Monday, February 21, 2011

Favorite Rose Hybridizers

When I first started growing roses, I found myself drawn to particular colors. As time went on, I developed a fondness for the roses of particular hybridizers, and set out to collect their "works." Reading about their lives, and understanding what they set out to accomplish added to my appreciation of the roses I grow.

The first rose I ever grew was hybridized by and named after Dr. Walter Van Fleet (June 18, 1857 - January 26, 1922). He set out to create what he called "dooryard roses" - cold hardy, disease resistant climbers and ramblers with beautiful flowers and lush foliage that would look good even when out of bloom. He was born in Piermont, NY, where my younger sister, another rose fanatic lives. Van Fleet started out as a medical doctor. He was a man of ideals and passions- a man after my own heart. In the 1890s he was a part of the Ruskin Commonwealth Association, a utopian socialist colony in Tennessee. After the collapse of the Association, Van Fleet worked for the USDA, not as a doctor, but as a plant hybridizer, creating new varieties of small fruits, vegetables and ornamental flowers. Van Fleet was a major force in the American Rose Society, spreading the gospel of a rose for every yard. He crossed R. wichurana, R. setigera, and R. rugosa with old garden roses. New Dawn, one of the most influential climbing rose of the 20th century, was a sport of his rose, Dr. Van Fleet. Often forgotten because they are once bloomers, Van Fleet's climbers and ramblers can still be found growing around old homes and in cemeteries across the country. They would be wonderful additions to your garden.

Early on in my rose collecting, my younger sister, Cheri, gave me a plant of Rosarium Uetersen. She had grown it in her garden but hated the color, a salmon pink. I was wowed by the continuity, mass of bloom and flower form- it has between 100 and 140 petals! And so, I was exposed to another hybridizer, Wilhelm Kordes II (March 30, 1891 - November 11, 1976). Like Van Fleet, Kordes was a major force in the development of climbing roses in the 20th century. Born in Elmshorn, Germany, he learned his trade working in Germany, Switzerland, France and England. Like Van Fleet and the ARS, Kordes became influential in the German Rose Society. He established a nursery that is still in existence, run by his descendants. Kordes used what would later be called R. kordesii, a seedling of Max Graf (a R. rugosa and R. wichurana cross) to create his line of climbers. Cold hardy and disease resistant, these roses took the world by storm in the 1950s. R. kordesii was as invaluable as New Dawn in the development of 20th century climbers.

To see the range of roses developed by these two seminal hybridizers, go to and type in their names. If you have a favorite rose and want to find out more about the person who hybridized it and other roses they developed, go to and type in the name of the roses. Please consider becoming a contributing member of Helpmefind. It is the best site, bar none, for information about roses.


  1. Nice article! I particularly appreciate the suggestion of using to learn more about rose hybridizers. Although a member, it didn't occur to me to utilize this function.
    Reading about your sister's dislike of the color of Rosarium Uetersen made me smile. I received this rose several years ago, and remember opening the shipping box. I was aghast at the 'gaudy' color of the rose, and couldn't imagine how it could possibly work in my garden of predominantly pink, blush, mauve and white OGR's. I planted it far from my other roses, alongside the garage. It is now one of my favorite roses, and I love the color. I hope to add many other Kordes roses this season.
    I also grow a sport of New Dawn, Awakening. Lovely climber! I see I need to add New Dawn and the good Doctor, as well as Sarah Van Fleet.
    I will be looking up the hybridizers of my favorite roses, there's always room for more roses here!

  2. Thanks, Slavka. Interesting how our prejudices (in this case, based on flower color) are often found to be unbased upon real experience. On another note, I wonder why it is so much more common to have favorite singers, composers, painters, or writers than it is to have favorite hybridizers?

  3. Mabe because in tie rose growers tend to appreciate one or two types of flower form, and just e few colour combinations.Those are the ones closest to their heart.
    But the hybridizer moves forward and creates all kinds of flower types in a rose, and a lot of colours.Few hybridizer have a compact collection, speaking from an aestetic point of wiew.