22 July 2007

Mme Caroline Testout ... The Sequel ...

... As promised, here is a further update on the lady behind the amazing rose!

Anna kindly sent me the following extract from ‘ Who Does Your Garden Grow?’ by Alex Pankhurst.

Madame Caroline Testout

Madame Caroline Testout was a late nineteenth century French couturiere from Grenoble, the proprietor of fashionable salons in London and in Paris. She regularly visited Lyons, where she purchased silks and that city happened to be an important centre for rose breeding. Hybrid Tea roses were at that time all the rage, breeders having at last been able to develop them successfully, and no rose nurseryman was more celebrated than ‘ The Wizard of Lyons’ Joseph Pernet-Ducher.

Mme Testout was obviously an astute businesswoman who understood the value of good publicity, and she went to see Perner-Ducher, asking if he could name of his new roses after her. He agreed, though not with her choice of seedling which he considered mediocre. The nursery’s reputation might suffer from producing a poor rose by the hundreds, but his customer stood firm and a deal was struck. The rose duly made its debut at the salon’s 1890 Spring fashion Show, bearing the name ‘ Madame Caroline Testout’ .

Although not strong on scent, it was an immediate success with Madame Testout’s well to do customers , and with the gardening public , for its abundant silky, rose-pink flowers. Only two years after the rose’s introduction the Royal Horticultural Society gave it an Award of Merit. Four years later the Reverend H J Pemberton, Vice President of the National Rose Society, and a successful rose breeder himself, declared ‘In my opinion it is one of the best, if not the very best, new rose of the last seven years’.

The new variety’s popularity spread to America , and it has been estimated that in the town of Portland, in Oregon , nearly half a million bushes of ‘Caroline Testout' were planted along the sidewalks. Not surprisingly, it was dubbed The Rose City.

In 1901 a climbing form of this rose appeared, and eventually became more popular than the bush rose, which is no longer commercially available.

Whether or not Caroline Testout’s dressmaking business flourished as a result of her namesake’s success is not actually recorded. And perhaps Madame Pernet-Ducher observed the rose’s popularity with mixed feelings. At any rate, only after giving ‘Caroline Testout’ to the world, her husband named one of his new roses ‘Madame Pernet-Ducher’. The semi-double flower of this rose was cream, edged with lemon, which sounds attractive. But alas, it caused not a ripple of interest, and in a few years sank without trace, as did many other new rose varieties. Life can be hard on the wives of rose breeders.
Well, there we are then. What an astute business woman she was, with a very determined streak by the sounds of it. No wonder I liked her from the start!!
Unless anyone finds they're related to her and can offer some inside information, I think this is probably where we draw a line under Madame Caroline Testout ... apart from making the decision as to whether I keep the tablecloth which started off the whole thing, or whether I put it on my website (still working on it, but it's progressing quite well) complete with all provenances!


Ex-Shammickite said...

I think that's a fascinating story. And I wonder how many tablecloths were produced with her name and her rose woven into them, and just who made them and where?
There's another mystery for you to unravel.

anne bebbington said...

I did notice a Caroline Testout rose in the new David Austin catalogue that dropped through my door the other day

Clare said...

Hi Sue, Fascinating - I do think you should keep the tablecloth - at least for a while anyhow! Clare x

Lallee said...

This was so interesting. Who would think your tablecloth find would become such a story!

Rose Vintage said...

Hi Sue, what a great story and maybe you should keep the tablecloth? Can't wait for your website to be ready especially after your recent post about the linen haul. You never do things by halves do you?! Didn't make it to Ardingly after all but perhaps we will both get there in September!

Jane x

see you there! said...

Thanks, I've been waiting to hear more about Mme Testout and your story was worth the wait.

If you do decide to sell it be sure to point out the Portland, OR connection. I've been to that city lots of times and they do pay a lot of attention to their roses.