Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Lady of the Mist, just beginning to open... and
When we moved into our 100-year-old house, there were several roses on the south side of the house, near the bay window and along what was originally the front porch. Once we restored the old porch, we realized that the small rose languishing on the ground was actually an old climber. We lifted it onto a trellis, and it flourished. Very small pink roses bloomed in a sweet profusion, but it had no scent that we could detect. We thought it was an old rose, but weren't able to identify exactly what it was.

True confession: I haven't been a big rose enthusiast--our house in the Northwest was too shaded for roses beyond the old wild roses that grew there. And roses seemed a little too serious for my taste when I first started gardening. But a trip to England, where I saw roses growing over arches at Warwick Castle, began to change my mind. I found that I especially loved the big, dense 100-petal cabbage roses.

... day 2, a little more open. The color is amazing.
And the old rose next to our Victorian porch stirred a memory: When I was a child, my grandfather grew a huge, fragrant climbing rose next to his side porch. The petals rained down like snow and the rose's classic fragrance stayed with me all these years, linked with happy associations of my grandfather...which made me want to nurture a rose in to a wall of scent and color, as he did.

It was a good feeling to train that old, forgotten rose to climb the trellis next to our porch. There were also a number of low growing (no higher than 18" tall) roses meandering along the fence on the south side. I've found that they sucker like crazy, have extremely fine thorns (more like stickers on a thistle, than thorns), and produce small, heavily petaled pink roses that have a heavy, classic fragrance. They seem very old. (I once found an old celluloid hair pin among those roses and I like to think of Cora Hankins, who together with her husband was the house's first owner back in the early 1900s, planting and tending those roses so many years ago.)

The rose we'd lifted off the ground, near the porch, did very well until one extremely cold winter, when there was a lot of die back. Another rose--one planted right next to the bay window--also suffered a lot of cold damage. It was a deep red color, and had always been healthy. We were told that it was likely root stock that a rose had been grafted to. The grafted rose had died, and the old stock--probably a variety called Dr. Huey--had sent up new growth to proclaim its true identity.

But when both roses were damaged by cold weather, they didn't do well the following spring. The dainty pink climber failed to bloom much, and its leaves were diseased and yellowed. The Dr. Huey seemed prone to mildew, and barely bloomed. No matter what we did, neither returned to healthy growth habits. We hemmed and hawed for three years, nursing the roses with food, careful pruning, and inconspicuous pleading, hoping both would snap out of it. But last spring we decided it was time to replace the two climbing roses. I will admit that I had a hard time watching K dig them up--I felt as if we'd stirred a few gardening ghosts with those old roots, and I was sad to see such old plants hauled away.

We chose to buy roses that were own-root roses, and looked specifically for old, heirloom varieties. They start out a little more slowly than the big grafted varieties, but make up for their slight beginnings in a few years. Own-root roses tend to be hardier and healthier than roses grafted to other root stock.

I chose Madame Isaac Perier as the climber for the porch, and a rose called Lady of the Mist as the rose to plant next to the bay window. Mme Isaac Perier is a bright cerise "Bourbon" rose with a strong fragrance.  Bourbons are known for their large blossoms, fragrance, and repeat blooms. Bred in the 1880s, it's not technically a climber, but it grows tall and can be trained as one.

Lady of the Mist was hybridized by Harkness, in England, within the last decade. In one catalog it was classified as an heirloom, but I'm not sure about that. Still, given that the rose that was planted by the bay was perhaps not a very old rose, I decided to give myself a little latitude in its replacement.

Both roses were planted a year ago, when I added 1/2 c. Rocky Mountain Rose food, 1/4 cup of Epsom salt, and a healthy measure of compost to the large hole I dug for them.

The Madame Isaac Perier seemed very fragile when it arrived, and it didn't survive beyond the first month. But the Lady of the Mist sent up new growth and seemed happy next to the bay.

This spring, I cut back the dead part of the Lady of the Mist, fed it as soon as it began to bud leaves, and waited. A few weeks ago I noticed that its spindly single branch had produced five buds. Today, the first big bud opened. I had forgotten its name and its color after a year of waiting, and seeing that it was pink along the outside, and peach colored to the center, I found myself checking the tag. It's a beautiful rose, and I'm hoping that this is a good growth year for it.

Resolute, I put another Mme Isaac Perier own-root rose on the other side of the bay, but chose to go through a different seller--High Country Roses out of Denver. A rose-enthusiast friend (thank you, Charalotte) recommended them, and I spent some time this winter going through their website.

I chose American Beauty to go next to the porch. It dates to 1909--a nod to the year the house was built. It should be a strong climber, red with repeat blooms and a strong fragrance. I also added "Banshee"--which High Country Roses says may actually be something else, so they are calling it High Country Banshee. Its pink color reflects the color of the climber that was next to the porch originally, and it's a very old Damask rose.

Banshee and American Beauty both fit within a number of High Country roses that are grouped under the heading "Roses of Fairmount Cemetery." Here's what the site says about these roses:
Roses of Fairmount Cemetery
While not a class of roses in their own right, these roses are grouped together because they were found (un-named) in Denver's historic Fairmount Cemetery. They are undoubtedly Old Garden Roses and have survived the tests of time, weather extremes and neglect. Fairmount Cemetery was founded over 100 years ago and has a wonderful collection of mature trees, shrubs and roses in a beautiful setting. We grow a selection of the many un-named roses found there, including "Fairmount Red", "Fairmount Proserpine", "High Country Banshee", "Jeremiah Pink" and "JoAn's Pink Perpetual". Some of the known varieties found in the cemetery include Climbing American Beauty', 'Desiree Parmentier', 'Rose de Rescht', 'Paul's Scarlet Climber'.
And maybe that's what I like about roses--the history that fits within the folds of their blooms. I like thinking about the gardeners before me who planted and tended and nurtured their roses, through winters and summers, wars and world events. I've carefully planted them, and send encouragement to them as I pass by, these young branches of very old stock. I can't wait to see their blooms, and often stop and look at them for any sign of new growth.  Those shiny, new green leaves are signs that the rose is reaching roots into the soil where some very old cousins once grew, and I hope they are as long-lived as those that--perhaps--Cora planted. 


  1. Hi! I keep searching for images of lady of the mist rose since I have a baby one that I'm waiting for flowers on. I love the two pictures of yours and wanted to ask how it did for you this summer? Have you liked it? Thanks!

    1. Hi Melody -- I apologize! I just now came across your message and missed it when you posted originally. I loved my Lady of the Mist rose. It came through summer fine, however we had some foundation damage nearby, and ended up having to dig it up and pot it. I don't think it survived the disturbance, but am waiting for spring to fully arrive here. My other roses have started leafing out, however, and the Lady of the Mist Rose seems to still be sleeping. The fragrance for the several blooms we had last summer was not as noticeable as I'd hoped. I really didn't notice it even when I held the rose up. I'm not sure if that was because it was such a young rose? But the color was absolutely beautiful. I think, if it doesn't make it, I will replace it with another rose from High Country Roses. They don't have Lady of the Mist, but they do have Abraham Darby. THe two roses that I ordered from them last year were very healthy and really took off, so I highly recommend them.

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