Historical great contributions to Canadian rose breeding

The great advances in hardy rose breeding would not have been possible without the generous sharing of experience and plant material of our early prairie enthusiasts, writes Bernadette Vangool in The Star Phoenix. 

Among these plant breeders was Edmonton’s Robert Simonet, whose rose seedlings were instrumental in the development of the majority of tetraploid Explorer Roses at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.

Simonet was born near Paris in 1903 and spent his formative years with his grandmother in Vimpelles, a village one hour south of Paris. His mother was widowed and worked in a tobacco store in Paris. His grandmother was an avid gardener and we can imagine that young Robert most likely had his own garden plot to tend to.

In 1937, after careful crossbreeding of petunias, Robert was successful in developing 100-per-cent double petunias, becoming the first person to do so in North America. Previously the technique for producing 100-per-cent doubles was a secret of Japanese plant breeders. Soon his seed production and distribution business expanded and he stopped attending the market.

Besides his interest in flowers, especially lilies, Simonet worked with rhubarb, strawberries and turnips. ‘Simonet’ corn is still available today. Among his plant introductions were: double petunias, double hollyhocks, ‘Simonet’s Buff’ gladiolus, ‘Alta Sweet’ turnips and the ‘Simonet’ and ‘Alberta’ apples. His lily cultivars include ‘Simonet,’ ‘Summer Night’ and ‘Black Butterfly,’ which won the North American Lily Society Award of Merit in 1966. His roses include: ‘Double Red Simonet,’ ‘Dr. F.L. Skinner,’ ‘Pink Masquerade,’ ‘Red Dawn’ and ‘Red Dawn’ x ‘Suzanne.’
He won the Stevenson Memorial Gold Medal in 1960 and was inducted in the Alberta Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1984. Simonet left us in 1989, but his legacy continues in the well loved roses introduced by later breeders. Among these are ‘John Davis,’ ‘John Cabot,’ ‘Alexander McKenzie,’ ‘Champlain,’ ‘Frontenac’ and many others.

Read the complete article at www.thestarphoenix.com.

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