Pierre Antoine Marie Crozy (1831-1903) [also called Crozy aîné—French for “elder”] was a nineteenth-century French rose breeder, a partner in the French firm, Avoux & Crozy, La Guillotière, Lyon, actively breeding roses from the 1850s to 1860s.
Following the sensational introduction of Canna Annei many nurserymen took up breeding new varieties of canna. From the early 1860s until his death in 1903 Monsieur Crozy was also hybridising Canna species, and introduced many hundreds of new cultivars.
- Monsieur Crozy’s goal was to turn Cannas from being primarily a foliage plant, with pretty but insignificant flowers, into a floriferous plant that could compete alongside any other genera in the flower beauty stakes. How well he succeeded can be judged by the fact that by the time of his death in 1903 the Canna was the most popular garden flower in both his native France and in the USA, where it even outsold roses.
- Antoine Crozy’s work and influence were recognised outside France too, notably in Britain. In 1888 the RHS gave 70 of his new introductions First Class Certificates, and many of them are, surprisingly perhaps, still available, forming the basis for the largest single group of canna in modern catalogues.
In 1866 Monsieur Crozy introduced his first cultivar, Canna Bonnetti, which has staminodes that are 45mm. in length and 13mm. in breadth, and by the time of his demise his new cultivars were being introduced where the size had been increased to 66mm by 35mm, and this was achieved purely by selective breeding.
The different colours and colour patterns in bloom and foliage were introduced by crossing his hybrids with other species, such as Canna iridiflora. Basically, Crozy raided the species to supply him with any new feature he required.
- The most famous of the cultivars introduced by Crozy was Canna ‘Madame Crozy’, and this was later used by both Carl Sprenger in Italy and Luther Burbank in California to cross with the species Canna flaccida to produce the first of the Italian Group Cannas.
George Paul, the Cheshunt nurseryman, saw Crozy’s canna beds in the gardens of the 1890 Paris Expo and said he was “won over by the beauty of the new race” because they were “most effective and seemingly of easy culture in the open air.” In his wide-ranging article about growing and hybridising canna Paul also went on to admit that he had tried and signally failed to emulate Crozy’s success.
Writing in the Gardeners Chronicle, Mr George Paul referred to correspondence he had received from Monsieur Crozy.
- George Paul was not the only nurseryman to try and emulate Crozy. Kelways nursery listed 25 canna varieties in their 1893 catalogue including 6 of their own breeding, while Veitch’s carried 33 in 1896, and Cannell of Swanley as many as 96 the following year. Indeed there were so many that Gardeners Chronicle [7th Oct 1893] even carried a basic classification system for garden varieties “simple enough to enable… anyone to frame his catalogues in accordance with it”.
Monsieur Crozy was accorded the nickname Papa Canna, as he was considered to be the father of Cannas, but was more commonly referred to as Crozy aîné (French for “elder”), He was succeeded by his son, Michel Crozy, who died only five years later at the tender age of 37 years, thus ending one of the most important and dynamic periods in the history off Canna.