The History & the Beauty of Madame Hardy
by Suzanne Horn, Master Rosarian, Pacific Rose Society
This article was first published in the Pacific Rose and is a 2017 Award of Merit winner
ABOVE: 'Madame Hardy' photo by David Dunn
‘Madame Hardy’ (aka Mme Hardy) is a superb classic old rose and one of history’s best. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful white roses ever hybridized. It is classified as a Damask and only blooms once a year for several weeks in late spring into early summer. In our area, that would be early to mid-June. Categorized by the American Rose Society as a white, near white or white blend, ‘Madame Hardy’ is one of the finest surviving Damask roses in commerce. It was hybridized in France circa 1831-1832 by Julien-Alexandre Hardy, an amateur rose breeder who was the chief horticulturist at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Of the many introductions bred by Alexandre Hardy, only about ten are still in commerce, with ‘Madame Hardy’ being his greatest success.
The original name for this exquisite rose was Félicité Hardy, named after Alexandre Hardy's wife. Some rose historians believe that this is possibly not a pure Damask rose, but possibly a Damask-Portland or Damask-Alba hybrid. ‘Madame Hardy’ presents gorgeous glistening white blooms held in nicely poised sprays. It is easily identified by its particularly leafy sepals, and the characteristic button eye with the green pip at the center of the bloom. The American Rose Society gives Félicité Hardy/Madame Hardy a rating of “outstanding.” As such, it has been rated as being in the top 1 percent of cultivars. ABOVE: 'Madame Hardy' 3 blooms, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses.
It has been said that Dr. Walter Lammerts, the famed hybridizer of ‘Chrysler Imperial’ and ‘Queen Elizabeth’, declared ‘Madame Hardy’ to be “the most beautiful white rose in existence”. American Rose Society Vice President Bob Martin shares that opinion.
Bob wrote the following in his article on showing Old Garden Roses in the 2016 American Rose Annual, “To my eye the most beautiful of all roses is ‘Mme Hardy’, a Damask rose from 1832 that produces exquisite pure white, occasionally blush blooms of perfect roundness with a distinctive green pip in the center. The bush is large (6 - 7 ft.), prickles numerous and the blooms come but once a year.” He later added, “Soft unfolding petals of the purest white are accented by the green pip in the center and an intoxicating fragrance.” This rose clearly elicits the passion of rose lovers. ABOVE: 'Madame Hardy' Dowager Queen 2013 San Diego Rose Society Show - shown by Bob & Dona Martin, photo by Dona Martin.
By way of background, Damask roses are one of the oldest rose groups and have given birth to thousands of varieties while maintaining their own unique heritage. They are considered an important type of Old Rose for their significant place in the pedigree of many other types of roses. Damask roses have adorned the rose world since ancient times. It is believed that they were originally brought from the Middle East by the Crusaders, although there are a number of theories in this regard.
The Crusader Robert de Brie is often credited for bringing this rose from Persia to Europe sometime between 1254 and 1276. It was named the Damask rose after the city of Damascus in Syria where it was found. Another theory is that the Romans brought this rose to England. A third theory surmises that circa 1540 the physician of Henry VIII gave him a Damask rose as a gift. Some speculate that these roses might have been a cross between R. Gallica and a species rose, R. Phoenicia. ABOVE 'Madame Hardy' in garden, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses.
Damask roses usually have pleasing elegant growth, reaching up to 7 feet in height, with flowers presented in open airy bunches, armed with formidable curved prickles (‘thorns’ to the uninitiated among us). Most of the damask roses are clear pink in color, and almost all of the varieties are fragrant. As such, they are world renowned for their fine fragrance; and their flowers are commercially harvested for rose oil used in perfume production. Damask roses are also used to flavor food and to make rose water or attar of roses, which is a rose-scented essential oil used in the perfume industry. Of note, the perfume industry often refers to them as the Damascus rose. ABOVE: 'Madame Hardy' in Martin garden, photo by Bob Martin.
