Keepers of Lost Gems
by Mirjana Toyn, Connecticut Rose Society, Consulting Rosarian
Award of Merit 2016 winner
Oh, the frustration when you see a beautiful rose you absolutely must have for your own garden and nobody can tell you where it came from or what it is called! Most of us probably grow at least one mystery rose in our gardens like the white Floribunda ‘Saratoga’ I puchased for my neighbor that turned into a lovely, large pink shrub instead. Maybe we lost the tags, planted some random supermarket minis, or purchased a wrongly labled specimen. Either way, we cannot put a name to it. (ABOVE: 'Who am I?', photo by Rita Perwich)
Unidentified roses can be discovered in the most unlikely places. Growing conditions and climate can affect the appearance, color, and size of a rose, making it that much more challenging to recognize it. Unusual traits, like unique coloring, blooms, or leaves help to narrow down the options, but if it’s a medium pink…well, good luck to you.
At the height of their popularity in the early 19th century, there were about 2,000 different Gallicas alone, most of which have been lost from cultivation. If you are lucky to find a repeat blooming rose, you’ve automatically eliminated thousands of candidates. However, there is always the possibility of hips falling to the ground and producing brand new varieties!
Some years ago Chris Jankot found several roses languishing along railway lines in the Putnam area. She graciously gifted me one sucker and only wanted me to let her know if it was a single or a double pink. Well, the first year it rained incessantly right around blooming time and the buds festered. The following year I was away when it bloomed. I finally hit the jackpot this June when it put on quite the show! In my excitement, I posted photos on Facebook sparking a long thread of possible identifications – all of which were wrong. We know what it isn’t, but with thousands of possibilities, we’re no closer to the answer. And yes, it’s pink. Chris gave it the temporary name ‘Manhassett Beauty’ and we have reached out to OGR experts in our search for clues. Paul Barden suspects a mixed heritage that may include some Boursault genes and we’re awaiting Stephen Scaniellos’s insight. (ABOVE: ‘Manhassett Beauty’, Do you know me?)
My own rose rustling adventures have yielded another unknown beauty, which I’m naming ‘Guilford Belle’. It was found lingering in the thicket of weed trees, desperately suckering into the verge of a busy road in pursuit of more sunshine. I passed on suckers of both mystery roses to some friends and will be making them available at next year’s rose auction! Andy Vanable brought me a pink moss rose he suspects is ‘Common Moss’, but I’m as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve to see what it looks like when it flowers next summer! (ABOVE: 'Guilford Belle’, what’s my real name?)
About four years ago I successfully propagated a found pink multiflora rambler. If you have ever visited my garden, you will know I have a boatload of random cuttings that I give away to friends (I constantly stick sprigs in pots) and I often don’t know until bloom time what’s what. Needless to say, I inadvertently gave away ALL three cuttings. Luckily, I know where the original grows and I’ll just have to do it again! I have my eye on another interesting mystery rose on the Shoreline. The property looks semi-abandoned, but I’d better knock on the door first to see if there are indeed owners who are going for the shabby chic look in their garden. Remember my friends: be a respectful rose rustler.
Occasionally however, we are successful in establishing the true identity of a specimen. Marci Martin and I were ‘liberating’ headstones from rose suckers in the Hartford area (by permission!) and with some investigating realized we had rescued ‘Prolifera de Redouté’. I still chuckle as I remember the sketchy neighborhood (I admit the possibility of being held at gunpoint did cross my mind) and the joyous cheers from passers-by thanking us for ‘weeding’ the cemetery!
A good place to start identifying found roses is at the www.helpmefind.com website. It has a tab for advanced search where you can narrow down your choices and enter criteria like class, color, habit, etc. It allows you to post photos and invite suggestions from other rose aficionados. Brent C. Dickerson’s ‘The Old Rose Adventurer’ provides detailed descriptions and some color plates for once-blooming roses and Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s ‘Les Roses’ is a useful classic reference. Social media should not be ignored in your quest for answers: you can easily reach thousands of rose lovers and experts all over the globe and post photos of your find. I would like to see a Found Roses tab on every rose society website and Facebook page.
Yet, what is in a name? Quite a lot actually. Stephen Scanniello’s book ‘A Rose by Any Name’ highlights the fascinating stories behind the naming of many famous roses. Stephen talks about the ‘Shipwreck Rose’ that washed ashore in the Hamptons in 1842 when the clipper Louis Philippe ran aground off Long Island and abandoned most of its cargo. Rose enthusiasts happily shared cuttings all over eastern Long Island generation after generation. After much research and a few false leads, the rose was eventually identified as ‘Celsiana’, a Dutch Damask from the mid-1700s.
One of the reasons I love Old Garden Roses is precisely this connection to history and the echo of lives long since extinguished. Many of the names, while famous or beloved in their own time, mean nothing to us now, but a little research often reveals how colorful these lives were.