Breeders of Note: Joseph Hardwick Pemberton

Ed Cunningham


Joseph Hardwick Pemberton was born in England on October 5, 1852. After his father's death, Pemberton entered some of his family's roses in a show in 1874, and won second prize. After that, he became a rose show enthusiast, and was ably assisted by his sister, Florence. Ever mindful of his family home, and the happiness of childhood, he cherished his 'Grandmother's Roses' (including Amy Vibert, De Meaux, Tuscany and others). He made a non-competitive exhibit of his grandmother's roses eight years later at the National Rose Society Show. This exhibit awakened the visitors' interest in such "old fashioned roses." Subsequently, Pemberton "set out to breed such varieties, with the intention that they should out-bloom his grandmother's,.... He wanted roses which would survive and bloom after all around them had perished...."-(From The Makers of Heavenly Roses, by Jack Harkness).

He chose Trier, a hybrid multiflora offspring of Aglaia ( itself the cross of R. Multiflora by the noisette "Reve d'Or") as the base of his breeding efforts. He introduced Danae & Moonlight" in 1913. In 1919, he began calling his roses Hybrid Musks "because of the R. Moschata in the Noisette's ancestry, a tenuous link to the Musk Roses...."-(Vintage Gardens website).

This is where things become a bit murky in the universe of Hybrid Musk roses.

Some authorities attribute their sweet and fruity scents to the R.Multiflora & the Tea in their immediate parentage. Others attribute it to the R.Moschata genes in their distant ancestry.

Some limit the use of the term "hybrid musk" to those roses specifically bred by Pemberton until his death in 1926, plus those introduced by the Bentalls, his gardeners who carried on his work. Others however, use the term quite broadly, to include very varied creations by so many breeders, that the category becomes nearly meaningless.

What can be safely said is that "the Reverend J.H. Pemberton, in England, originated a group of varieties which he called Hybrid Musks. They are large bushes, in bloom more or less continuously, bearing flowers of varying size and doubleness, mostly white, pale pink, and pale yellow, in gigantic clusters"-(From The Old Rose Adventurer, by Brent Dickerson).

He followed normal breeding practices, breeding strength to strength. He employed species roses (i.e. foetida), contemporary roses with species genes in their recent past (i.e. Trier), and also the "big names" of his day: Hybrid Teas (i.e. Ophelia & Chateau de Clos Vougeot), Bourbons (i.e. Gruss an Teplitz), Hybrid Perpetuals (i.e. Gloire de Chedanes-Guinnouseau), and Polyanthas (i.e. Miss Edith Cavell).

With all the resultant diversity, "what binds the Hybrid Musk group together is its shrub-rose nature. These roses are best grown freely, without pruning, allowing their natural grace to develop. They are mostly fragrant, bearing subtly colored smallish flowers in clusters, often very large clusters, especially in the fall. Healthy, lustrous foliage is a hallmark of the Hybrid Musks and several varieties can be pushed quite far with shade tolerance. ..... (they) require little pruning, and thus little familiarity with rose culture, suit people who want the showy beauty of roses without the upkeep. They are mostly hardy to about 15 degrees F."-(Vintage Gardens website).

The bushes are healthy and vigorous; they will live a long time. They will not require constant monitoring and treatment. Many readily tolerate some shade and poor soil. They bloom prolifically. They have "good genes;" some of them have a prodigious number of successful descendants. Several years ago, I traced the "family trees" of many roses that I was interested in. The frequency with which his hybrid musk, Robin Hood, appeared in the ancestry of many roses was very striking. Clearly, many breeders felt his rose had much to offer to their breeding program. No one can question the constitution of this rose family. The blossoms are their achilles' heel. The blossoms are nice; they are pretty; they photograph well at their peak. But generally speaking, they are not "achingly beautiful." Many tend to become "blowsy" quickly (not my favorite trait in a flower). Their colors are pleasant, but many tend to fade. Many have a pleasant fragrance, but not the equal of Crimson Glory, Mirandy, Double Delight, Fragrant Cloud, Sterling Silver, or Lagerfeld. In sum, Pemberton's hybrid musks were perhaps the first "carefree" or "landscape" roses.

"It is very likely that 50 or 100 years from now many of the Hybrid Tea roses we take for granted are gone and forgotten, but until someone invents roses with the same delicacy of form, same understated beauty, same completely care-free constitution, same good fragrance, and same freedom of blossom, Pemberton's Hybrid Musk roses will be widely loved by rose afficionados. ....in his spare time, (he bred) four or five of the world's greatest roses as well as a parent (Robin Hood, 1927, A.R.S. 8.6) to what is arguably the world's greatest rose (Iceberg).... His work inspired ..... Bentall who, in turn, produced Ballerina, The Fairy, and Belinda. The first two of which continue to be consistent best-sellers" (Rosafile website).

Considered among his best are: Cornelia 8.9 (1925; apricot-pink); Felicia 8.3 (1928, rich pink/salmon); Francesca (1922, apricot-yellow); Kathleen 8.8 (1922, white); Moonlight 8.3 (1913, lemon-white); Pax 7.8 (a white with golden stamens, from the end of W.W. I ); Penelope 8.8 (1924, creamy pink); Prosperity 8.5 (1924, creamy white); and Vanity 8.3 (1920, rose pink). It is also believed that he bred Buff Beauty 8.1 (apricot blend, 1939), but died before he could test, or introduce, it (ROSES, by Peter Beales).

Some well known Hybrid Musks bred by others include: Ballerina 1937 Bentall 8.8; Belinda 1936 Bentall 8.7; The Fairy 1932 Bentall (actually a polyantha 8.7); Erfurt 1939, Kordes 8.5; Eva 1933 Kordes; Lavender Lassie 1960 Kordes 8.0; and Skyrocket 1934 Kordes 7.7.

If you want the legacy of a humble man, wrapped in color, health, and fragrance, get yourself a hybrid musk. Happy rose growing, ed c.



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