Breeders of Note:
Eugene Boerner

Ed Cunningham


Eugene S. Boerner was born of German parents in Wisconsin, in 1893.  He served as a pilot in WW I.   He was hired by Jackson & Perkins in 1920, and spent his entire career with them.  "He was  jovial, and had a good sense of humor."  Having grown up in cold Wisconsin, he desired to create beautiful and cold-hardy roses, as did Buck, and our own Brownells.  "Following the examples of ..... Poulsen and Kordes in Europe, he saw Floribundas to be those roses" (The Makers of Heavenly Roses, Jack Harkness, p. 74). 


"...... many rosarians feel that it was Eugene Boerner who developed the floribunda into what it is today. (He) developed numerous floribundas during his 45-year career at Jackson & Perkins beginning in 1920, which led to his becoming known as `Papa Floribunda.'   Gene Boerner hybridized more than 60 floribundas in his lifetime -- eleven  were given the All-America Rose Selections (AARS) award.. (Kitty Belendez at www.scvrs.homestead.com/FabFloribundas.html).

For those seeking a concise over-view of what Floribundas are, this site gives a nice over-view of the whole Floribunda family, written by Kitty.


"It is the reputation of Americans to outdo others in the size and scope of their undertakings; and of the Germans to be thorough.  When these two characteristics were merged in J&P's Research department, the result was the greatest labour ever put into rose breeding.   ....they produced 250,000 seeds in a year, and were prepared to grow 100,000 in order to select one good variety."  Gene was the epitome of industriousness,  "`Goldilocks,' in 1945, was plainly the best yellow Floribunda of its day, and Gene was already breeding from it before the date of its introduction."  (The Makers of Heavenly Roses, Jack Harkness, p. 74-75).        


Before WW-II, there was not an intense rose hybridizing industry in America.   We obtained much of what we wanted from western Europe's rose nurseries.  In the course of this commerce in new roses, there was also much social and intellectual traffic between the continents. 


"Gene was friendly with the Kordes family in Germany; he was `Onkel Gene' to its younger members."   (So, it is no surprise that J&P had exclusive distribution rights in the USA to any Kordes roses which they desired <John Mattia presentation, 10/8/05>).  In 1939, J&P obtained a supply of the new Kordes rose `World's Fair;' that rose did very well for  J&P.   Around the same time, Gene obtained `Pinocchio' from Wilhelm Kordes (Disney had released the cartoon movie "Pinocchio" a couple years earlier).   


Gene included `Pinocchio' in his breeding before he introduced it to the public in 1942.  In the second generation of his work with Pinocchio, he created `Masquerade.'   "No rose of that kind had ever been seen.  The nearest to it was an old China rose, `Mutabalis,' a shrub which proceded from buds of saffron to magenta in its old age."  The second triumph of his breeding with Pinocchio was `Fashion,' which had the then rare color of coral. (The Makers of Heavenly Roses, Jack Harkness, p. 75-76). 


Boerner was also friendly with many others in the rose industry, including Edward LeGrice, who had an interest in unusually colored roses.                                                   


Also, "when a young Ulsterman named Sam McGredy came to him for advice, he received him generously.  Sam, who had been given the task of breeding roses, but no knowledge of it, owned that Gene had been a kind of hybridizing father to him."  (The Makers of Heavenly Roses, Jack Harkness, p. 77). 


But, in the midst of all this social rose commerce, along came WW-II.   In addition to the obvious human toll, it was a disaster for the European rose industry.  The mainland was devastated, and during the recovery, roses were a luxury.  England had relied on the continent for a large supply of assorted, cheap rootstock, as well as some newly hybridized cultivars each year.     In the American Rose Annual 1945, p. 46,  Walter Easlea, Cambridge, England wrote  "Not within living memory has there been such a shortage of rose plants for sale in Great Britain as there is in this season of 1944-45.  This is mainly due to government restrictions on land that can be used for growing rose plants.  Some growers who formerly produced 500,000 plants for sale have budded only 20,000 for the past two seasons.   ....Some growers this season have had to go to their customers to secure propagating eyes.   ...Even after the war is over, it will require some time to regain our former position as a rose country. ....Although the exhibitions of the National Rose society could not be held this year, there is no diminution of the public interest ...thanks to the gardening press.   ....There are many novelties in the Society's trial grounds at Hayward Heath, including many from the United States." (Now that my wife has a near full set, I can urge all who will listen to pick up copies of old ARS annuals when available; they are a treasure trove).


