Antoine Jacques part II by Barbara Tchertoff

The first part of this article traced the history of a unique collaboration between two gifted men, both passionate plant-lovers – one, a 19th-century king of France, immensely rich and willing to spend a fortune on restoring his domains covering over 70,000 hectares (about 175,000 acres), the other a talented gardener in charge of the three most precious royal estates.

Antoine Jacques the gardener was responsible for a number of new plant varieties, but in particular for several new ramblers introduced from 1826 onwards which are still well-known and appreciated today. But what makes them doubly interesting now is that the Laboratory of Micromolecular Biology and Phytochemistry of the Université Claude Bernard, Lyon, France, under the direction of Professor Maurice Jay, has for the very first time analysed the genetic ‘fingerprints’ of the most famous of Antoine Jacques’ roses to tell us what other roses were involved in their parentage. The results of these analyses are given below.

Jacques maintained that the pollination of these hybrids was ‘accidental’, and it is possible that despite the fact (see Part l of this article) that French and German breeders had begun to practise ‘reasoned pollination’ by the 1820s, the growing of wild sempervirens roses close to other kinds of roses could have led to natural crosses due to wind or insect pollination.

About 280 rose cultivars were grown on the royal estate of Neuilly, and Professor Jay’s team had a long and difficult task ahead of them if every one of the roses listed in Jacques’ first catalogue were to be examined as a possible parent of one of his sempervirens hybrids.

The seed parent was obvious: like all his contemporaries, Jacques was prepared to sow thousands of seeds, and many of these were obtained from Rosa sempervirens. But which rose had supplied the pollen?

Here, the Laboratory (and if I may say so humbly, myself) were prepared to guess that an inspired gardener such as Jacques would have planted the latest exciting arrivals on the rose scene – ‘Parson`s Pink’ (believed to be identical with the rose known as ‘Old Blush’), an ancient repeat-flowering Chinese garden rose which had arrived in Europe from the Far East in the middle of the 18th century, and very possibly ‘Blush Noisette’ (whose parents were known to be R. moschata and ‘Old Blush’), introduced in 1820 by Philippe Noisette, a French nurseryman established in Charleston, USA.

Philippe was the brother of Jacques’ close colleague in Paris, Louis Noisette, one of the most celebrated nurserymen of the period. We shall see that the first results obtained by Professor Jay’s team to a large extent bore out these guesses as to the origins of Jacques’ hybrids.

R. sempervirens, the seed parent of most of these well-loved hybrids, was an unusual choice. This rose grows wild in southern Europe, and is not found in France further north than the Loire valley. It is closely related to R. arvensis, the white field rose of northern Europe. These two wild roses were both involved in several of Jacques’ hybrids.

It is interesting to note that very little work was done during the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries on hybridizing with either of these wild roses despite the enormous number of cultivars produced in that period (see W.J. Bean on the relationship between them and the Ayrshire roses).

We had to wait until 1879 when a mutation of ‘Félicité-Perpétue’ in the United States gave us a small attractive bush ‘Little White Pet’, which has proved a popular repeat-flowering rose for beds. And then in 1978 the well-known French breeder Meilland introduced ‘Swany’, a very reliable and pretty white ground-cover rose, followed by the hardy, disease-resistant and charming pink shrub rose ‘Bonica’ (1982). This rose appears sixth among the best Shrub roses in The Rose Analysis 2000 published in The Rose.

Despite several letters, Meilland has given me no indication of other roses in his catalogue which are sempervirens hybrids. Breeders are certainly obliged to be careful about divulging their sources in the competitive world of today, but I think we may conclude that R. sempervirens has made a come-back in quite a large way, and vindicated Antoine Jacques.

It should be noted in passing that, historically speaking, Jacques was not the first rose breeder to experiment with R. sempervirens – Descemet and Vibert before him, both very famous breeders, had produced hybrids of this wild rose, but only one of these had been fully double (pleine in French), and this would appear to be lost. Jacques’ ramblers, on the other hand, were either double or, like ‘Adélaide d’Orléans’, attractively new in appearance.

