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A Barbershop Quintet of Ramblers

by Darrell g.h. Schramm


It was the turn of a century, 19th into the 20th, when Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde, when families and friends would picnic in the park with George or the pet dog, when Daisy would ride with her beau on a bicycle built for two, when barbershop quartets sang of romance down by the old mill stream. when roses rambled over fences, across paths, and from trees.


From the 1890s to the 1930s, rambling roses were at their height of popularity. Men like Dr. Walter van Fleet, Michael Walsh, and Rene Barbier bred them exuberantly. Why breed a mere Pernetiana or Polyantha when one could produce green mansions lavishly ornamented in cartouches of floral color (somewhat like this sentence)? And so they did. Short of writing a book on ramblers—and indeed a few have been written on the topic—this review will discuss a quintet of ramblers introduced in the first decade of the 20th century.

A particularly beautiful rose but one lesser known is ‘René André’ (ABOVE) of 1901, bred by Barbier, crossing Rosa wichurana with the now lost Noisette ‘L’Ideal’. Buds of saffron yellow or amber form semi-double and double flowers of a yellow-copper-pink blend or sometimes pale peachy pink. Because the outer petals fade in color first, each bloom, not being coy, exhibits contrasting shades in its several stages as it merges into its last days. The flowers share the elegant shape and color-blend of Tea roses. Occasionally they rebloom. One can detect a sweet scent—of apples, it seems. Like most Barbier roses, the plant bears very flexible canes rife with fishhook-like prickles and dark bronze-green leaves with a sheen. Though a low rambler, the canes reach out twelve to twenty feet. Because it is shade tolerant, it is good for training and trailing from trees.


While one young man René André was the son of a nurseryman friend of Barbier, another young man so named was a French swimmer on whom France pinned its hopes for the third modern Olympics held in London. Certainly he seemed to have shown promise in training. Did Barbier name the rose for his friend’s son or for the swimmer—or were they the same person?.I’ve not been able to unearth the answer. Athlete René André, however, did not qualify for the semi-finals, let alone the finals.


One of four late-flowering ramblers released for the good old summertime in 1904 by Michael Walsh was ‘Minnehaha’. Of a deep yet delicate pink, the semi-globular flowers pale with age. An identifying feature is the outer petals which are not quilled, though a few of the inner petals are. Glandular bristles show noticeably on the pedicels. The serrate leaflets are elliptic-acuminate in shape. The blossoms hang in loose, often somewhat open, trusses. Sometimes mistaken for ‘Dorothy Perkins’, ‘Minnehaha’s’ flowers grow somewhat larger than those of ‘Dorothy’. Furthermore, ‘Dorothy Perkins’ shows virtually no bristles on its pedicels, and while some of its petals are quilled, others are fluted. Alluding to similarities, breeder Jack Harkness declared that Walsh’s plant “could pass for a sport of ‘Dorothy Perkins’. Rosarian George M. Taylor in 1933 preferred ‘Minnehaha’ for its “elusive charm” and its “refinement that is totally absent in ‘Dorothy Perkins’, the difference between a thoroughbred and a drayhorse.”

ABOVE: 'Minnehaha' by Wilrooj on WikiCommons


The name of the rose comes from Longfellow’s Ojibway saga “The Song of Hiawatha,” a poem of 1855. Minnehaha, whose name in Dakotah supposedly means Laughing Water or Waterfall, was Hiawatha’s lover who died of famine and fever in a severe Minnesota or Canadian winter. (Her death echoes the personal life of Longfellow whose first and second wives had died long before he did.)


In the Midwest where I grew up, a Minnehaha jump rope rhyme was popular among children; Baby Boomers may recall a version of it. I learned it as “Minne-Minnehaha/ went to see her papa./ Papa died/ Minne-Minne cried./ Minne had a baby/ named Dick Jim./ She put him in the bathtub/ to teach him how to swim./ He drank down the water,/ ate a bar of soap./ She took him to the doctor/ so he wouldn’t choke.” While jumping rope we counted Dick Jim’s burped soap bubbles. Many years later, I interpreted this rhyme as based partly on incestuous rape and patricide, a tragedy befitting Minnehaha’s own in the poem.


‘Alida Lovett’ (ABOVE) was bred by Dr. van Fleet, who was determined to create roses that would not demand the pampering required of Hybrid Teas. A vigorous climber of upright growth, ‘Alida Lovett’ originated as a cross between R. wichurana and ‘Souvenir du President Carnot’. Virtually without prickles, this hardy plant does not mind semi-shade. Its shiny foliage shuns mildew. The coral or shell pink roses, yellow at the base, double with reflexed petals, flower in large clusters and yield a strong perfume. They last a long time on plant and in vase.