It has been said that roses without fragrance have lost much of their seductive charm. David Austin agrees, noting that “Fragrance is the other half of the beauty of the rose.” ‘Madame Hardy’ in particular is rich with intoxicating fragrance. Like many Old Garden Roses still in commerce today, it offers a rich, classic rose scent, providing a sweet fragrance for both the home and garden. It has a delicate beauty and wonderful perfume you will seldom find in modern hybrid tea roses. It has a damask-like scent with undertones of honey. Although many people have different perceptions of rose fragrance, its scent is often described as being strong and sweet. Some people note a hint of lemon in the fragrance.
The beautifully formed, cupped blooms are about three inches across. They begin pretty and cupped shaped, and then become flat and quartered with their signature green button eye center. The outer petals ultimately reflex splendidly, leaving the center slightly concave, highlighting the green pip. Their hue often presents a slight hint of blush in the early stages, developing into a pure glistening white. The gorgeous, fragrant blooms are displayed on straight, upright, thorny canes on a strong, bushy plant. Those canes are set off by healthy, medium green matte foliage of a lovely fresh grass green. The plants are vigorous, reaching from five to seven feet tall by four to five feet wide, and they will thrive in semi-shady locations.
‘Madame Hardy’ is also exceptionally disease resistant. In fact, in September of 1998, the Montreal Botanical Garden (Le Jardin Botanique de Montreal) carried out a survey of its well-established roses and their resistance to black spot, powdery mildew and rust. ‘Madame Hardy’ is one of the outstanding varieties, which showed a 0% to 5% infection rate.
Home gardeners of today are enamored with this rose. Antique roses, such as our grandmothers and great grandmothers grew and loved, have once again become of great interest to rose growers, bringing nostalgia back into their gardens. The characteristic features displayed by the historic ‘Madame Hardy’ are the densely filled blooms packed with petals, highlighted by the eye-catching green pip and the wonderful fragrance.
For the exhibitors among us, ‘Madame Hardy’ is also a top show rose. Based upon information compiled on Roseshow.com, the website that has become the last word in rose show statistics thanks to the many talents of exhibitor extraordinaire, Bob Martin, he found the following: “You will see from the charts in that article that during the period 1992-2016, ‘Madame Hardy’ ranked 11th in winning Dowager Queen with 111 winners. This is much more impressive when you consider that it is a once-bloomer, unlike the 10 roses ranked above it. As a once-bloomer it is much less likely to be found in an exhibitor’s garden, and can only be shown in the spring shows.”
My research took me to a great authority on Old Garden Roses, Brent Dickerson, who authored the Old Rose Adventurer. It is humorous to note that Mr. Dickerson saw the striking green pip in the center of the blooms of ‘Madame Hardy’ as a color fault, stating that “but for this, it would be almost unrivalled among white roses”. Today, it is generally agreed that the green pip is one of the rose's most charming characteristics. ABOVE: 'Madame Hardy' buds, Photo by Carolyn Parker.
Revered rose historian William R. Prince wrote the following of ‘Madame Hardy’ in his Manual of Roses in 1846: “It is not a pure Damask rose, as its leaves have scarcely any pubescence (*** soft down or fine short hairs on the leaves and stems of plants ***); but a more magnificent rose does not exist for its luxuriant habit, and large and finely shaped flowers place it quite first among the white roses.”
Included among the attached photos to this article is one taken by Dona Martin of a specimen they won Dowager Queen with at the 2013 San Diego Rose Society Show. Bob recalls, “It had a most unusual elongated pip with blush pink coloring. I remember picking it; it was the only bloom on the bush at the time and it quite screamed that it was a queen that had to be taken to the show.” Another attached photo was taken by Bob of the first bloom in the Spring of 2017. He notes that they don’t grow many once bloomers but he had no trouble finding a space for ‘Madame Hardy’.
To summarize, ‘Madame Hardy’ is a rose of rare beauty, elegant in growth and opulent in bloom. It is also rich in history, which makes it a very romantic addition to any garden. It is commercially available by mail order on its own roots from Rogue Valley Roses and budded from David Austin Roses.
I will conclude with an eloquent quote from my friend and mentor Bob Martin. He recently wrote, “‘Madame Hardy’ is a once bloomer but the memories of the awesome spring bloom are enough to carry it the remainder of the year.” Don't miss a chance to add it to your garden. You'll be glad you did. ABOVE: 'Madame Hardy' 3 blooms, photo courtesy of Trevor White Roses.