‘Adélaide d’Orléans’ (Jacques, 1826)

Award of Garden Merit. Professor Jay’s genetic analyses prove that this rambler is a sempervirens hybrid, with ‘Old Blush’ as a partner. It is not yet possible to say which is the dominant partner. This is a vigorous, elegant and attractive rose with small to medium-sized flowers, double, cupped, pink on opening , which flatten into rosettes and become white, showing their stamens.

The buds are bright pink. The leaves resist a mild winter. Summer flowering. Height 4.5m x 3m (14ft x 9ft) (Jacques gives no detailed description of this rose and this is a modern description.)

‘Madame Adélaide, as she was known, was Louis-Philippe’s only sister. Along with the future king and his two brothers, she was educated by the extraordinary Madame de Genlis, who had been considerably influenced by English educational ideas during a long stay in England. The children were taught the usual classical subjects, but also practical skills, including gardening.

Condemned to death in 1794 with the rest of the Orléans family, Adélaide fled with her governess, and spent 14 years in various different countries until she at last met Louis Philippe again in England. The restoration of the French monarchy in 1814 allowed the Orléans family to return to France to recover their domains.

Adelaide remained very close to Louis-Philippe, his wife, and large family. Her political acumen and wide learning (her library contained over 800 books in several languages, especially in English) were a great support to her brother when he became king in 1830.

She was then living in a sumptuous town house with the largest private garden in Paris – now the Hotel Matignon, official home of the French Prime Minister. When she died in 1848, only two months before he was dethroned, Louis-Philippe became profoundly depressed, and his flight to England with members of his family was followed by his own death in 1850.

‘Félicité-Perpétue’ (Jacques, 1827)

Award of Garden Merit. Professor Jay`s genetic analyses prove that this rambler is a sempervirens hybrid which shows traces of R. moschata and ‘Old Blush’. According to Jacques’ own description, this rambler has medium-sized flowers which are full, rounded (i.e.convex), and lightly flesh-coloured ( carné in French, often translated as ‘blush’).

My own experience is of an extremely vigorous plant grown easily from cuttings, which can reach 4m (12ft) or more in height, inserting itself into any support. The cascade of clusters of rosette-shaped creamy flowers with their pink buds, contrasted with dark green leaves, is a superb sight during its 4-5 week flowering period.

The saints Felicity and Perpetua are cited in the Canon of Saints, followed by a list of virgin martyrs. Their status is exceptional since both were young mothers who were atrociously martyred for their Christian faith in Carthage in AD203.

Vivia Perpetua was a noble lady, and Felicity her black slave. Under Roman law, Felicity could not be martyred until she had given birth, which took place the day before the martyrdom. The fact that they were savaged by a wild cow, employed no doubt as a symbol, disgusted even the watching crowd. These two saints are held in particular veneration in southern Europe, including southern France.

It has been debated why the names of these two saints are in this order, since Perpetua was both older and of high birth, but Jacques kept to the exact order of the names in the Canon of the Mass, and they are always printed in his catalogues with a simple hyphen, and not with ‘et’ between them.

‘Princesse Louise’ (Jacques, 1829)

Professor Jay’s genetic analyses prove that this rambler is a sempervirens hybrid which shows traces of R. moschata and ‘Old Blush’. According to Jacques’ own description, this rose has medium-sized flowers, full, cupped, and white (it can grow to a height of 5-8m x 3m, and is of exceptional vigour). Summer flowering.

Princess Louise (1812-1850) was the eldest daughter of Louis-Philippe, and was born during his exile from France. He had married Princess Marie-Amélie, daughter of Ferdinand, King of Naples, in 1809, and their second child Louise was born in Sicily. She is described by the Countess of Paris (a direct descendant of the family) as ‘blonde, graceful, rather delicate, and usually dressed in white’.

Her marriage at the age of 20 to Leopold, who was 45 but had recently been chosen to reign over Belgium, was considered a clever diplomatic move but a personal disaster – the whole Orleans family and the bride cried during the wedding.

