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J. Horace McFarland: Named Father of the American Rose Society

ONE HUNDRED YEARS after J. Horace McFarland became affiliated with the American Rose Society, the organization’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to bestow the title of “Father of the American Rose Society” at a convention in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

J. Horace McFarland as pictured on the cover of A Thorn for Beauty, courtesy Pennsylvania State Archives

On September 9, 2017, the following proposal was submitted to the board by former ARS President, Marilyn Wellan.

Members of the American Rose Society Board of Directors in this year following the 100th anniversary of the American Rose Annual, I offer a proposal that I feel might be long overdue; one that has the potential to give the American Rose Society a tremendous boost of world-wide interest, enthusiasm and prestige.

I propose that John Horace McFarland, L.H.D. be officially designated the “FATHER of the AMERICAN ROSE SOCIETY.”

Though he was not instrumental in the founding of the American Rose Society (the ARS had been in existence for about 20+ years before nurseryman-publisher J. Horace McFarland joined the organization), he was instrumental in turning the commercial growers’ organization into one that welcomed — and served — ordinary home gardeners and lovers of roses. McFarland was, and is the most significant contributor to the organization. To this day, he remains the most remarkable and most loved rosarian the American Rose Society has known.

J. Horace McFarland was the son of nurseryman and publisher George McFarland, who settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania after coming home from the Civil War. Young Horace worked in his father’s nursery, but also gained experience setting type in his father’s publishing business, printing seed lists and later nursery catalogs. At age 30, in 1889, Horace McFarland purchased the vacant Mount Pleasant School where he opened his own publishing company, the J. Horace McFarland Company. He studied the newly invented color-photoengraving process, and subsequently gained contracts with major establishments to publish handsome nursery catalogs, numerous magazines, and significantly, L. Hyde Bailey’s monumental four-volume horticultural work, the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture.

This article was published in the 2018 Jan/Feb issue of American Rose

In 1915, McFarland and Robert Pyle came up with the idea that commercial rose growers of the American Rose Society should be interested in encouraging amateur gardeners to grow roses. At the time, the Society had only about 250 members and 200 of them were commercial growers. The resulting agreement changed the American Rose Society from a narrow purpose commercial trade organization into one that focused on providing information on rose culture for home growers. So, indeed, J. Horace McFarland, together with Robert Pyle, can be seen as ‘founder of the American Rose Society as we know it today’. The centerpiece of their plan was the production of the 1916 Annual, the first in a series that continues to this day, 100 years later. The first American Rose Annual was a huge success; amateur memberships increased twelvefold. The results were so gratifying that in 1917, McFarland was given an honorary life membership in the society.

J. Horace McFarland edited and published every issue (and contributed articles in many) of the American Rose Annual from 1916 through 1943. He became Honorary Vice-President for the ARS, and served on the Executive Committee from 1918 to 1927. In 1928-1929, he served as Vice-President of the Society; in 1930-1932, he served as President, even as he was editing and producing the American Rose Annual. In 1933, he was designated President Emeritus of the ARS, a title he held until his death in 1948. He was first, with Robert Pyle and Mrs. Haricot Risley Foote, to be awarded the American Rose Society Gold Medal, in 1933, its highest award for service.

We know McFarland as a beloved ARS President and President Emeritus. And we know him as a publisher and writer; he authored many other books and publications including My Growing Garden, 1915; The Rose in America, 1923; Garden Roses, 1929; Modern Roses, 1930, 1940, 1947; What Every Rose Grower Should Know, three editions for ARS beginning in 1931; Roses of the World in Color, 1936; How to Grow Roses, with Robert Pyle, 18th-22nd editions; Memoirs of a Rose Man: Tales From Breeze Hill, 1949, the story of his own highly-acclaimed garden. Breeze Hill was designed by a friend, Warren Manning who had designed the plantings for Frederic Law Olmstead at Biltmore in North Carolina. Breeze Hill was a nationally-known showplace for roses, an early “test” site for the ARS; the “Mecca of the rose world,” and the place he called home.

This article was published in the 2018 Jan/Feb issue of American Rose

There is so much more to know about J. Horace McFarland. He was active and recognized nationally for his efforts and leadership in civic betterment organizations that worked to improve city life, water purification, park development, street paving, removal of billboards, planting of shade trees and other parks projects. Later as the first President of the American Civic Association, a position he held for 20 years, his first effort was to save Niagara Falls from commercial encroachment and pollution of the falls’ waters. He campaigned for the preservation of the falls through his column for the “Beautiful America” department of the Ladies Home Journal magazine, and after meetings with President Theodore Roosevelt, he succeeded. In 1908, he spoke before the first White House Governor’s Conference which was about conservation of the nation’s resources. His speech, unlike all the others, spoke to “preservation and beauty.” He said, “We have for a century stood actually, if not ostensibly, for an uglier America; let us here and now resolve, for every patriotic and economic reason, to stand openly and solidly for a more beautiful, and, therefore a more prosperous America.” In 1910, J. Horace began a campaign for the establishment of a national bureau to manage the nation’s parks. He worked with President Roosevelt and President Wilson and Congress until finally, in 1916, the National Parks Service was formed.

