Celebrating the beauty of western Canadian rose breeders

If you have taken the time this summer to stop and smell the roses, chances are good that your rose may exist thanks to a rose breeder from Western Canada.


When settlers came to Canada from Europe and other warmer climates with their roses, they found their tender cultivars could not survive the harsh prairie winters. 


In the 1920s, three self-taught botanists, untrained in hybridization, rose to the challenge and developed hardy Rosa blanda, Rosa rugosa and Rosa spinosissima hybrids. 


They were Frank Leith Skinner of Dropmore Man., Percy H. Wright of Wilkie, Moose Range and Sask-atoon, Sask., and Georges Bugnet of Rich Valley and Legal, Alta.


Skinner’s many contributions to prairie horticulture include his roses, which are named to honour western Canadian places and people. They include Wasagaming, Beauty of Dropmore, Dr. Merkely, Will Alderman and William Godfrey.


If your eyes were dazzled by a brilliant yellow rose bush in June, it probably was Hazeldean, Wright’s cross of Harison’s Yello and Rosa spinosissima. Wright also introduced Musician and other cultivars.


Bugnet named his many rose introductions after female family members. Best known is his Therese Bugnet, which was bred from Rosa blanda, the Hudson’s Bay or Smooth rose, found only on the southeastern Prairies. 


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The saga of Alberta rosarians continues with Robert Simonet, Robert Erskine and Walter Henry Schowalter.


Erskine was born in Oyen, farmed in the Carlos area near Rocky Mountain House and produced wild rose crosses, Prairie Peace, Beauty of Leafland, Carlos Beauty and more. 


Schowalter of Rumsey, Tilley, Big Valley and Stettler is remembered for 25 roses, either bred or found, including RR3, Amy and Halkirk. 


Ross had discovered Ross Rambler growing at Indian Head, Sask., Percy Wright named it and this rose is now informally known as Walter Schowalter.


Rose breeding moved from the home farm to government facilities with programs at Morden, Man., Ottawa and L’Assomption, Que. 


John A. Wallace of Barrhead and Beaverlodge, Alta., introduced his Kakwa rose after leaving to operate his own nursery. 


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William Saunders privately cross-bred Rosa rugosa with Rosa foetida persiana to produce an amber-yellow rose named for his wife, Agnes. 


Brad Jalbert of Langley, B.C., bred and introduced more than 65 roses at Select Roses, his farm-style nursery. He gained notoriety this year with his apricot-tinged introduction that Vogue magazine chose to celebrate their 125th anniversary. 


He said it takes about eight years to create, test and grow a new rose from an original planting of 15,000 seeds. 


Sold south of the border this year and available to Canadians next year, the Vogue rose may not be hardy enough for prairie gardeners but Jalbert has a good selection of miniature roses that we can grow successfully.


Across Western Canada, rose breeders are still quietly hybridizing, waiting and hoping for a new introduction. Enjoy a rose, thank a rose breeder.

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Lorna McIlroy is a retired educator and horticulturist in Grande Prairie, Alta. Contact: lmcilroy@producer.com