciennes en France Bulletin no 21, 2015.
  3. Official Catalogue of the International Exhibition 1862 Volume 1 p194
  4. L’Actualité daupinoise illustrée 18 Jan 1891
  5. The Rose [New York, 1882] p.246
  6. Roses for English Gardens, G. Jekyll and E. Mawley 1902

 

Banner image: ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ in the Storyteller garden, Nottingham. Copyright Martin Stott