However, the marriage proved an immense success and the present Belgian royal family descends from Louise and Leopold. Louise herself became an ardent supporter of her new country, and showed considerable talent in politics. She was a personal friend of the young Queen Victoria, while Leopold, as the uncle of the Prince Consort was also very welcome at the English court. But the 19th century was ravaged by fatal maladies and Louise died of consumption at the age of 38, to the great regret of her subjects and her family.

‘Princesse Marie’ (Jacques, 1829)

Professor Jay’s genetic analyses prove that this rambler is a sempervirens hybrid. Unfortunately the first samples examined were wrongly named but the laboratory has now had the chance of examining samples kindly supplied by Mr. Marriott from David Austin’s nursery. These have proved to be sempervirens hybrids, so they are on the right track, but the genetic analyses have not yet been completed.

According to Jacques’ own description, this rose has medium-sized flowers, full, cupped, very pale pink. (It can reach a tremendous height – up to 10m (32ft), with cascades of flowers which Peter Beales describes as ‘charmingly ragged’.) Summer flowering.

Princess Marie (1813-1839) was born in Vienna and is described by the Countess of Paris as ‘dark and pretty’. From an early age she and other members of Louis-Philippe`s family had art lessons from the painter Ary Scheffer.

She became an extremely talented sculptress – her life-size statue of Joan of Arc may be seen in Orléans outside the ancient Hotel Groslot, and in the Museum is a small study for ‘Joan of Arc on horseback, weeping at the sight of a wounded English soldier’. She married a German prince, Alexander of Wurtemburg, in 1837 and died two years later of tuberculosis, leaving a son aged 6 months.

‘Reine des Belges’ (Jacques, 1832)

Professor Jay`s genetic analyses prove that this rambler shows traces of both R. sempervirens and R. arvensis. Other traces may perhaps be found in later examinations. Jacques gives no description in his catalogues of this rose, named for the marriage of Princess Louise to Leopold of Belgium.

A more modern description notes small cupped flowers, very full, with white petals slightly pinkish in the centre. The buds are splashed with red, giving cascades of graceful flowers. Foliage smooth and dark with long pointed leaflets.Height 4-5m (12-15ft). Summer flowering.

‘Little White Pet’ (Henderson, 1879)

Here, genetic analyses have put paid to various arguments throughout the years that this delightful small bush rose is – or is not – related to ‘Félicité-Perpétue’. With the use of three separate primers, Professor Jay has proved (as is visible in the illustration) that F (‘Félicité-Perpétue’) is identical with L (‘Little White Pet’), proving that this repeat-flowering bush is a ‘sport’ of the non-remontant rambler ‘Félicité-Perpétue’.

Since ‘Félicité-Perpétue’ appears to be sterile, it is to be supposed that Henderson managed either to graft or to strike a cutting from a branch which had re-flowered . The nineteenth century rose growers often speak of ‘fixing’ a sport and new varieties of roses appeared quite frequently thanks to this method of preservation.

Nothing now remains of the magnificent domain of Neuilly where Jacques’ roses were raised, except a tiny wing of a building which is now a convent with a small garden and one or two very old trees. Boulevards, avenues, apartment blocks and private houses now cover the rose gardens, the lawns, the nurseries, the huge hothouses, the tree-lined avenues and the forests planted by order of Louis-Philippe around his charming country house outside Paris.

One of his sons, the Prince de Joinville, recalled in old age the scenes of his childhood: ‘A large unassuming château – mainly buildings with simply one ground-floor joined to another, on the same level as the exquisite gardens. The domain ran down from the old fortifications to the Seine . . . You could find everything in these grounds – forests of tall trees, coppices, clearings, lawns, orchards heavy with fruit in autumn, huge vegetable gardens, greenhouses, fields – real fields full of wheat, shining golden in the sun, the ploughed land with its dung steaming in October, the delicious scent of haymaking . . . A whole arm of the river Seine formed part of the domain – there were desert islands where you could play red indians, or seek the shade of the great trees to read Robinson Crusoe.’

© Barbara Tchertoff, Florence Piola and Maurice Jay, 2001.

This article appeared in the Spring 2001 issue.

Follow this link to return to Antoine Jacques – Head Gardener to Louis-Philippe part I.