The Hybrid Teas are exceedingly popular in our times. Many believe that their large, high-centered flower on a strong, thorny stem defines the traditional rose. Jack Harkness, internationally known hybridizer and author, wrote that the Hybrid Teas received something of their vigor, hardiness and firm flower stems from the Hybrid Perpetuals; but the Teas offered their elegant leaves, persistent growth (and therefore continued blossoming), and best of all their long petals formed into high-centered flowers. It isn't difficult to recognize our modern Hybrid Teas in a group of Hybrid Perpetuals or Teas, but things weren't always that simple.
Nature improvised to a large extent during the early history of the Hybrid Teas. Roy Shepherd wrote that practically all the early Hybrid Teas were derived from open-pollinated flowers of the Tea rose variety. Considering the many variables that are consistent with chance pollination, it was difficult to define a new class out of the resulting hybrids. The early hybrids of the Tea did not have unified characteristics and reluctance to accept a new classification of roses ensued.
At some point in time the hybrids of the Tea began to evolve into new, dynamic territory. It has been speculated that this happened when Jean-Baptiste Guillot discovered 'La France' in a patch of seedlings in Lyon-Monplaisir. No one knows what the parents of 'La France' were. Some popular beliefs are that 'La France' was either a seedling of 'Mme Falcot' (a Tea) or the cross between 'Mme Victor Verdier' (a Hybrid Perpetual) and 'Mme Bravy' (a Tea). No one has been able to say for certain whether 'La France' was the first seedling produced by a natural cross between a Hybrid Perpetual and a Tea; this has been complicated by the uncertain parentages that characterized the time. It would only make sense, however, that a rose like 'La France', that combined some of the best qualities of the Teas and the Hybrid Perpetuals, would become the prototype for a new breed of roses. In The Practical Book of Outdoor Rose Growing, George C. Thomas, Jr. described 'La France' as "a rose as hardy, or nearly as hardy as the Hybrid Perpetuals-a rose that bloomed practically as often as the Tea and that had fine foliage and perfume."
Henry Bennett, an English farmer and cattle breeder, saw the merit in the liaison between the Hybrid Perpetuals and the Teas. He saw the benefits of artificially pollinating the Tea with the Hybrid Perpetual, reported his planned parentages, and began to systematically promote a new class. From that point on, rose breeding changed dramatically as the other rose breeders saw the advantages of making deliberate crosses. Jack Harkness remarked that a patron saint of the class would be an appropriate title for Henry Bennett, although he has been called the father of Hybrid Teas. In 1879, Bennett presented a group of ten distinct varieties, which he persuasively advertised as "Hybrids of the Tea Rose". One of these roses was named 'Jean Sisley' for a French breeder who had advocated artificial pollination, but had received little notice from French breeders at the time.
Soon after Bennett introduced his roses, he met with the Horticultural Society of Lyon to discuss the status on of the Hybrid Teas. François Lacharme of Lyon had already made significant contributions to the class. In 1859 he introduced 'Victor Verdier', which he believed to be a cross between 'Jules Margottin' (a Hybrid Perpetual) and 'Safrano' (a Tea). 'Victor Verdier' had distinguishing features and became a head of the Hybrid Perpetual class. It was well noted that the rose had a good dose of Tea in its characteristics. The rose was more tender than other Hybrid Perpetuals and the English hybridizer, Pemberton, thought it must have more Tea "blood" because it was always so badly attacked by rabbits. Many have suggested that 'Victor Verdier' was the first Hybrid Tea, but at the time it was not recognized as such. Jules Gravereaux, creator of the famous and extraordinary rose collection at l’Haÿ, grouped the Hybrid Perpetuals into twelve groups. ‘Victor Verdier’ was chosen to represent Groupe D or the fourth prototype of Hybrid Perpetuals. The other roses which represented the Hybrid Perpetual groups were ‘La Reine’, Baronne Prévost, ‘Géant des Batailles’, Général Jacqueminot’, ‘Jules Margottin’, ‘Madame Récamier’, ‘Triomphe de l’Exposition’, ‘Madame Victor Verdier’, ‘Charles Lefbvre’, and ‘Baronne A. de Rothschild’. The twelfth group was named Hybrides Remontantes non classes, or Hyrbid Perpetuals that could not be classified into one of the other eleven groups. This is documented in Les Roses cultivée à l’Haÿ en 1902, an essay on rose classification.
Jack Harkness wrote that 'Victor Verdier' did not appear to be a Hybrid Tea, although the rose's reported parentage would suggest otherwise. Roy Shepherd wrote that 'Victor Verdier' and its progeny, which were assumed to already contain Tea blood, entered prominently into the creation of the early Hybrid Tea varieties. 'Victor Verdier' became the parent of 'Lady Mary Fitzwilliam', which became a stud Hybrid Tea; a grandparent of 'Mme Caroline Testout'; and it has been suggested that 'La France' has 'Victor Verdier' in its genetic make-up.
