Breeders of Note:

 The Famille Guillot

Edward Cunningham

Successful rose breeding is combination of talent, environment, industriousness, and luck (some of the luck dumber than the rest).  The family Guillot is evidence of this.  It appears that they are the earliest dynasty of rose breeders, having begun in 1839 (thereby wresting that honor from the Dicksons & McGredys of the late 19th century). 

 Guillot pere, the first in the dynasty, was born in 1803, and set up a nursery in the warmer southeastern quarter of France, calling it "The Land of Roses" (in French, of course).  Previously, Paris, in northern France,  had been the only major center of commercial rose growing.   They picked a good environment.   His first two introductions were Bourbons: Lamartine and Charles Martel.  His son, Guillot fils, was born there in 1827. As all rose growers, they had to be industrious to gather, propagate, and cultivate both scion and root stock in quantities sufficient to earn a living. To maximize their income, they needed to market roses that would command a premium price.  This meant either paying a premium price for scions of expensive roses, or else cheaply breeding "new, exciting, and different" roses of their own.   In most of the rose growing world of the day, rose breeding consisted of deciding what kind of rose was desired, and then planting 2 likely parent bushes beside each other, and hoping that the bushes would produce seed for the desired rose (i.e. if youwant a pink rose, plant Red Radiance & White Masterpiece beside each other, & hope you get seeds for a pink rose).   To get "special" roses from such a breeding "program," you do need to be very "industrious."  I have listened to contemporary rose breeders relate that only 1 of perhaps 10,000 seedlings that they have personally pollinated ever make it to market, after perhaps 3 to 7 years of testing !   Imagine how many more seedlings had to be weeded through when they did not result from artificial pollenation.   Utilizing such practices requires great industriousness.  It also relies heavily on dumb luck.  In recognition of the low rate of interesting offspring, and to reduce a crushing work load, breeders did not record what roses were crossed, make that planted near each other, nor did they record where the resultant seeds were planted.


But, hold on, the luck gets "dumberer."   Perhaps the most momentous, most pregnant, product of this less than scientific breeding system was the cross of 2 unknown roses which produced LaFrance, the first hybrid tea, introduced in 1867 by Guillot fils.  No other seedling in the nursery resembled it.  Thus a new class of roses that would sweep the world was figuratively "born in a manger."  As if this were not enough, Harkness reports that a contemporary horticulturist, Jean Sisley,  tried to persuade French rose breeders to improve their practices.   Although respected, his urgings were dismissed, including by  Guillot fils.   Nonetheless, later, Guillot fils named two tea roses after M. Sisley's relatives, Marie and Aline.   In appreciation, M. Sisley gave Guillot fils some rose seeds from his garden; they were from the "new" R. Multiflora rose that Robert Fortune had sent back from Japan.  From them, Guillot fils developed another new family of Polyantha roses in 1880 !   (Later breeders would cross this new family of roses created by Guillot with the other new family of roses created by Guillot (hybrid teas) to create our present day family of floribunda roses !).


Perhaps I have appeared less respectful or appreciative than is their due.   I do not mean to be.  Rather, the harsh realities of the times in which the earlier Guillots lived are a prelude to the fourth quality required to be a rose breeder.  They had excellent luck, great industriousness, and a good climactic environment, and they perdured theough a bad scientific environment.  It is perhaps in the fourth quality, talent, that they most excelled.  In the face of contemporary breeding practices, they were successful and prolific commercial rose breeders.  Guillot pere alone introduced around 80 new roses.   Without the aid of scientific breeding practices, the talent of the Guillots was sufficient to create 2 important new families of roses which have become the two most popular classes of roses in the world today !   A list of their cultivars  approaches 500 entries !   There are many famous names still in commerce, including Geant des Batailles, Mme. Guillot, Mme. Bravy, Lord Raglan, Imperatrice Eugenie, Mme. Falcot, Triomphe de Guillot fils, Catherine Guillot, LaFrance, Catherine Mermet, Etoile de Lyon, Gloire Lyonnaise, Comtesse d'Oxford, Irene Watts, and Comtesse du Cayla.  Additionally, Guillot fils' talent enabled him to invent the process of shield graft budding to rootstock seedlings, instead of rooted cuttings of the rootstock.  This technique has since been adopted around the world.


The Guillot family, and their love affair with roses, has continued into the present day. Their website (www.rosesguillot.com) is both attractive and informative.  They are justly proud the wealth of great and enduring roses that their line has produced.   Today, they put much of their energy into continuing  these roses in commerce, and in peoples' homes and lives.  In a section of their website, they write, "After years of research in the collections of rose gardens such as de l'Hay les Roses, Lyon or Bagatelle, Jean-Pierre (Guillot) has grouped together all the "House" varieties still in existence and has completed this collection by choosing the best varieties obtained since the XVII century..."  But, the Guillots do not merely rest on the shoulders of their ancestors, they march on. The sixth generation of Guillots is introducing a new group of roses that combine the best of the old with the best of the new, the "Generosa roses," including  Claudia Cardinale, Florence Delattre, Martine Guillot, and Sonia Rykiel.    And, yes, they are following strict scientific breeding practices.


Sources include: The Makers of Heavenly Roses by Jack Harkness, www.Helpmefind.com,

www.rosesguillot.com,  www.arenaroses.com,   and www.rosarosam.com,

reprinted from the October 2004 Rhode Island Rose Review, edited by Angelina P. Chute




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