Welcome to the November 2004 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see the "Site Resources Guide" box in the navigation panel at left. To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only, not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose.
Editor's note: Bill Grant is one of California's most renowned Rosarians, having worked for decades in the promotion and preservation of Old Roses and endangered "middle-period" roses, like the older Hybrid Teas discussed in the following article. Bill is also the chief consultant for the Botanica Roses books (both hardcover and paperback) and contributes articles to many publications. In fact, Pacific Horticulture magazine features a "portrait" of Ralph Moore by Mr. Grant in the current November issue. My thanks to Bill for allowing me to offer this article.
What is a Hybrid Tea? Why is the history of this rose so muddled? How popular did it become? Why is it important to include these roses in the list of historically important heritage roses?
At right: 'Mme. Caroline Testout'
These are some of the questions I should like to answer – insofar as I know some of the answers as well as offering some fresh ideas.
If one goes back in the books (not always the best means of arriving at the truth) from the early part of the past century, the answer is always the same: it is a cross between a Hybrid Perpetual and a Tea rose. The reason for that becomes obvious because the Hybrid Perpetual was as close as hybridizers could get to creating a reblooming rose up to that time. So the genes in the two roses created a reliably reblooming rose.
However, if one of the parents in this exchange is a Tea rose, why is it not possible to have a match between a Tea rose and a Bourbon, or a Moss, or a Centifolia for that matter? And call the result a Hybrid Tea?
The problem is history, popular history. ‘La France’ has been baptized as the first HT in all those books. Another myth is that its parents were known. I read a recent rose book and the story is still repeated. Only a few commentators on the history of the rose have come out strongly to say that there were hybrids going back to the 1830s and possibly earlier: Norman Young, Gerd Krussmann, and Brent Dickerson.
From what I have read and researched for the past eleven years, it appears that ‘Brown’s Superb Blush’ (1815) may well have been the first HT, an offspring of a Gallica and ‘Hume’s Tea-scented China’. It was once-blooming. Following in order of appearance came others: ‘Duc de Choiseul’ (Vibert) 1825; ‘Jaune Desprez’ (Desprez) 1826; and 'Lamarque' (Marechal) 1830. ‘Smith’s Yellow’ (1833), ‘Gloire de Dijon’ (1853), ‘Victor Verdier’ (1859), and then we can list ‘La France’ (1867). My favorite early candidate is ‘Adam’ (1838).
So if we remember that the National Rose Society in London finally allowed the term HT to be used for the first time in 1893, no wonder there is so much confusion about its history. It was easier to start with ‘La France’ as the first and let it go at that.
The term today means absolutely nothing – the genes of the Tea roses have been so watered down that it will be interesting to see if a DNA test of ‘Just Joey’ will show any Tea blood.
Tom Carruth, the best known hybridizer working in the U.S. today, when I asked him what he thought about the HT and its history, said, “I don’t believe any of our artificial classes are of any meaning at this point. If anything, they only prolong the mystique of the rose. Nor do I agree with the English method of classification because a variety’s flower size and ability to cluster is too often influenced by how well and where it is grown rather than just its genetic capacity.”
At left: 'Soleil d'Or'
So we are stuck for the time being with the mislabel HT. And when DNA overwhelms the Linnean world, we can expect a completely new landscape.
It is hard to believe that the HT has survived its storied history. It has been the most popular kind in history. But no other flower has so much stacked against it. It requires a lot of water. It collects more diseases than any perennial. It is not winter-hardy in zones lower than four or five. For its highest performance of leaf and flower, it needs to be sprayed in some climates. It requires a high degree of maintenance, especially for the exhibition table. It attracts a noble array of pests, both above and below the ground.Many of the HTs have health problems, virus, mosaic leaf – and their life-span can be rather short. As the fashions change, those that were introduced, say five years ago, have disappeared completely from the gardens centers. Most do not have any perfume. Some have awesome prickles that can draw blood.
And, in spite of all these problems, they are still promoted and sold every year. Advertising hype is partly responsible. Most nurseries where I live sell only these roses, so that the customer is faced with a limited kind of rose because HTs are highly advertised and promoted by the big companies.
New ones appear every year. In spite of the fact that they are not attractive landscaping plants. But they produce blooms over a long period of time, and the public has been convinced that once-blooming roses are still not the best buy in the market. I always thought they were until one day the fun stopped.
The defining moment came for me when I realized that I was spending all my time with my roses doing nothing but maintenance – spraying once a week, feeding them lots of chemical fertilizers, deadheading, eliminating extra blooms to get a big, fat bloom for the exhibition table.
Then I met a woman who put me straight. She showed me her garden, filled with old roses with the perfume filling the air. Where had I been all those years? Reading all the hype. And I noticed that she had a good collection of early HTs. What? “Yes, they are beautiful roses. In their own way just as nice as the Albas, Gallicas, and the other old ones.” I pulled up most of my HTs soon afterwards. And never looked back.
At right: 'Hinrich Gaede'
I think 1945 is as good a year to choose to mark the line between old and new roses. Peter Beales thinks that 1939 is better. And Brent Dickerson would choose 1920. But I stick to my choice as the dramatic rise in rose sales after WWII brought in its wake all kinds of new roses and soon afterwards a revival of the heirloom ones.
Let me tell you a bit of history. In the 1910 National Rose Society’s Rose Annual there is a list of 24 roses suitable for general garden cultivation. Of these, sixteen are HTs; among them ‘Antoine Rivoire’, ‘Gustav Gruenerwald’, ‘Caroline Testout’, ‘La France’, ‘Mme Abel Chatenay’ – all of which are still in commerce in Australia.
In the 1919 American Rose Annual there is a list of 635 roses introduced to American gardens from the US and overseas. Of these there are 123 HTs and only nine are in commerce anywhere in the world today.
Some of these are ‘Frau Karl Druschki’, ‘General MacArthur’, ‘Hadley’, ‘Los Angeles’, ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘Radiance’, and ‘September Morn’ – all of which are still in commerce in the U.S. and some also in Australia.
So these survivors are worth looking at. And, of course, there are others. Recently at the Melbourne 100th anniversary I saw a beautiful bouquet of ‘Betty Uprichard’ (1922) that was stunning. Still available.
My point is this: most HTs disappear within ten years of their birth. The ones that survive must have something that gives them this quality. I found the following items worth recording. It is hard to qualify ‘beautiful’ except at the personal level, but I feel that all of them have distinguishing characteristics that are pleasing, including color, perfume, and shape, though maybe not all of these at the same time. Most are healthy.
At left: 'Mrs. Sam McGredy'
There has been an armed truce between the two groups that love old and new roses. Only in recent years has the American Rose Society magazine returned to offering essays and pictures of the heritage roses. If you are an exhibitor, as I was for years, you learned that you were in a minority if you showed only old roses. I remember one meeting when a leading exhibitor got up, stamped out of the room, yelling, “I hate old roses” as the speaker of the evening was about to show her slides of gallicas and albas.
The establishing of heritage rose societies in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, France, and the U.K. has been a healthy experience for all of us. But I think we might still be reluctant to introduce these old hybrid teas to our ranks because they come with some historical baggage. I am all for making a real effort to introduce them in our talks, in our literature, and in our conversations.
I am not including any of the great HTs of Alister Clark because you already consider them heritage roses. But I have a different list when I speak in the US and they are on that one. A few on my list are in some old rose books but not generally considered of historical note. Maybe some of you already call them heritage. This is only a short list but they are exceptional heritage roses.