During a wonderful summer vacation at the French Riviera in 1993, I visited some Danish friends who own a wonderful summer residence in Antibes. In their garden I saw a big arching shrub rose covered in beautiful red and purple roses. I will never forget the first time I smelled one of these roses. The olfactory pleasure made my soul sing and for a moment time stood still. Every day I went to smell these roses and my friends told me that it was a Hybrid Perpetual called Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée they had gotten from Guillot Roses.
Some years later I had not forgotten that rose and wanted to grow it in my garden. I remembered the name and saw that it was available from a few rose nurseries. I ordered 3 plants and looked forward seeing them bloom the following season. When the roses bloomed I knew that they were not Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée, but another rose named Erinnerung An Brod. Of course I told the renowned rose nursery that I had gotten the wrong rose, but they insisted that it was the right cultivar.
I tried ordering the rose from a German Rose nursery instead, but the rose I got was yet again Erinnerung An Brod! It seemed hopeless getting the right rose. I then ordered one plant from Guillot Roses in France and when it finally bloomed sparsely the following early summer, I knew I had gotten the right rose! A few years later I saw Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée in Europa-Rosarium Sangerhausen in Germany. It was similar to the rose I had gotten from Guillot Roses, but they did not know where they got their budwood from.
When buying roses it happens that we get 'mislabeled roses'. Most often it is due to a mix-up of rose plants at the rose nursery - at different levels of the production. Other times they get the wrong budwood. When ordering this rose most people is going to get either Erinnerung An Brod or another red Hybrid perpetual: Souvenir du Docteur Jamain. It sometimes seems that ordering roses is; to quote Forrest Gump: ".. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get"!
Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée is a hybrid perpetual, a class of roses with a varied ancestry, but all repeat flowering more or less. It was hybridized by Charles-Félix Verdier in 1884 and named after one of the Presidents of the national French Horticultural Society.
In 2004 I visited Guillot roses in France and saw where the rose I had gotten came from. I had the pleasure of meeting Jan-Pierre Guillot and asked him about the origin of this rose and other old garden roses. He told me that according to their files they got the budwood cuttings from the Hybridizer Charles-Félix Verdier himself in 1889. Guillot Roses describe Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée like this:
"Les Fleurs du Mal" do exist. Full and velvety, of a shaded black crimson, the flowers exhale in a burst of violet. Their scent should be forbidden such as is the intoxicating effect".
The flowers of Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée are about 3 inches wide and in early stages deep cupshaped. In later stages, some of the outer petals reflex a bit and the inner petals are quartered making the flower more shallow cupshaped. In early stages the flowers are a deep velvet crimson, but as the flowers age they turn a deep royal purple. It will probably do best if it can get some afternoon shade, so the hot sun will not burn the edges of the petals to a crisp. In full sun the flowers become more dark purple. They last a long time on the bush and become almost crisp dried black purple rose flowers, so they need to be deadheaded. I like to see all the various stages on the same rosebush:
In my climate (Equivalent to USDA zone 5b-6a) the rose become about 3 feet tall and 2feet wide, with some shoots reaching 4 feet. In the same climate zones in USA the rose will become a little bigger, due to the greater sun intensity. It has a upright growth habit, the canes arching a bit when it blooms. In warmer climates as in Southern France it forms a 6-7 feet tall and about 5-6 feet wide rose bush with arching canes. It blooms in distinct flushes. It takes a few years to rebloom well, probably since most HPs bloom on 'Old wood'- growth from previous years. The canes are almost thornless and the peduncles are smotth unlike many other red HPs.
It has better disease resistance than many other Hps, but do get a little blackspot and powdery mildew if not sprayed with fungicides. This year I am growing mine no-spray and leaf loss has been less than 10 percent (I remove infected leaves). In areas with high hlack spot pressure this rose is going to be hard to grow no-spray.
Over the years I have become more and more interested in propagating hard-to-get roses, or roses I know are becoming extinct. This way I am sure that the very rare roses, I give to Heritage rose Gardens and Rosariums truly are the right rose cultivars. It has taken me some time to get a good stock of these roses and I have exchanged budwood with some European rose Nurseries. One of them is Kwekerij de Bierkreek in Holland. This Fall they are going to send this rose to Ashdown Roses in USA. So the Rose can be sold from year 2010, when the quarantine is over.
I hope Kwekerij de Bierkreek send the right roses. Because I know how often roses get mixed up! Ashdown Roses already seems to have the rose. They got it from Peter Beales Roses in England ( Who do have the right rose). But I want to see what Ashdown Roses have before I am sure that it is the correct rose. Last Fall I ordered 10 roses for some friends who wanted this rose from a nursery I knew had the real Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée - guess what - they turned out to be "Fisher Holmes"! Perhaps this rose really is cursed (Un fleur du mal - an evil flower) since it seems so hard to get a plant? I just know, that if you see the beauty of these flowers and smell them, you will also be under the spell of this rose.
Later this year (It´s summer and I am busy) I will post pictures comparing the different roses sold as Souvenir d'Alphonse Lavallée, but in fact are Erinnerung an Brod or Souvenir du Docteur Jamain so interested rosarians clearly can see the difference.