In search of Madame Alfred Carrière

In 1992, I bought a copy of ‘Who Does Your Garden Grow?’ by Alex Pankhurst. This little book brings to life some of the stories of the people behind well-known plants.

Since 1992, the Internet has, in some cases, made it easier to track some of these people down, but others still remain elusive. At the end of Alex’s book is a section called shadows, rose Madame Isaac Péreire is mentioned, (more about this lady perhaps later, she is not so anon now). However, another rose personality still appears to be ‘in the shadows’, Madame Alfred Carrière, a popular climbing rose often recommended as good for north-facing walls where other roses may falter.

Madame Alfred Carrière in the White Garden at Sissinghurst

An unassuming and rather lovely climbing rose

I once grew her. As the pale, almost white petals, open, the centre has a pale apricot tint, on ageing they become tinged with lemon. Scented and repeat flowering, a good do’er.

Look her up on the Internet, the story seems simple. She was bred by Lyons based nurseryman Joseph Schwartz (b 1846 – d 1885), and launched in 1879. Schwartz was perhaps more famous at the time for the pink bourbon rose ‘La Reine Victoria’ released in 1872.

Not everyone was complimentary about Madame Alfred. H B Ellwanger, a US nurseryman, described her in 1892 as, “White, not free blooming, undesirable.”

Some while later, in 1993, The Royal Horticultural Society awarded her an AGM.
Graham Stuart Thomas who did much to rekindle the British love for older roses said of her,
“It is seldom without a few flowers until the end of October… beautifully-rounded, cupped blooms of flesh-tinted creamy white. Deliciously scented.”

We have established the character and provenance of our rose.

When you search online, ‘Who is Madame Alfred Carrière?’, the answer comes back – she was the wife of the editor of the French Revue Horticole. So far, so good, although we still don’t know her first name or anything else about her.

Alfred or Abel?

Rose ‘Abel Carrière‘ Revue Horticole 1875

Except, the editor of the Revue Horticole was Élie-Abel Carrière (b 1818 d 1896). A distinguished self-taught botanist and horticulturalist who worked for many years at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris, as well as chief editor of the Revue Horticole (RH) from 1866 until his death. He wrote a number of papers on subjects which included conifers, roses, and the worrying deforestation of areas of France, which he said was causing an increasing number of major flooding events along France’s major rivers, (nothing is new!).

As you might expect, as an influential editor and plantsman, a number of plants were named after him as Abel Carrière, including, a deep red rose (Verdier 1875), weigela (Lemoine 1876), begonia (Bruant 1878), fuchsia (Aubin 1883) and trailing pelargonium. A clematis ‘Louise Carrière‘ was named after one of his children, also by the famous Nancy-based Lemoine nursery.

A minor diversion

I came across a heliotrope named ‘Madame Alfred Carrière‘, described as ‘Beau bleu d’acier a centre blanc’, one of a strain called dwarf (nains) Bruant, in the Revue Horticole.

Georges Bruant (b 1841 d 1912) was a nurseryman based in Poitiers. I believe the begonia named after Abel was bred by Bruant and is still available in specialist nurseries. Bruant writes of its hardiness in the RH of 1879. Bruant also bred roses, he started crossing rugosas with other types of rose, ‘Mme Georges Bruant’ (1887) is probably his best known cultivar.
(Madame Alfred was crossed with rugosas to produce the rather lovely ‘Fimbriata’ or ‘Phoebe’s Frilled Pink’ released by Morlet in 1891)

Back to Élie-Abel Carrière

On his death in 1896 the RH carried a fulsome obituary. The obituary mentions two wives, the first died young. His second wife gave birth to twin daughters, Louise died very young and Elise died at the age of 8. Sadly there is no mention of the wives’ names or any further information about them.

I don’t think Élie-Abel and Alfred are one and the same person.

At least one other plant is named after Madame Alfred. Madame or Monsieur Carrière must have been fairly well-known at the time, but for what?

Sorry. For now, the trail has gone cold.

Note: It is often said that the first rose planted at Sissinghurst Castle by Vita Sackville-West was Madame Alfred Carrière (MAC), on the south wall of South Cottage, before the castle was even legally theirs. In June 2023 I went in search of MAC and found her absent. A charming young gentleman explained that the Head Gardener, Troy Scott Smith, has now re-planted her in her legendary space, so literally, watch this space. (There is another MAC planted in the White Garden).

Biodiversity Heritage Library ( (Revue Horticole) (Schwartz)
Helpmefind (Roses)

I find the stories behind familiar plants fascinating and give a talk, ‘Plants with a Past‘, about all sorts of plants and people.