WW-II left it open for the American rose industry to take off, and take off it did, with Gene Boerner and J&P as major contributors.   Some of his more renowned introductions include: Aloha, Apricot Nectar, Bridal Pink, Coral Dawn, Diamond Jubilee, Faberge, Fashion (and also Vogue, both from the same cross),  First Prize, Gene Boerner, Goldilocks, Ivory Fashion, John F. Kennedy, Lavendar Piniocchio, Ma Perkins, Masquerade, Parade, Saratoga, Spartan, Summertime, White Masterpiece, and Zorina.  Help-Me-Find is the best way I know of for interested folk to look these roses up, and to see pictures.


In his breeding program, he utilized many roses.  He employed classic HT roses like Ophelia & her multitude of sports, .Noisettes,  Floribundas, Pernetianas, OGRs and even a species or two.  Additionally, like other real professionals, he kept a stable of his own cultivars which he found to be worthy and  reliable.  (Sort of like "standing on his own shoulders," so to speak).


A while back,. I explored the ancestry of a lot of roses that I liked.   Some of the biggest name ancestors kept popping up everywhere.  Included in the "frequent flyers" was Lavender Pinocchio by Boerner.  It is one of the "brown" or "coffee colored" roses.  Most familiar of the type to us may be `Distant Drums.'   Help-Me-Find has a set of absolutely gorgeous photos of Lavendar Pinocchio.  In researching this article, I saw some photos of Boerner's rose `Brownie.'  I had not gotten to `Lavendar Pinocchio' yet, and was struck with several things when I saw `Brownie:' how pretty it was; how forgotten it is; how it is reminiscent of `Distant Drums;' and how very different the photos from different contributors were. 

Later on, I came across the "Old Garden Roses and Beyond" website at www.rdrop.com/~paul/brownroses.html  (sponsored by The Uncommon Rose).   In their June, 2003 issue  "A Subtle Beauty Brown and Other Odd-Colored Roses,"  Fredrik Liljeblad wrote

"more than any other flowering plant, rose color is extremely variable. And more than any other color of rose, brown roses are subject to that variability. These changes can be governed by soil type, overall climate, differences in local weather, changes of season, and even variations in the amount or strength of sunlight a rose receives."  That, rather than mis-labeling may explain some of the variation seen.

This particular "issue" of that website is a true wonder to behold.   Although "Help-Me-Find.com" is the best single reference site I have found on roses in general, I cannot express how great this other site is on the subject of brown, reddish-brown, etc. roses and their history.  If you have any interest at all in these roses, do not miss this issue of this website.


Many of Boerner's roses are still in commerce, and well regarded.  Others live more in their contributions to other breeders' programs.  Help-Me-Find shows that David Austin has used Aloha almost profligately in his program: Aloha is thrice a parent, and 31 times a grand-parent, for Austin alone !    First Prize was no slouch in this arena either.   But, Goldilocks is the winner, with page after page of descendants.


Professionally, Boerner's record speaks for itself.  "The stiffest competition among good roses is among pink and white Hybrid Teas. The fact that Bridal Pink, Bridal White ( a sport of Bridal Pink found by and attributed to Warriner) and First Prize are still highly rated and broadly grown more than thirty years after their introducton is a remarkable achievement.   Boerner's legacy is a strong one. If he did not wow us with hot-colored roses, he certainly gave us a significant number of solid, beautiful ones.   .....No less important are his shrub and climbing roses Aloha, Coral Dawn, and Parade. Aloha is still widely loved and distributed and Parade won from the RHS its award of garden merit some forty years after its introduction."     (Rose File at www.rosefile.com/TheTables/xBoerner.html).


But who was the man ?

He was the man who had mercy on an (orphaned ?)  Sam McGredy IV, and gave him a leg up on how to carry on the family tradition which he had inherited  (The Makers of Heavenly Roses, Jack Harkness, p. 77).

He was the man who put all the royalties that J&P collected on Kordes' roses into an escrow account during WW-II, when the government said he could keep them, and then mercifully gave them to the Kordes, who had been devastated by the war (John Mattia presentation, 10/8/05).

He was the man who, as his life was drawing to a close in 1963, had mercy on a new widow and offered her the white rose that he had intended for himself, and instead dedicated it as a tribute to her assassinated husband.

He was the man who, when he died on 9-5-66, left a large legacy to Cornell University to support graduates working on rose research (Value for Money, by Lt. Col. Ken Grapes, p. 114)

Now, I don't know the man, but, from what I have read, I believe that he is worthy of the verse, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."


reprinted from the RI Rose Review, November 2005, Ed. Angelina P. Chute




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