The Prolific Poulsen Roses
by Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian, Marin Rose Society.
Originally published in The Marin Rose, July/August 2006
'Poulsen's Pearl', photo by Rich Baer
The name Poulsen may not be familiar to many rose lovers, but more than likely you have one or more of the beauties created by this Danish firm. And if you’ve ever seen those delightful miniature roses in supermarkets, drug stores, and home improvement centers, you can bet they’re from Poulsen. In fact, more than two thirds of the global pot rose production, more than 50 million plants each year, are produced by the firm of Poulsen Roser. With more than 125 years of experience and four generations of know-how, they continue to produce incredible roses. ABOVE: Ellen Poulsen, Nanette Londeree’s great-great-grandmother from their family’s genealogy book.
The roots of Poulsen Roser go back to 1878 with the patriarch of the family, Dorus Theus Poulsen (known as D.T.) who started a nursery in Roskilde growing asparagus and strawberries. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, he sought to increase his business by growing fruit trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and roses. Within the next few years his three sons were born; Dines, Poul Andre, and Svend. Based on his own experience, he felt it was important to have them study abroad, so off Dines went to work first with Peter Lambert at the Trier firm in Germany, then to England to study plant breeding. ABOVE: 'Else Poulsen', photo by Nanette Londeree
To enlarge his farm, he expanded to the Danish countryside, in Kelleriis, Kvistgaard, well away from Copenhagen. Svend stayed in Roskilde to manage the existing nursery, Poul became the business manager of the firm and Dines was put in charge of the new farm. With knowledge gained from his studies abroad, Dines began to plant an arboretum and breed roses. He was particularly interested in breeding roses that could withstand the cold Scandinavian winters and yet produce the maximum number of blooms in its short summers. He produced his first notable rose, a cherry pink polyantha that he named ‘Ellen Poulsen’. This fragrant rose produced trusses of blooms continuously on a plant that was relatively mildew resistant. The next rose was ‘Rödhätte’, Danish for Red Riding Hood, a semi-double red rose with flowers in clusters from a cross between a red polyantha and a red hybrid tea rose.
During the first world war, Dines handed over the breeding to his youngest brother Svend. In pursuit of hardy, free-flowering and trouble-free roses, Svend had been mating polyanthas and hybrid teas. His vision and faith were justified when in 1924 he introduced ‘Else Poulsen’, a semi-double pink with cream undertones, and the bright red single ‘Kirsten Poulsen’. These were immediately recognized as a different, new type of rose – ones that flowered in heads or clusters of big flowers - these were floribunda roses. The year after introducing these novel roses, the firm’s founder, D.T. died. The three sons jointly took control of the business and renamed it D.T. Poulsens Planteskole.
The Poulsen’s won their first Gold Medal at the National Rose Society with the introduction of ‘Karen Poulsen’ in 1933. During this time, most of their roses were shipped to England where they were selling well. However, as the laws at the time didn’t require any fees to be paid to the breeder, they weren’t able to recover any of their development costs. In conjunction with Sam McGredy III, Svend worked to establish a system of fees to be paid to breeders, much like our patent system. It would take many years for that to become a reality. In the meantime, he established a partnership with McGredy to sell his roses in Britain for a royalty fee.
The second world war impacted the Poulsen’s like most other breeders in Europe. They had to refocus their efforts on growing food crops. At the end of the war, Svend’s son Niels Dines, then twenty, returned to Kvistgaard nursery. Svend produced a regular flow of delightful new roses, many bearing the family name – ‘Poulsen’s Peach’, ‘Poulsen’s Bedder’, and ‘Poulsen’s Pearl’. Niels introduced ‘Chinatown’ in 1963. The wide shrub rose with large, lustrous leaves and double yellow flowers won many awards. The prior year, the Danish government made Plant Breeders’ Rights the law of the land, giving breeders some financial protection for their new creations, and ‘Chinatown’ was the first rose to be granted this protection. ‘Royal Dane’ was introduced in 1972 and deserves more popularity than it gets. The bronzy, orange-red hybrid tea with shiny, deep green foliage is a workhorse in the garden. It’s one of the first roses to bloom in the spring, produces loads of flower through November, and is generally very healthy.
‘Ingrid Bergman’, by Rich Baer
Following a time of illness, Niels agreed to changes in the business, and in 1976 the eldest of his three daughters, Pernille, and her husband Moges N. Olesen took control. One of their first successes was the outstanding deep red rose, ‘Ingrid Bergman’ in 1983. This rose is another extraordinarily prolific hybrid tea that is one of the healthiest and most productive roses you can grow. It won the World Federation of Rose Society Hall of Fame award in 2000.
‘Clair Renaissance’, by Rich Baer
Over the last twenty years, Poulsen’s has been putting out all types of roses – hybrid teas like the pure white ‘Karen Blixen’, and ‘Tivoli’ – a beautiful rose that looks like ‘Elina’ on steroids. Shrub roses like the pale pink ‘Queen Margrethe’, the starry white ‘Kent’ and the billowy, soft pink ‘Cape Cod’; the luscious ‘Berries ‘n’ Cream’ climber and gorgeous miniature ‘Baby Grand’. They’ve created the RENAISSANCE® roses, in an English rose style. A stunning example is ‘Clair Renaissance’, a soft pink, fully double bloom on a vigorous plant. Other groups include PARADE ®, PALACE®, and TOWNE & COUNTRY® roses. Today, Poulsen Roser boasts numerous medals and awards for their unique rose breeding, the title "Purveyor to H.M. the Queen of Denmark". In addition to roses, Poulsen Roser has an intensive breeding program of clematis in cooperation Raymond J. Evison Ltd., Guernsey, a leading name in clematis. They’re even producing wine at the family Chateau in France. ABOVE: ‘Berries ‘n’ Cream’, by Rich Baer.
'Else Poulsen' by Rich Baer.
A little personal side note here. If you believe in the inheritance of personality and interests, then there may be a good explanation for my intensive interest in roses. The rose ‘Ellen Poulsen’ is named for my great-great-grandmother. In a lovely, romantic tale, my great, great-grandfather fell in love with Ellen Poulsen, but her father would not let them marry. They carried on a long-distance love affair for a number of years through letters that each would leave in a special place in the forest between their homes for the other to find. This went on for some years, and after Ellen’s father passed away, they finally were able to marry, and they lived a long and happy life together. I didn’t know when I planted the rose ‘Ellen Poulsen’ in my garden, that it was named after one of my very own relatives!
Photos of roses not captioned in order of appearance, by author: Else Poulsen, Else Poulsen, Poulen’s Pearl, Royal Dane, Kent, Berries ‘n’ Cream, Clair Renaissance