'Victor Verdier' also became the seed parent of 'Captain Christy', another of Lacharme's introductions. 'Captain Christy' is considered one of our earliest Hybrid Teas dating back to 1873. ‘Captain Christy’ was grouped as a Hybrid Tea by Jules Gravereaux, it was not classified as a Hybrid Perpetual. The pollen parent was 'Safrano' a Tea. The popularity of 'Captain Christy' encouraged other rose breeders to use the Hybrid Perpetual as the seed parent, while trying to find the perfect balance between the Tea and the Hybrid Perpetual.
As a result of Bennett's meeting in Lyon, the French announced the creation of a new class called Hybrides de Thé. Soon after the French and English breeders began to list some of their roses in the new class. Although the French accepted the new class, it took thirteen years for the British National Rose Society to acknowledge it. The National Rose Society officially recognized the class in 1893. Twenty-six years after the introduction of 'La France', they cited the rose as the first Hybrid Tea.
Monsieur J. Pernet-Ducher, who was also from Lyon, contributed greatly to the complex ancestry of the Hybrid Teas and eventually reshaped the class. Pernet-Ducher had already created many wonderful, classic Hybrid Teas by 1900, including 'Gustav Regis', 'Mme Caroline Testout', 'Mme Antoine Rivoire', 'Beauté Lyonnaise', and 'Mme Ravary'. He continued breeding classic Hybrid Teas after 1900, but had also started experimental crosses between the Austrian Brier (R. foetida, R. lutea) and the Hybrid Perpetuals. Initially Pernet-Ducher's roses were grouped as either Hybrid Teas, or as Hybrid Foetidas, Hybrid Luteas, and as Hybrid Austrian Briers in Great Britain. Soon after the Hybrid Foetidas (Hybrid Luteas, or Hybrid Austrian Briers) were temporarily grouped as a separate class known as the Pernetianas, named for their founder. Today, the Pernetianas have merged with the Hybrid Tea class and it is rare to find a modern Hybrid Tea without R. foetida in its makeup. Pernet-Ducher's breeding with the Austrian Roses, R. foetida and 'Persian Yellow', introduced what is described in A Fragrant Year as, "a peculiar unrosy emanation" to the scents of the Hybrid Teas. Helen Van Pelt Wilson and Léonie Bell explain that on their own these roses have what might be described as an unpleasant odor, yet when they are blended with Hybrid Perpetuals and early Hybrid Teas they can produce incredible fruity bouquets. Not only did these roses bring tints of pure yellow ('Souvenir de Claudius Pernet', 1920), copper and orange to the Hybrid Teas, but also the fragrances of raspberry, melon, banana, or the blend of apricot, peach, European plum, and the perfumed nectarine. The Vintage Gardens catalogue describes the colors brought to the Hybrid Tea class as, "beautiful and unique.., the flame colors infusing, blending, and overlaying pinks, creams, and clear yellows, not always brilliant but usually subtly intriguing".
The introduction of 'Peace' in 1945 marks the milestone, which separates the elegant older Hybrid Teas from the ones of today. Many of the older varieties retain quite a bit of old world charm, and are considered classics. Many are very Tea-like in nature. Their ancestry became more complex with time as Hybrid Teas became crossed with other Hybrid Teas replacing the Hybrid Perpetuals and Teas as direct ancestors. As a group they display a cornucopia of delightful scents. Some consider them to be as fragrant as the Old Garden Roses, just in a different way. In the Rose Reporter of June 1999, Tommy Cairns reported on the work of Dr. Ivon Flament of Firmenich Company in Geneva, Switzerland. Dr. Flament isolated substances in our Hybrid Teas and found they are chemically dissimilar to those of the damask-scented Old European varieties. Some carry a good dose of damask scent, but it is usually accompanied by new fragrances that have been created by a complex hybridization of the roses. The eclectic gene pool of the class has created chemical components, which can be differentiated and which have altered scent in profound, sometimes overwhelming ways.
The Hybrid Teas were the first group of roses to show deliberate crossings between roses, and have come to be associated with modernization. Modern rose chronology has been assigned a beginning marked by the introduction of 'La France' in 1867. This assignment can be considered somewhat arbitrary because 'La France' was a chance seedling with unknown parents. Nonetheless, 'La France' was chosen as the prototype of the group; and the date of its introduction, 1867, is still in use to separate the Old Garden Roses from the Modern Roses.
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