Robert Simonet (1903—1989)
Born near Paris, Robert Simonet came to Edmonton in 1919 at the age of 16. He accompanied his sister who had married a Canadian soldier after the First World War. With an early interest in horticulture fostered by his grandmother, he soon found work with local farmers and market gardeners.
By 1930 Simonet had his own market garden near Bonnie Doon. There he cultivated 12 acres of fruit, trees, perennials and lilies. A self-taught plant breeder, he learned genetics through hours of study after work in the University of Alberta library.
Simonet was the first plant breeder outside Japan to develop completely double petunias, by using a single parent plant carrying complete dominance for double flowers. It took him three years, and he eventually introduced nine colours and larger blooms. His seeds sold for as much as $500 per ounce, according to the Sherwood Park News: “The petunias were the mainstay of the Simonet business for years to come, with the Simonet greenhouses at one time employing five people just to pollinate these flowers. This allowed Simonet to find new pursuits.
He won the prestigious Stevenson Memorial Gold Medal in 1960 and was inducted into the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1984. Simonet’s plant introductions included: double petunias, double hollyhocks, Simonet’s buff gladiolus, Alta-sweet turnips, Simonet apple, Alberta strawberry, and Black Butterfly lily.
Double Hollyhocks were another interest.