Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner, The Romance & History of “The Sweetheart Rose”
by Suzanne M. Horn, Master Rosarian, Pacific Rose Society
This article was first published in the Pacific Rose and is a 2016 Award of Merit winner
This month we put a spotlight on one of the best loved and most widely grown polyanthas in America, Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner. One of the most beloved and recognizable roses ever created, it is cherished for its perfect miniature flowers that bloom on upright, bushy plants. It has also been sold under the names Cécille Brünner (often dropping the "Mademoiselle"), Maltese Rose, Mignon, Sweetheart Rose and The Sweetheart Rose. However, should you be an exhibitor and wish to show this rose, you would need to enter it under its exhibition name of Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner. ABOVE: Photo from Annie's Annuals & Perennials.
During the Victorian Era, the young ladies would grow Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner in their yards. When they were dating a young gentleman, the girls would cut a bloom from their garden and place it in their beau's lapel to alert the other young ladies that this man was spoken for. This rose has enjoyed continued popularity since that time, still appearing in wedding bouquets and on gentlemen's lapels for those cherished occasions. To this day, the exquisitely formed soft, silvery formed pink buds are used to make perfect boutonnieres.
Widely known as The Sweetheart Rose, this variety was the sweetheart of your grandmother's garden. One whiff of this rose will take you back to childhood memories of playing in your grandmother's yard. Many recall being captivated by waves of sweet fragrance from a luscious, pink rose bush covered in small, delicate blossoms. Chances are that rose was Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner, and it was the introduction of many of us to the love of roses. ABOVE: Photo by Masha at Rosomanes.blogspot.com
Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner produces enchanting, profuse blooms that delight you from early spring through the entire growing season. The blossoms are a soft, clear, silvery pink with a warmer pink center. This rose produces numerous, small, exquisitely formed flowers, looking like miniature hybrid teas, which present with 18-25 petals. The small double flowers develop from those high-centered buds to form pom-poms with a diameter of about two inches when fully open. These blooms hold their beauty long after the bud has opened.
Its flowers are formed in sprays of three to ten blooms per cluster, making for a readymade bouquet of fragrant, little blush pink blooms. Those lightly scented, soft pink blossoms burst forth on a compact, continually blooming bush from spring until fall. The small, delicately pointed buds open to fragrant, light pink, double blooms in lush sprays. Their pink color fades from the outside with age, resulting in pale pink edges with yellow undertones and a deeper pink center. ABOVE: Photo by Jackson & Perkins.
By way of background, this diminutive light pink rose was bred in France prior to 1880 by Marie aka Veuve Ducher and introduced into commerce and horticultural history by her son-in-law, Joseph Pernet-Ducher in 1881. It is believed that the rose was named either after a "Mademoiselle Cecile," born in 1879, who was the daughter of Ulrich Brunner, a rose-grower from Lausanne, Switzerland, or possibly for his sister, Cecile (1853-1927). It is said to be a cross of Polyantha Alba Plena by either Souvenir d'un Ami or Mme. de Tartas, and it is particularly popular along the Pacific Coast.
Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner has produced a number of acknowledged sports including the very vigorous Climbing Cécille Brünner aka Cécille Brünner Cl. (discovered by Franz P. Hosp of Riverside, California in 1894) and Cécille Brünner Cl. (discovered by Richard Ardagh in Australia in 1904); a dwarf white-flowered form ('White Cécille Brünner', introduced by Fraque in 1909); and a deeper pink variant known as 'Madame Jules Thibaud' discovered before 1949. There is also a sport called Spray Cécille Brünner, which was initially believed to be very similar to a tall shrub form of the rose going under the name of Bloomfield Abundance. Of note, it was recently confirmed by DNA analyses that 'Spray Cécille Brünner' (Howard Rose 1941) is identical with the plants now grown under the name of the cultivar 'Bloomfield Abundance' (Thomas 1920) and is actually a sport of 'Cécille Brünner' and is not related to the original 'Bloomfield Abundance', which was a hybrid seedling of ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Dorothy Page-Roberts’. ABOVE: Photo by Jeanne Rose.
