A new home for old German roses

article for Rosa Mundi spring 2010




Many Old German roses, old in the meaning of being introduced in the timespan between the end of the 19th century and WW II, are threatened to fall into oblivion. Indeed many cultivars are already extinct. German rose and general gardening literature of the time in question reports about 1.600 to 1.800 different cultivars, which emerged from the rose nurseries of men like Peter Lambert, Johannes Felberg-Leclerc, Nicola Welter, Hermann Kiese and many others, whose names and roses are nearly forgotten today.


So when the opportunity did arise, I decided to collect the surviving of these 1.600 to 1.800 cultivars. Work started in early 2008 with reading, writing and quite a lot of physical manual work, which I did replace with highly horse-powered machinery when the work got too back-breaking.

The aim was – and still is – to collect and help to preserve what is left of the German rose heritage by planting additional „safety-copies“ and if possible, proliferate the cultivars which are threatened by extinction.

Planting of the first roses finally started prematurely in autumn 2008 – while some of the  earth moving still had to be done – to minimize the risk of loosing the potted plants to the cold - our winters can be rather nasty.


Apart from laying the grounds very soon other difficulties did arise. Blessed with a comforting touch of naivety I had estimated that Germany’s Old roses could be found best in German

nurseries – and this proved in most parts totally wrong. I ended up scratching together what was to be had commercially all over Europe, to find out that quite a lot of cultivars, and among them some, which had a big reputation in their time, were available overseas only. Help came from dear friends who helped me to get some rarities from the U.S. and in some parts from the Europarosarium Sangerhausen, from were, with luck and endurance, some very rare cultivars could be obtained.


The definition of what is a rose of German origin is not as simple as it might seem. A painful nation-building process, a war with France and two world wars have seen to that. So, for several reasons I have adopted a rather liberal view of what might be regarded as a „German“ rose. I have included in my collection the roses bred by Geschwind from Austro-Hungary,

cultivars from Ludwig [Louis] Walter from Saverne [Zabern] Alsace and some of the very rare roses from Jan Böhm and Dr. G. Brada from former Cechoslovakia.

Please do not regard this as a political statement – we are still just talking about collecting roses.


One of those very rare cultivars of German origin is ‚Professor Schmeil‘, a Pernetiana (Hybrid Lutea), sport of ‚Mme. Edouard Herriot‘, found by Kröger a nursery owner from the city of Elmshorn among his rose fields. Kröger exhibited this cultivar on several occasions at rose exhibitions around 1926. I do not know if it ever was in commerce.


Sangerhausen too was the safe harbour for roses which were bred by amateurs who did not find a professional propagator to introduce their roses, or maybe did not really care to introduce them.


Among them is Ernst Dechant, amateur breeder from Saxony. Compared to many of his professional colleages, Dechant achieved quite a lot. Of his known eight breedings, six have survived and five are still  -  or again -  in commerce. One of them even didn’t make it to get an own name: it is the moss ‚Eugenie Guinoisseau x Nuits de Young‘, from about 1938, sent to Sangerhausen for observation, kept and preserved through WW2 and decades later put into commerce by Martin Weingart.


But of course in the last years 60 to 100 years quite a lot of cultivars have been lost, which is all the more unfortunate, as many cultivars only still existed there, and  were presumably the last of their kind. On the other hand the rose world has to thank the Sangerhausen authorities for saving many cultivars from extinction – and this goes for roses from all over the world.

Additionally, with some of the cultivars there has been mix-ups in labelling, like for example with some cultivars bred by Geschwind or the presumed last surviving cultivar of ‚Berti Gimpel’ (‚Frau Karl Druschki‘ x ‚Fisher & Holmes‘) a HP bred and introduced by Johann Altmüller in 1913. An impostor of obvious polyantha-origin now holds its place.


Ludwig Walter, official of Germany’s Imperial Postal Service, another gifted amateur, living in Zabern, sent out his first breedings in 1906, when Alsace was, as one of the results of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, occupied by Germany. Quite a lot of Walter‘s early breedings have survived, again due to the fact, that samples of these cultivars were – and are – kept at Sangerhausen. 

With the end of WW1, Alsace came back to France and Louis [Ludwig] Walter completely fell from sight of German rose world. It took nearly ten years to re-establish the connections. In this time Louis Walter from Saverne bred on, among his breedings were ‚Général Bérthelot‘ (‚J.B.Clark x ‚Farbenkönigin‘) and ‚Général de Vaulgrenant‘ (‚M.A.Gance‘ x ‚Mme. Henriette Schisselé), both „Generals“ Hybrid Teas.



German rose breeding created famous roses like for example ‚Frau Karl Druschki’ (‚Merveillie de Lyon‘ x ‚Mme. Caroline Testout‘), introduced under this name in 1901 by Peter Lambert.  ‚Frau Karl Druschki’, was at least until the early 1950ies the most acclaimed pure white HP, even if it has no fragrance at all. It still is in commerce worldwide.


Another prominent survivor is ‚Gruss an Aachen’ (‚Frau Karl Druschki‘ x ‚Franz Deegen‘), in most cases attributed to P. Geduldig who brought it into commerce, but actually bred by Wilhelm Hinner, a rather enigmatic figure of rose breeding, a lifelong antagonist of Peter Lambert , and Lambert’s best hated enemy as well. But this makes an own chapter of Germany’s rose history.



