Breeders of Note:
Henri Delbard

Ed Cunningham

Henri Delbard was born in the center of France in 1944. He is a member of the French rose breeding firm of Delbard (father Georges, and his brothers Francois & Guy). They have been introducing their roses from before 1955. Among their better known roses are Centennaire de Lourdes (1958), Altissimo (1966), Blue Nile (1981), Grand Siecle (1986), Empress Farah (1992), and the "Impressionist" series of roses, named after famous painters.

But, his involvement in roses is more than that of a mercenary, though talented, nurseryman, eking out a living. He believes that 4 senses (sight, smell, taste, & touch) must be employed in order to achieve a full appreciation of the rose. He further postulates that education in the modern world has generally emphasized the functions of the "left brain," (i.e. language, abstraction, deduction), and has generally left the functions of the "right brain" (i.e. sensibility, vision, intuition) to atrophy. Thus, with the exception of a few connoisseurs of food, wine, art, or music, most of us have received no real instruction in how to "knowingly" use, or appreciate, of our senses.

Having been thus ignored, all our senses must first be "tutored." He calls this tutoring of the senses an "education in sensibility." "This means the re-education of the right hemi-sphere of the brain. But sensibility requires a realm in which to manifest itself. And this is provided by flowers and plants, nature in its broadest sense, which helps us to open up the paths that lead to a sensuous understanding of the phenomenon of life. ....Here is a paradox: We cannot educate the sensibility unless we have access to the living domain of nature. And we cannot receive the TEACHING OF NATURE if our own sensibility is not open to it." This is where the rose enters in. In his 1994 book, "Diary of a Rose Lover," he presented practical applications of his preceding beliefs.

"The language of color has an alphabet based on the color wheel." Color has 2 "temperatures," "warm" & "cool." Your first task is to decide if you prefer cool or warm colors. Then, you can select the basic color on the wheel that "gives you the greatest pleasure." 

Since your garden will not be composed of just one color, you need to learn about color combinations: "Do you like combinations to be strong or mild?" 

If mild contrast, you combine flowers in your favorite color with neighboring colors on the color wheel. 

Conversely, if you like combinations with strong contrast, you'll choose flowers in colors that are directly opposite on the color wheel. These "opposite" colors are called "complementary" colors. "But in this case, since you are using both cool & warm colors, you will have to measure them out, and emphasize the color whose temperature you preferred at the outset." 

These are just the beginning of the types of things you can learn to pay attention to, and to appreciate. There are also considerations of color saturation, brightness, intensity, etc.

In addition, Delbard holds that, just as different carpenters' tools (i.e. hammers & saws) perform different tasks, so too do the different colors:
White enhances other colors, and can "provide lightness & liveliness." 
Blue can be used to give "depth." Blue "extends the horizon, and unites the earth & sky." 
"Red, the color of blood & embers, stimulates the senses, and draws the attention. It marks out the perspectives and views that you want to stress."
Yellow "warms and illuminates."
"Green calms, cools, and refreshes." 

It is difficult to summarize Delbard's conceptualization of how the next sense ( smell) should be exercised in our experience of the scent of the rose. An analogy (such as St. Patrick used with the shamrock) is perhaps the easiest way to convey the sense of his thoughts.

A symphony has "races" of instruments (strings, woodwinds, brass, & percussion). It also "families" (i.e. violins, violas, cellos, basses). And it has individual members of those families. And finally, all the individual members may be playing the same notes, or some may be playing different notes ("counterpoint").

As a symphony is a "whole," so the scent of a rose is a "whole." Delbard has learned that "all scents are an assemblage of natural olfactory notes: lavender, citronella, peach, lilac, cedar, jasmine, etc." He has created a schema in which the scent is divided into the "head, heart, & base" of the scent.

The initial "notes" of a scent that we notice are the most volatile & fleeting, composed of the "citrus" family ( lemon, bergamot, etc.) and the "aromatics" family (aniseed, lavender, etc.). He characterizes these initial notes as the "head," or "spirit" of the rose's scent.

"Then come the notes of flowers family (lilac, jasmine,..), fruits family (raspberry, peach, ..), spices family (cloves, nutmeg, ...), and vegetal family (grass, leaves, ivy,...). These are the perfume's heart, its personality."

Finally come the deep and lasting notes of the perfume's "base:" wood family ( cedar, moss,..) and balsam family (vanilla, heliotrope, ..). 

Delbard color-coded these families of scents, and then created a "fragrance pyramid" to represent the "whole" scent of individual roses. At the top of the fragrance pyramid for a particular rose, he will put the color(s) that represent the "notes" of the "head" of the scent (i.e. a stripe of blue for aromatics, like anise, or a stripe of yellow for citruses, like lemon). Then come longer stripes of color to represent the "heart" of the scent (i.e. light green for vegetal, like grass; and perhaps a stripe of tan for spices, like cloves. And finally, come the widest stripes of color, at the base of the fragrance pyramid, to represent the "base" of the scent (i.e. for wood family, like sandalwood). 

He elaborated further, stating that science has shown that "it takes almost 12 hours for a rose to play all its notes. In this way the intensity, as well as the composition, of its scents varies in the course of the day." Speaking more plainly, he wrote of their "Claude Monet" that "in the morning, it's the herb garden of your childhood, with its notes of citronella, at noon, the orchard with its odours of pears, peach, apricots, and in the evening, the notes of sandalwood and cedar will lead you among the trees.

In his book, he presents us with both the pictures of various roses which his firm has bred, and their "fragrance pyramid," with the family colors labeled, to denote which family members are present at each level. It is a visual aid to the sense of smell (unlike the more arid, & less stimulating, text description found in most books). Again, he is encouraging us to exercise and synthesize, the left brain functions of sensibility, vision, and intuition.

He also addresses the senses of taste and touch, but in not so interesting a manner (anybody want a recipe for Salmon Meuniere with lemon juice in a warm cream sauce, tarragon, and "cezanne" rose petals? How about rose butter?).

Additionally, he makes some interesting use of Marcel Proust's finding that experiencing food, smells, etc. which we have not had for many years will let loose a flood of long-forgotten old memories associated with that food or smell. There is too much to go into here, but, it involves roses, food, family, childhood, and home. 

There are other tid-bits which he has shared, including the fact that in the breeding roses, the female parent "generally supplies the vigor, and the male transmits the color and scent of their offspring."

The current highlight of the Delbard breeding program is their line of roses named for Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, and Henri Matisse. Delbard learned that "the Impressionists used little touches of pure color; these mingled, and produced the desired colors only when the painting was seen from a certain distance." He named this line of roses "Impressionist" after he became convinced that they reflected the "Impressionist style."

Happy Rose growing.



Web page designed and maintained by Patsy Cunningham and Andy Vanable. Please e-mail us with any website problems.
Date last edited: 01/21/10
2009 Rhode Island Rose Society. All Rights Reserved