Breeders of Note: Edward Burton LeGrice

Ed Cunningham

    In 1933, Edward Burton LeGrice (1902 - 1977) began introducing the roses he bred. After his death, his operation, carried on by Bill LeGrice, continued to test & introduce his creations, and still exists to this day. His chief interests and accomplishments included single roses; developing a good yellow rose; and developing roses of unusual coloration.

He is perhaps best remembered for his “maid” series of appealing single roses, which spanned 1939 through 1956. Most notable among these were Dainty Maid (1939 - silvery pink with carmine reverse); Dusky Maiden (1947 - dusky scarlet crimson with golden stamens); Gipsy Maid (1955 - deep pink with the green apples fragrance of the sweet briar <Eglantine> roses); and Dairy Maid (1957 - a striking butter, fading to cream, with red stamens).

Early on, David Austin employed Dusky Maiden in his breeding program. It has become an ancestor of many of his dark red roses (including Dark Lady, Fisherman’s Friend, The Squire, The Prince, L.D.Braithwaite, Othello, Tradescant, & Prospero; additionally, Meilland’s Traviata is a 5th generation decendant of Dusky Maiden).

All rational rose breeding consists of breeding “strength” to “strength.” Thus, Dusky Maiden was bred extensively, for its strength of color and fragrance. Dusky Maiden’s own ancestry is similarly a stable-full of winners, including: Daily Mail Scented Rose, Chateau de Clos Vougeot, Etoile d’Hollande, General MacArthur, Hadley, Else Poulsen, and the Orleans Rose.

In addition to his love of singles, as evidenced in his “maid” series, LeGrice had other aspirations.

One aspiration was to develop “a hardy golden rose” that would produce good yellow rose offspring (Jack Harkness). He succeeded in 1956 with Allgold, an unfading buttercup yellow. Via Doubloons, it has 2 species roses in its ancestry only 3 generations back (quite an infusion of “new blood” compared to the usual crossing of 2 strong, but very domesticated, roses in hopes of an incremental refinement of the type). In addition to being hardy and a good breeder, Allgold is regarded as “the first yellow rose to really overcome all of the drawbacks that the use of R.Foetida had brought” (John Mattock).

Beyond breeding commercially successful varieties, another of LeGrice’s aspirations was to specialize in the unusual, to raise “out of the ordinary” roses (Stirling Macoboy). Thus, “Edward LeGrice was one hybridizer always chasing after the unusual colours, and who gave the world varieties in greys, browns, lilac and silver...” (Sean McCann). Botanica credits LeGrice with raising some varieties “of most unusual coloring in shades of purple, lilac, and brown.” Many of these were “offered as being of special interest to flower arrangers” as they “can be used with telling effect in an arrangement.”

LeGrice’s ability to “think outside the box” was a great asset in his pursuit of these unusual roses. He utilized a palette of exotic and neglected roses, such as the Gallicas & species roses, to infuse “new,” and “different” characteristics into his work with the more contemporary roses. His approach was to observe roses with genetics that create attractive, interesting, and diverse flowers, and to then wonder what new good rose he could “pull out” by mixing good, but dis-similar, roses. An example of this approach is his “Pearldrift.” It is a cross of Mermaid (the house swallower) with the vigorous climber New Dawn. What he “got” was, surprisingly, a low, spreading shrub/ground-cover, about 3 feet high and 6 feet wide, with pearly white, fragrant


In reading descriptions of roses from the nurseries of “vintage” roses, I have often been struck that many of the descriptions that catch my eye are of a LeGrice rose. In preparing this article, I have been struck with the apparent joy, excitement , beauty, and child-like wonder evident in his work. Peter Beales described his mentor as “humming `hymn tunes’” while he walked his green houses with pollen, pro-creating, as it were, his roses. I sense a kindred spirit, but, alas, not a kindred talent.

The foregoing has been conceptual. To help concretize the “concepts,” here are descriptions of a few of his roses.

Artistic - changes from brownish orange to reddish salmon.

Great News - deep plum purple, with silvery tones on the reverse; petals waved & ruffled.

Grey Dawn - greyish-pink, with some light peach-yellow on the reverse.

Jocelyn - large, double, quartered, deep red with mahogany finish, aging purplish brown.

Lilac Charm - graceful, pale lilac-mauve with red stamens, & gold anthers single flowers “in large clusters, like a fog rolling in.”

Tom Brown - orange brown inside, brownish reverse.

Vesper - orange, apricot brown, with burnt orange reverse.

Victoriana - very dark burnt orange, centers having a lighter shade,; reverse silver.


Sources for this article include HelpMeFind.com, Botanica Roses, The Vintage Gardens catalogue, and “Roses” by Peter Beales.





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Date last edited: 01/21/10
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