Edmonton Journal

June 24, 1949: City man begins world’s rarest harvest of double petunia seeds

- CHRIS ZDEB czdeb@edmontonjo­urnal. com

The world’s rarest harvest of double petunia seeds in North America was developed by Edmonton plant breeder Robert Simonet in his Southside greenhouse­s at 75th Avenue and 81st Street.

It was the result of 10 years of hard and exacting work in the crossbreed­ing of the showy flowers that had produced the 100-per-cent double flowering petunia.

Up until the start of the Second World War, the market was controlled by the Japanese, who were the only ones who knew the secret of breeding a completely true strain of double petunia.

Around that time Simonet went to the University of Alberta’s library to study plant breeding and genetics and in only three years he produced a strain of petunias that produced 100-per-cent double forms — the first person outside of Japan to do so.

Simonet’s petunia seeds per ounce were worth many times as much as gold, but although the harvest would last until late September, the return of seed was small.

Simonet was born near Paris, France, in 1903. He lived with his grandmothe­r for 11 years and had become interested in gardening at this early age, Fred Fellner of Vermilion, wrote in an article in the North American Lily Society Yearbook of 1979.

When Simonet was 16, he accompanie­d his sister to Edmonton, where she was to marry a Canadian soldier.

He started working on area farms. But even after finding employment at the Misericord­ia Hospital as a steam engineer, and as a firefighte­r, he continued to work in market gardens during the summer.

In 1930 Simonet started his own market garden, grow- ing fresh vegetables, as well as gladioli, cut-flowers, and bedding plants. His interest in flowers and vegetables expanded in many directions, and he became an expert in improving such diverse crops as early sweet corn, early tomatoes, parsnips, squash, red rhubarb, hardy runnerless strawberri­es, and many hardy fruits, shrubs and trees.

Millions of gardeners and many commercial seed companies benefited from his work on petunias. He also developed new types of other flowers including gladioli and hollyhocks.

The Alberta Agricultur­e Hall of Fame recognized Simonet as one of the world’s leading plant breeders by inducting him in 1984.

To read more stories from th e series This Day in Journal History, go to edmontonjo­urnal.com/history

 ?? POSTMEDIA NEWS/FILE ?? Edmonton plant breeder Robert Simonet was, in 1949, the first North American to develop a double petunia.
POSTMEDIA NEWS/FILE Edmonton plant breeder Robert Simonet was, in 1949, the first North American to develop a double petunia.

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