For many years of the beginning 20th century, Peter Lambert of Trier [Treves], was the predominant breeder. More than 160 different cultivars emerged from his nurseries. Apart from the already mentioned ‚Frau Karl Druschki’, there were  - in their time – famous roses like the white HT ‚Kaiserin Auguste Viktoria’ (‚Coquette de Lyon‘ x ‚Lady Mary Fitzwilliam‘) of1891, the Bourbon ‚Adam Messerich’ (‚Frau Oberhofgärtner Singer‘ x [‚Louise Odier‘ x Louis-Philippe]) of 1920, the polyantha ‚Katharina Zeimet’ (Ètoile de Mai‘ x ‚Marie Pavic‘), the Lambertiana-strain of Multiflora Hybrids and many others. But what about Lambert’s white polyantha ‚Schneewittchen’ (‚Aglaia‘ cx [‚Paquerette‘ x ‚Souvenir de Mme. Levet‘]) of 1901, whose expulsion from the public was even quickened by the fact that Reimer Kordes used the same name for a very successful, but mildew-susceptible white floribunda introduced in 1958, or ‚Goethe’ (1911), one of the very few moss roses of German origin, or ‚Deutsches Danzig‘, a carmine-pink polyantha? They have survived, but only just. Today they are in commerce again in specialized rose nurseries for which we are indebted to their owners.


Many other cultivars of German origin had an even less lucky fate.


Roses like ‚Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt‘ (Lambert, 1898),  ‚Prof. Dr. Schmidt‘ (Strassheim, 1899),  ‚Herzog Friedrich II. von Anhalt’ (Welter, 1906) ‚Andenken an Lydia Grimm’ (Geduldig, 1910), ‚Freudenfeuer‘ (Kiese 1917) and many many others only survive as names in the memory of the researcher and the publications deriving from their research. They are history.



Many breedings of Jan Böhm are threatened to share this fate. One of the most uncommon

roses by Böhm certainly is ‚Zlaty Dech‘ (‚Admiration‘ x ‚Talisman‘), an orange HT, introduced 1936, described as apricot-yellow with pink edges. The petals are strongly veined red, giving this bloom a very special appearence.


During the so called Golden Years of German rose breeding, between 1900 and 1916, before the first implications of the war reached the horticulturists, a number of amateur breeders like Dr. F.H. Müller, Dr. G. Krüger, Robert Türke and others contributed new, and in their time famous roses. One of the most prominent cultivars of them today certainly is ‚Conrad Ferdinand Meyer’ (‚Germanica‘ x [‚Gloire de Dijon‘ x ‚Duc de Rohan‘]), bred by Dr. Müller, and this despite it had a very bad start. When looking for a professional propagator, Dr. Müller failed when looking among German breeders. So finally he found Otto Froebel in Switzerland and Jules Gravereaux in France who were willing to bring this rose into commerce.


Nearly forgotten are Dr. Müller’s early Pernetiana`s, or, as they were classified by parts of the contemporary German rose literature, Hybrid Lutea`s. Dr. Müller’s ‚Gottfried Keller‘ (1894), ‚Schmetterling‘ (1904) ‚Dr. Müller‘ (1905)  and ‚Apotheker Franz Hahne‘ (1919) were bred parallel – but independently – from Pernet’s breedings. When given to Sangerhausen at the beginn of the 20th century, Dr. Müller’s roses did not have names, they had just numbers to make them discerneble. Many of Dr. Müllers Hybrid Luteas and Hybrid Rugosas went to Jules Gravereaux at L’Hay unnamed, who had recognized the merits of Dr. Müllers breedings.


About 25 years later, the Augustinian monk Bruder Alfons (civil name: Franz Karl Brümmer)

used his hours of recreation to breed a number of cluster flowerd climbers which he gave to Sangerhausen for observation. A true rose miracle, that at least some of them survived and are commercially available today.

Charles Quest-Ritson in his „Climbing roses of the World“ gives a rather harsh verdict on Bruder Alfons’ roses, but look for yourself. They are far more than another to-be-kept-sample in the museum of the rose-relics of the past.


Especially the development of ‚Maria Liesa‘ is really astonishing. It seems that this cultivar is just beginning its career, 90 years after it was bred. After a short intermezzo in commerce in the late 30ies it only survived for a long time at Sangerhausen. Today it is sold again by many European nurseries, and even mass propagators have turned towards it during the last years. 


But of course this lucky fate of ‚Maria Liesa‘ is absolutely exceptional.


For quite some time I was of the – presumably obvious – opinion, that the outbreak of WW2 led to the decline of German rose breeding, of course with the exception of the Kordes and Tantau enterprises. But this proved wrong. The decline already began in the late 1920ies and early 1930ies, a time, when the first and second generation of German rose breeders had passed away and their nurseries closed or their successors backed out of rose breeding. Compared to the „Golden Years“, in the last ten years before WW2, only an evanescent amount of new German roses was introduced.


In the first decades of the 20th century, the „lifespan“ of a rose, the time between the introduction of a rose and the time when it falls from commerce again, was not longer than it is today. So when the war started in 1939, many cultivars of the „Golden Years“ already had gone out of commerce. This certainly is one of the reasons, that of the 1600-1800 breedings, only about 200-300 have survived to the present day and the number of roses in commerce is even smaller.


It is time to take care for them.


Copyright 2010 by Harald Enders