The Sweetheart Rose

Most people say it “Cecil Brunner”, and some are quite surprised to find out it’s “Cécile”. Formally she is known as ‘Mlle. Cécile Brunner’.  I’ve tried to call it that ever since I was giving a talk in the 1990s, and called it “Cecil”. Miriam Wilkins, founder of the Heritage Roses Group, was in the audience and said, rather emphatically, “Ahem… It’s Madamoiselle CéCELLE Brunner.” I feel that if I were to say “Cecil” now, she would hear me in Heaven, and I would be struck by lightning.

My first encounter with this popular rose was when I rented a house in downtown Santa Cruz, and a previous owner had planted one of the climbing forms on either side of an arch over the entrance sidewalk. Every year from the top of the arch, it would put out ten-foot long canes. Everyone had an opinion on what to do with them: cut them back to a short length, train them back down and along the top of the adjacent hedge, etc. The next homeowner removed the plants completely, which was the wisest thing to do. The climbing form can be a monster, best suited for covering entire fences or climbing tall trees.

The rose comes in several forms. The shrub form was originally bred by Marie Ducher in 1880. She was the widow of the well known French breeder, Claude Ducher, and is often referenced as Vve. Ducher, meaning Widow Ducher. They lived in Lyon, where there were many rose breeders at this time, and many of their creations are still popular. It was introduced by her son-in-law, Joseph Pernet-Ducher in 1881. The parentage of ‘Mlle. Cécile Brunner’ is usually listed as ‘Polyantha alba plena’ × ‘Madame de Tartas’. But there is apparently some doubt, as Weeks had listed the parents as ‘R. multiflora’ x ‘Souvenir d’un Ami’. Of course, there is also doubt about the identity of the roses currently sold under the names ‘Mme de Tartas’ and ‘Souvenir d’un Ami’ as well.

Ulrich Brunner was a nurseryman in Lausanne, Switzerland. I can only assume he was a friend of Vve. Ducher or Joseph Pernet-Ducher. Ulrich had a son also named Ulrich, and a daughter Cécile. Ulrich Brunner fils also had a daughter Cécile, so it’s not absolutely certain the rose was named for the first or the second Cécile, or if Ulrich Brunner has been confused with Ulrich Brunner fils. Another rose was named ‘Ulrich Brunner fils’ bred by Antoine Levet, another resident of Lyon.

The climbing form grown in the US was discovered by Franz P. Hosp in 1894. (In Australia, a climbing form was discovered by Richard Ardagh in 1904.) This is the form that remains popular in my area. Just in taking walks in my neighborhood, I know of more than a dozen plants of it. They cover arches, fences and climb trees and old poles.

There is a third form called ‘Spray Cécile Brunner’, which was discovered by someone at The Howard Rose Company, and sold starting in 1941. This sport of the original blooms more. Somehow it also became confused with another rose, ‘Bloomfield Abundance’, and was sold under that name for many years. Two recent developments should put an end to the confusion. DNA analysis shows that it is a sport of ‘Mlle. Cécile Brunner’, and Judy, my friend in the Sierra foothills, found a plant that appears to be the real ‘Bloomfield Abundance’.

The point of this article is really just to show all the plants of it that are blooming this spring in my neighborhood. I took them all within half a mile of my house. Had I walked a different route, I could have taken as many pictures of plants in other directions within the same distance. In spring when they all have their best bloom, they seem to be everywhere.The plant is as popular now as it was more than 100 years ago. Enjoy!

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About Jill Perry

Since 2005, I have been the Curator of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, a part of Guadalupe River Parks and Gardens near downtown San Jose. I write about the Heritage Rose Garden, my garden and my travels when I feel inspired and have time. Since I have no regular schedule, if you'd like to know when I write a new article, please subscribe to this blog.
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3 Responses to The Sweetheart Rose

  1. Jeri Jennings says:

    Jill, this is terrific. Everyone should read it. May I use it in the next Gold Coast rose, and publicise your blog at the same time.

  2. Cliff Orent says:

    Wonderful article, Jill! Your comment about calling it “Cecil Brunner” reminds me of an error I made several years ago in Lyon while attending meetings of the Specialized Conservation Committee of the World Federation of Rose Societies. I was told quite bluntly by an individual of stature within the European rose community that Baronne Prévost was not a “he” but rather a “she”, as Baronne would clearly indicate. Having never studied French I had never stopped to think about the translation of the word. But I can assure you that it isn’t a mistake I made again!
    Cliff

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