He visited more than 400 cities arousing communities to beautification programs in his “crusade against ugliness” in America. For all those contributions to the nation, we are gratified that Roses were his primary focus; he never stopped his work for the American Rose Society, traveling on ARS business and lecturing on Roses and the Society into his eighties. In fact, his last appearance at an ARS meeting was at Williamsburg, Virginia, where he celebrated his 88th birthday.

In My Growing Garden, McFarland’s early book about Breeze Hill, the man who had worked closely with the men and women in the editorial offices of the nation’s great publishing houses, in the horticultural world, and in the seats of government power, and who had achieved so much for the nation, both in its cities, its parks, its gardens, and along its highways proclaimed: ‘I should like no better epitaph than that here dwelt a man who loved a garden, who lived in and grew with it, and who yet looks upon it, even from afar, as a garden growing for all who love the beauties of God’s green earth.’

The garden that McFarland had in mind when he wrote this in 1909 was the one at Breeze Hill. However, the garden that he lived his life to beautify, to preserve, was the earth (attributed to Ernest Morrison who wrote McFarland’s biography, A Thorn for Beauty).

From the 1949 American Rose Annual where his obituary was published:

“Dr. J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948), President Emeritus of the American Rose Society and for 29 years Editor of its publications. No man gave more to the American Rose Society in time, effort or inspiration. Rare are the international figures that can compare in world importance to this great American rosarian.”

Robert Pyle, McFarland’s good friend in roses, said:

“In no other nation has anyone so gifted with pen and color press so greatly promoted good public relations for the rose. His devotion lay quite above the realm of personal profit from private enterprise. Both his own spirit and all that he controlled appeared dedicated in loyal devotion to having the beauty of the rose become known and enjoyed by a constantly increasing number of his fellowmen.”

Former ARS President Arthur F. Truex, said:

“Discouragement was unknown to Dr. McFarland. During wars and depressions, when others were fearful of the fate of the American Rose Society and rose culture in general, he preached with increased vigor his belief that roses and rose growing are necessary in times of stress to preserve our mental equilibrium. His curiosity was unbounded; he constantly sought new ways of raising roses, new cures for rose ills, new varieties of roses, and new rose friends. But particularly the latter, for through his correspondence and travels he had made the acquaintance of other rose folk from over the world. And he was always looking ahead, far ahead. He pictured municipal rose gardens in all our cities; he supported a national rosarium; he hoped to see the rose societies of all nations joined together for their mutual benefit… Many years ago, Dr. McFarland wrote a book titled The Rose in America… to many of us today, the ‘Rose in America’ means Dr. McFarland.”

Former ARS President and Annual Editor R. C. Allen wrote:

“His death on October 2, 1948, brought to an end a long and rich career. For all his greatness, he lived a simple life and enjoyed simple things. His philosophy was to look forward, to build for the better life. His warm human qualities endeared him to his countless friends. No man gave more to the American Rose Society in time, effort and inspiration. Rare are the international rose figures that can compare in world importance to this great American horticultural personality. His preeminence fully justified the affectionate title, Dean of American Rosarians.”

Biographer Ernest Morrison said in the preface of

A Thorn for Beauty:

“Today, the name J. Horace McFarland is a forgotten one; 75 years ago it was known nationwide. His gardening contemporaries called him the ‘High Priest of the Rose.’ Enos Mills of Rocky Mountain Park fame described him as ‘the most useful man in America.’ He was an intimate of many of the great men and women in the publishing world. Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Calvin Coolidge respected his opinion. He was an unofficial but important advisor to every secretary of the interior between 1904 to 1944.”

We, the American Rose Society, can do our part in honoring this “Renaissance Man of Roses,” in recognizing and memorializing his monumental works for the American Rose Society and indeed, for the nation.

Bestowing the worthy honor and title, “FATHER of the AMERICAN ROSE SOCIETY,” on J. Horace McFarland, the esteemed, beloved and historic ARS leader will bring new and deserved awareness of the heroic work of this truly great man.

Additionally, I believe that our remembering and honoring the most significant among us — J. Horace McFarland — in this way will bring enormous prestige to the Society.

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