French Gardening history

David Fenwick
Wed, 25 Jan 2012 17:51:07 PST
Hi Jim,

Interesting discussion. A few here know I've done quite a bit of study on 
the subject of the Old Lemon of Nancy, as Laidlaw calls him in his book 
Gladioli. Think I'll stick simply to Victor. Anyway here's a bit of a 
personal view about how knowledge may or may not be applied in terms of 

Victor is of course well known and responsible for the breeding of Crocosmia 
x crocosmiiflora in 1879, the Common Montbretia and bred and sold a further 
55 Crocosmia hybrids through his catalogues until the early 20th Century. I 
found information in terms of his catalogues from 1879 - 1911 fairly easy to 
obtain but it did take me a couple of years to get a sufficient amount; 
mainly from France and Canada.

Like you say it is extremely difficult to determine what these hybrids look 
like, after all if you describe each plant fully the catalogue would of 
course be too big and costly to print and distribute, so all people now have 
to go on to determine an identity is but a two to three line original 
description, which of course isn't sufficient when you're dealing with 
flowers of red, orange or yellow shades. My first approach was to draw 
flowers that are named and colour them in with pencil and this proved quite 
good at presenting the described characteristics at the very least.

Of course when looking at catalogues and determining the potential for the 
survival of an heirloom variety one has to consider, potential hardiness; 
potential parentage (if known, but could be potentially presumed given a 
chronological order); time period of sale, reported rate of growth and 
vigour; and original cost in relation to other hybrids in any given list.

If I take cost first, if a nursery that first produces a plant such as a 
Crocosmia and sells it cheaply, it is usually easy to produce and quite 
vigorous. We can judge price in relation to the cost of other hybrids in the 
range. Thus we can potentially add vigour as a quality of a hybrid even if 
it isn't described as such. Reported vigour and rate of growth, if reported 
good clues again, but these in terms of Lemoine must only be compared to 
those already bred. In terms of Lemoine Crocosmia, the difference between 
Crocosmia 'Solfatare' and Crocosmia 'Fleuve Jaune'; the latter being 
described as more vigorous. Sadly vigour in a nursery setting may not 
necessarily reflect on its hardiness, it just means it is easy to produce 
and potentially store overwinter, being resistant to diseases whilst being 
overwintered. It is known that Lemoine stored many hybrids as corms during 
the winter on beds of damp sand.

Time period of sale. Now this is a very interesting subject of statistical 
study for if a

nursery sold a hybrid for many years you might expect it had a wider 
distribution than most, statistically be more ''looked after'' and 
potentially be in existence now. However, the drawback is that it might have 
been difficult to produce, it might have commanded a higher price and it 
might have been tender. It just might be that people fell in love with it, 
kept killing it and they kept re-ordering it because they couldn't be 
without it, after all how many pot plants get replaced and re-ordered each 
year, from Poinsettias to showy Hippeastrums, and how many nurseries depend 
and benefit from  this annual income! I would however like to feel that time 
period of sale is important though and especially linked to a hybrids 
potential hardiness.

Hardiness and parentage often run hand in hand and sadly with many of the 
Crocosmia Lemoine has bred we're not able to attributed many parents at all; 
although there are key periods when Lemoine has introduced a var. of a 
species, or a hybrid of another breeder into his sales list; where the 
former, the var. is often well know, well described and exists in modern 
collections, and where the latter may have a more complete description from 
the other breeder, so one is more able to judge potential hardiness. The 
problem I see with Lemoine is that he had too many fingers in too

many pies and sadly the knowledge we have been left is largely insufficient. 
On looking at early hybrids one can basically presume they either act like 
their species parents. If they're small flowers they'll behave, act like, 
and have a similar habit and hardiness to C. pottsii; and if larger flowered 
they'll behave more like C. aurea and be less hardy and need more sheltered 
and benefit from warmer conditions. Of course if they're of a medium size 
flower like the Common Montbretia one could presume the

earliest hybrids to act like it or be as hardy as it, or probably to a 
somewhat lesser degree. It must also be presumed that from breeding 
Crocosmia from 1879 that many improvements were made, and the Common 
Montbretia, somewhat tamed.

Presumed is a great word here as one can presume anything and a lot of 
things because of the lack of information there is, and when one becomes ''an 
expert'' you sudden realise how much there is still to know, and how 
misapplied the word expert can be! At the end of the day you soon realise 
how much you don't know and you know full well that without the ability to 
time travel you'll never get to know either.

In reality there is insufficient evidence to potentially consider renaming 
any old Lemoine hybrids at all. The real problem is that there are probably 
too many plants around that bear old hybrid names, and sometimes, when they 
do not deserve to.

In this modern era for a nursery to be best able to sell a hybrid it must 
carry a name, and a good name can be a terrific marketing tool, as can 
naming a hybrid after a similar looking heirloom because then you add 
''history''. There is much information on horticulture held all over the 
world, and many people have studied large parts of it, but in terms of 
finding heirloom hybrids then there is only one real thing to do, and that's 
to find hybrids with what is called ''provenance'' e.g. a plant, purchased, 
planted, or on a designed plan, from many years ago that shares over its 
entirety, with Crocosmia, the same characteristics as its original 
description and species; or secondarily, potentially more complete 
descriptions used by other nurserymen who directly purchased that plant from 
the original source. In my experience, finding a missing person would 
probably be easier.

I am sad to say that most heirloom Crocosmia don't really carry any 
provenance at all. Although many of the heirloom / older varieties are 
potentially what they could be though and largely because of  collective 
thinking, reasoning and an understanding of the subject. Although, with 
Lemoine's Hybrid's sadly very few have survived so, there's a lot of room 
for error due to the inability to compare one to another.

Best Wishes,
Dave (Penzance, Cornwall, UK)

Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI)
Referee for the genus Crocosmia 

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