Unknown women and well-known roses…

Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, May 2015
Frosted Madame Alfred Carrière, Tostat, January 2017

A dull winters day, and I turned to thinking about names of plants, and, remembering that I had explored the story of Madame Legrelle in a blog in 2015, I was wondering about Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière.

MAC as she is fondly called in the press, is one of my favourites, and is a total workhorse, growing stoutly in dry, stony soil and throwing herself over the wall with abandon- especially when I remember to tie down the new growth.  And she flowers from late spring till just before Christmas.  What a goer.

But, strangely, and this may be the way with plants that achieve workhorse status, the only photograph I have is this one from nearly two years ago.  So I set out to repair the damage of being too well-loved and hence ignored, by trying to find out about the origins of the rose and the woman it was named after.

MAC was bred by a roseriste in his prime, Joseph Schwartz, and was first made available to the world in 1879.  His story bgan earlier, when he shot to fame as the chosen successor to Jean-Baptiste Guillot-Père, one of the most important rose-growers in the rose capitol of France, Lyon.  Born in 1846, Schwartz moved to Lyon as a very young man to be apprenticed to Guillot-Père, and he must have greatly impressed the older man with his dedication for him to have been chosen as the new owner of the nursery.  He must also have been able to raise the money for the purchase- no mean feat.

Almost immediately the roll-call of famous Schwartz roses produced by his nursery attracted international attention, including the release in 1872 of the ‘Reine Victoria’ rose, which was hugely admired throughout the rose world.  A few years later, in 1879, he exhibited ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’.  When first launched, MAC was described as ‘worthless’ and so, during his lifetime, it was not regarded as one of Shwartz’ successes.

Rosa Reine Victoria, Schwartz 1872. Photo credit: wikimedia.org

By the early 1880s, Joseph had married Séraphine Riggotard and was the proud father of two very young children, Louise and André, when Séraphine died. Marrying again to Marie-Louise Trievoz, his professional career triumphed with honours bestowed on him in France, and an invitation to a prestigious horticultural event in St Petersburg followed.   It is said that the travel back in the winter created the conditions for the illness that followed, and at the age of 39 in 1885 , he died.  He left the business to the young Marie-Louise, newly a mother herself to Joseph’s third child.

Marie- Louise had grit, determination and talent.  She continued to grow the reputation of the nursery with roses of her own, including the reknowned ‘Madame Ernest Calvat’, and at the age of 48 in 1900, she herself handed the nursery on to her stepson, André.  She held her own in the male-dominated world of rose-growing and is to be admired as a person of courage and energy who became as famous as her husband, although, a modern indignity, she remains known almost entirely as Widow Schwartz, ‘Veuve Schwartz’.

It took me hours to uncover her own name.

From left to right, Marie-Louise Trievoz, before marrying Joseph Schwartz, Joseph Schwartz, and Marie-Louise in later life known as ‘Veuve Schwartz’.  Photo credits: http://www.rosesanciennesenfrance.org, http://www.helpmefind.com.

It would be not until 1908 that the National Rose Society proclaimed MAC to be the best white climbing rose and it was not until 1993 that the RHS awarded MAC its Award of Garden Merit, more than 120 years after release.  She had a slow birth as a celebrity, you could say.

‘Madame Ernest Calvat’, produced by Marie-Louise Schwartz, Lyon, 1888 photo credit: http://www.agel-rosen.de

But my original quest was to discover who ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ was. Who was she?   There is, unfortunately, no trace that I could find of her, or even a name of her own.  Her husband, Alfred, was the editor-in-chief of the important gardening journal, Revue Horticole, in France and was apparently a keen amateur rose-grower, though, only amateur in the money-making sense as he was a well-known botanist by profession.  But she remains unknown and lost to history.

Pruning MAC, South Cottage, Sissinghurst photo credit: http://www.sissinghurstcastle.wordpress.com

But another woman was to really make the name of Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’. Vita Sackville West immortalised MAC when she chose her as the first rose she planted in her new garden at Sissinghurst Castle.  She and Harold Nicholson planted the rose on the day that their offer to buy Sissinghurst was accepted in 1930, and it still flowers today.  The last words on growing and pruning roses belong to Vita.  Read them here.





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