There is no doubt that the pioneering work undertaken by Victorian cattle and wheat farmer, Henry Bennett, was a turning point in the development of modern roses. By planned, artificial pollination of his roses Bennett introduced his Pedigree Hybrids of the Tea Rose Collection in 1879. Whilst only a few of his varieties survived the test of time and are still grown today; one of his Pedigree varieties 'Lady Mary Fitz William' can be found in the ancestry of over 14,000 modern roses. Using the methods of Bennett, his professional contemporaries such as Paul and Sons and Hugh Dickson, moved forward at a rapid pace. But this also allowed amateurs, who were not constrained by commercial considerations to ‘play with’ and experiment with new crosses that took their fancy and this is where innovation began! We look at some of the characters and pathfinders in the world of amateur hybridising without whose inspiration some of our beloved roses would never have been created.
In Great Britain an epoch making event in the 1950s caused all rose breeders to reconsider the path that there breeding programmes would take. As the British Government introduced The Clean Air Act, the acrid sulphur polluted air that plagued the large cities(The Great Smog of London in 1952 being the most notorious) disappeared. The sulphur laced air that was so harmful to humans was, it transpired, actually keeping the roses free from disease, particularly Black Spot. Rose varieties that had previously appeared healthy were now falling victim to this disfiguring disease that stripped the leaves and left skeletons of our precious rose bushes. Our amateur breeders were at the front line and they would prove to be very influential in finding an answer.