The original Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner hybridized by Marie aka Veuve Ducher is a compact, petite bush growing about three to four feet tall. Its growth habit is upright with glossy, dark green leaflets framing clusters of small, fragrant flowers. The foliage is soft with sparse thorns, making it a nearly thornless variety. This rose presents a sweet fragrance, almost like candy apple, although reports of a pepper spice scent have also been noted. It is a favorite rose for cutting, especially for miniature bouquets. ABOVE: Photo by Monrovia Nursery.
Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner is extremely disease resistant and winter hardy, and there is generally no need to spray it due to high pest tolerance. A hardy, long lived and healthy plant, Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner tolerates everything from poor soil to partial shade. It prefers full sun but will tolerate some light dappled shade in the afternoon. Good air circulation is preferred. Overall, it is a low maintenance plant, falling into the category of roses that have earned the "Earth-Kind" designation for low maintenance. It needs only a tiny amount of attention to keep it happy. This makes it a wonderful starter rose for a new rosarian.
The tall shrub climbing version, which was previously misidentified as Bloomfield Abundance, is virtually identical in foliage and flowers to Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner but it grows four times the size. The only slight difference is that the larger variety often extends one of its sepals out like a green flag beyond the petals, while the original variety never does. It is one of the most popular climbing varieties among rose enthusiasts! ABOVE: Photo by Antique Rose Emporium
Climbing Cécille Brünner was introduced in the United States during the late 19th century. It was a chance discovery, resulting as a natural sport of the small shrub rose of the same name. It is classified as a climbing polyantha by the American Rose Society and is hardy across USDA zones 5 to 9. The climbing version of Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner is even more vigorous and is found frequently in old cemeteries and homesites. It presents large airy sprays of small pointed pastel buds and creamy pink flowers that bloom mostly in spring. More established plants will rebloom and can develop orange hips. The climber tolerates half shade and is ever popular for cottage or country gardens. This variety presents canes growing 10 to 20 feet long and can climb 15 to 20 feet. It is vigorous and naturally forms an umbrella shape ten or more feet tall and wide.
The original Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner is a bush rose that grows up to 4 feet tall. Famous for its vigor, it blooms profusely in the spring and then continues to bloom over the entire season. This rose blooms in spring, summer and fall, meaning you can create flower arrangements around your home all year long! As this deciduous rose climbs, the delicate buds burst forth in spring, with fragrant, subtle pink, double blooms. Based on my research, the climbing version of this rose is for all intents and purposes a once bloomer, producing massive displays of soft pink flowers in the spring. Some growers report a small amount of rebloom in the fall, but it should not be expected.
This old-fashioned favorite makes an extremely ornamental and versatile garden plant. Because of its growth habit and the delicacy of its blooms, you will frequently see gardeners place this beauty in country and cottage style gardens. It makes a soft and subtle addition to any garden and brings a lovely, sweet smelling fragrance. Of note, it has been recommended that gardeners plant the bush variety of Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner below Climbing Cécille Brünner for full top to bottom coverage, producing an impressive garden display.
In 1988, Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner was included in the World Federation of Rose Societies Old Rose Hall of Fame. The Old Rose Hall of Fame recognizes roses of historical or genealogical importance and those roses which have enjoyed continued popularity over a great many years. It rightly deserves a place among the small number of treasured roses honored therein. Its sport 'Climbing Cécille Brünner' gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1993, and the original rose followed in 1994.
Like most of the other popular old roses, Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner can be grown on its own roots and is easily propagated from cuttings. It is suitable for the front of a border, a small place in the garden close to a sitting spot, for a container, and in countless other places. As a climbing rose, this particular variety looks absolutely stunning when grown along an arbor, a fence or a trellis. You can turn an ugly fence into a natural flower-adorned highlight of your garden. It can even make an excellent privacy screen. Plant this rose near windows of your house and its subtle fragrance will fill up your home and garden.
Wherever you decide to put this rose, rest assured it will become the sweetheart of your garden. Mademoiselle Cécille Brünner is widely commercially available in containers at this time of year. There is no better time to give it a try. Whether it imparts its own special romance to special occasions like a prom or a wedding, or for everyday occasions where mini bouquets of blooms brighten up a home, this rose will be certain to inspire generations of rose lovers to come as it has so many in the past.