Breeders of Note: Jean-Pierre Vibert

Ed Cunningham


While wandering the world and books of roses, on the look-out for "new-to-me" roses, I have often found that an "interesting" rose was bred by Jean-Pierre Vibert. I recently decided to learn just who he was. Although all sources agree that he was a highly important and influential figure in the history of roses, I have found this to be an unsatisfying experience ! I believe that this is because I was expecting to find a defining moment, or triumph, or "key" to him and to his work. But, the significance of Vibert seems not to lie in a defining moment, but rather in a "defining life," so to speak. The breadth, and depth, length, timing and location of his life collaborated to make his life so influential.

Jean-Pierre Vibert was born on January 31, 1777 (1). He was 15 when King Louis XVI was guillotined. Vibert was a patriot of his times, and became a soldier in Napoleon's Army of the Republic. He served until war wounds sent him home for good (2). "After he came home from the war he got a loan and bought a hardware store. Vibert's hardware store was just a few hundred yards from the garden of Monsieur Dupont, a great rose fancier and breeder patronized by the Empress Josephine. Dupont had brought together all of the roses then known to Europeans. Jean-Pierre began a friendship with Mons. Dupont, which developed his taste for roses and rose culture. Vibert started a small collection of roses in 1810 and his career as a Rosieriste began" (5). Also nearby, "the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, (had) established an important and extensive collection of .... varieties of roses at Chateau de Malmaison, an estate seven miles west of Paris in the 1800s. ..... It is said that she brought together 250 varieties, nearly all the known roses at the time. ....The garden became the setting for Pierre Joseph Redoute's work as a botanical illustrator. In 1824, he completed his watercolour collection 'Les Rose.' ....Spurred on by this imperial patronage, several French breeders--notably Dupont and Descemet developed several hundred new cultivars in the European groups Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias. Descemet ...may have been the first in the West to practice controlled cross-breeding" (6). When, "after the fall of Napoleon and the death of the Empress, Descemet had to flee France," Vibert "indulged his interest in roses and bought what remained of Descemet's nursery and breeding notes after the site of the nursery was ransacked by invading English troops" (6). Vibert was a scholar and a gentleman. "In the Preface to his (1846) Catalogue, ... Vibert writes to this effect: '' 'My establishment, which I founded in 1815, and where Roses only are cultivated for sale, is the first of the kind which had existence in France. Thirty-five years' practice in this branch of Horticulture, with numerous and reiterated experiments made in every mode of cultivation; a long habit of seeing, studying, and of comparing the productions of this beautiful genus -- such are at the least the claims I have made to public confidence...'" When he released seedlings bred by Descemet, he acknowledged this by placing a capital "D" after the name (1) He wrote numerous articles and essays on all aspects of roses, and frequently had to battle to defend his opinions. He was a sort of consumer advocate of his day, trying to ensure good horticultural & nursery practices. Despite opposing powerful interests in the horticultural and commercial fields, "he became one of the most respected rosarians and nurserymen in the area of Paris. He indeed became a founding member of the Soci‚t‚ d'Horticulture de Paris, which at length became today's Soci‚t‚ Nationale d'Horticulture" (2).

The timing of Vibert's life was crucial. The Empress Josephine's rose gardens and breeding consisted primarily of crossings of the "European" varieties listed above. The first half of the 19th century's rose breeding saw a progression of focus, from the recently available Chinas and teas, through the new Bourbons, and culminating in the Hybrid Perpetuals "--a name which implied to the people of the time 'Damask Perpetuals which have been hybridized with Other Sorts.' This group, taking in cultivars of all colors and forms, and (best of all to the people of the era) at least somewhat re-blooming and hardy, overwhelmed almost all the other groups. Interest in the old European sorts waned; they were gradually set aside, kept mainly as sentimental remembrances of the past by a few devotees" (4).

Thus, Vibert was able to breed with, and to offer, "roses of all sorts, from the new Chinas and Teas (he was the first to introduce to French horticulture the first yellow Tea, 'Parks' Yellow Tea-Scented China', so important to later breeding in France), to Noisettes (he bred the still-popular 'Aim‚e Vibert'), to the traditional Albas, Gallicas, Centifolias, Mosses, and Damasks, remaining a large-scale breeder of these several traditional classes long after public interest in them had diminished. He had a particular interest in Damask Perpetuals, and also bred some early Hybrid Perpetuals. He delighted in striped and spotted roses, and bred many such among the Gallicas, Centifolias, etc. Many, many of the roses still being sold in these groups were originated by Vibert; a check of the catalog lists of today will find Vibert's name omnipresent" (2).

It is too difficult to select a "short list" of Vibert's "greatest hits." Between 1816 and 1852, he bred hundreds of roses spread over many groups, including the Agathes, Albas, Arvensises, Banksias, Bourbons, Hybrid Bourbons, Boursaults, Bracteatas, Caninas, Centifolias, Chinas, Hybrid Chinas, Cinnamomeas, Damasks, Damask Perpetuals, F tidas, Gallicas, Hybrid Perpetuals, Mosses, Musks, Noisettes, Hybrid Noisettes, Pimpinellifolias, Rubiginosas, Turbinatas, Sempervirenses, Shrubs, Teas and a number of other groups ! But, as an example of his good work, I noticed Alain Blanchard, a Hybrid Gallica. It "tolerates a bit of shade. She was one of the roses tested for disease resistance by the Montreal Botanical Garden (Le Jardin Botanique de Montreal) in September 1998 - she was a star!!! She showed a 0 - 5% infection rate - very resistant.....(listed) as growing in zones 3-8" (5).

"The roses which he bred, and those from others which he popularized and sold; his practices and his skill; his articles and his opinions all of these influence the roses of today in a way which no other rosarian in rose history could claim. But, at length, it is his culture and familiarity with literature and history, his sense of the beautiful, his striving after the previously-unattained, his belief in straightforwardness and honesty, and his grasp of principles both botanical and societal in short, his goals, his knowledge, and his ethics which leave one with such admiration for the man. With him, as with few others, we feel that here is a man who has endured the challenges of Life, has had the highest aspirations, and has triumphed on his own terms" (2).

"On January 27, 1866, four days before his 89th birthday, he died quietly during the night at home" (3).


Very good websites include: (1) www.HelpMeFind.com, (2) www.csulb.edu/~odinthor/vibert.html, (3) www.vibertfamily.com/jeanpvib.html, (4) www.mc.edu/campus/users/nettles/rofaq/rofaq-or.html, (5) www.ars.org/explore.cfm/rom00sep/, (6) www.mrsgreenfingers.co.uk/roses.htm. ( 1,2, and 4 are particularly good).


This article, reprinted from the Rhode Island Rose Review, won an ARS Award of merit for 2003




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