‘Alida Lovett’ was not released until 1917 and was done so by J. T. Lovett’s Monmouth Nursery in Little Silver, New Jersey. According to one source, it was named for Lovett’s wife. (Perhaps he had met her down by the old mill stream.) Dr. van Fleet also bred ‘Bess Lovett’ and ‘Mary Lovett’, both ramblers, said to be named for Alida’s sisters. However, it seems odd, even improbable, that the sisters (now apparently sisters-in-law) should bear the same surname as Alida and her husband. On the other hand, between 1899 and 1917 three different ‘Mrs. Lovett’ roses were produced, one still being offered in 1919 but none two years later. So why name yet another for his wife? It would seem to me, then, that all three—Alida, Bess, and Mary—were not only sisters but also children of Mr. & Mrs. Lovett. (Since first writing this article, I have found confirmation for my supposition in Lovett’s own nursery catalogue; indeed, the three are sisters.)

‘Seagull’ (1907, pictured ABOVE), the result of R. multiflora crossed with the Hybrid Perpetual ‘General Jacqueminot’, is apparently the sole rose bred by a Mr. Pritchard of the U.K. A very fragrant once-blooming rambler, it sends out arching canes with single and semi-double pure white flowers in large billowing clusters. Though able to decorate a small tree, it is not outrageously rampant. The sheer white blossoms and the smaller habit differentiate it from ‘Rambling Rector’. If you do not have space for a tall tree-robing rambler—like ‘Rambling Rector’, ‘Kiftsgate’, ‘Lykkefund’, or ‘Wedding Day’—this is the rambler for you.


Although ‘Seagull’ is pure white, not all gulls are. Gulls are primarily white as adults, greyish brown as immature birds. Some also show grey and/or black in their feathered raiment.


A few gulls, like Bonaparte’s Gull and Laughing Gull, wear a black hood. Most, however, are white-capped: Western Gull, Glaucous Winged Gull, Herring Gull, etc., but hybridization and backcrosses occur, much like today’s Hybrid Teas roses, especially among the white-headed types,.


Gull-like fossils have been found dating back 24 to 37 million years. About 51 different gull species exist today. They are gregarious and colonial. Gulls adapt easily to environments altered by human beings, one of the few bird groups that do. Landfills often supplement their usual marine diet. Most larger gulls, like Bonaparte and Great Black-backed Gulls, will eat the eggs and even chicks of other species, especially of terns and plovers.


In the 1970s female pairing was observed among gulls in several areas of Southern California. This so-called “lesbian gulls” behavior resulted from estrogen effects of human DDT use in the environment. Many gulls, male and female, failed to develop courtship behavior, and male gulls abnormally developed ovarian tissue and ducts for the passage of eggs. Similar feminization effects occurred among other sea birds, marine mammals, and fish. To repeat, not all gulls are pure.


‘Rambling Rector’ (RIGHT)has already been mentioned. The breeder of this rose is unknown. It was found in 1910 (some say 1912) at the Daisy Hill Nursery in County Down, Ireland. But it was not—is not—a wild Irish rose. A tall plant, even (to keep it Irish) Brobdingnagian, with very far-reaching and quite prickly canes, it blooms once a year in an unforgettable mass of creamy white flowers, double and semi-double with amber stamens. Trusses of forty to fifty flowers surrender a strong, musky scent. It rambles religiously onto and over anything nearby. (After all, religo in Latin means a fastening or a binding to something, and religio, a bond between human beings and gods.) It looks best hanging from or embroidering trees. Dappled shade suits it fine. If you cannot have enough of it, or should you wish to overwhelm someone, friend or enemy, it is easy to propagate.


Discovered by Thomas Smith of Daisy Hill, it appears to be an older rose of the Multiflora family, renamed as a foundling. The name may have been given tongue-in-cheek

for any long-winded clergyman enamored of his own rambling homilies. Though not a species rose, I can hear in my head a barbershop quartet singing of it as “My wild Irish rose, sweetest flower that grows.” Certainly, it rambles wildly enough to seem akin to several wild roses.


Conclusion: Even as rambling roses were the floral signs of the times, so barbershop harmonies were the songs of the times. I confess, though it’s rarely a barbershop melody, I often find myself singing as I work among my roses.


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