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Pretty Pemberton Roses

by Nanette Londeree, Master Rosarian, Marin Rose Society.

Originally published in The Marin Rose

ABOVE: 'Cornelia'

Joseph Hardwick Pemberton was born in Essex, England in 1852 in a unique Victorian style house, “The Round House,” where he would reside for his entire lifetime. The house stood prominently surrounded by trees and shrubs in three acres of gardens. When Joseph was five years old, his sister was born, and Amelia Florence (known forever after as Florence), would be his companion for life.

Dressed in their Sunday best, the family regularly attended church, and little Joseph was intrigued by a gentleman in a dark coat with a rose in his buttonhole. After this initial sighting, he would search the garden each Sunday for a rose to wear in his own little jacket, determined that it should be better than the gentleman’s. At age twelve, his father taught him how to propagate a rose by budding, and he was given a little patch for his own garden with three red roses in it. Occasionally, he went with his father to the annual Rose Show at the Crystal Palace with the intent of being able to pick more roses for his own garden. During these trips he took great care to wear the best rose he could find in his buttonhole. Adorned with a fragrant flower of ‘Marie Baumann’, a large, light red hybrid perpetual, he became aware of people looking at this buttonhole rose. He searched the exhibits at the Crystal Palace looking for a better bloom and was content not to find one. The competitive streak in him was alive and flourishing!

Joseph was 21 when his father died, and the bond between he and his sister grew stronger as they responded to the needs of their bereaved mother. They shared many interests, and, in that summer, he decided to enter some of the family roses in a rose show. He found a dozen blooms that were good enough to show and won second prize. From that moment on, he was an exhibitor of roses with his sister a willing and enthusiastic helper.

In 1876, the National Rose Society was formed, staging their first show on July 4, 1877. With three years’ experience behind him, Joseph was determined to enter the show, but was unprepared for the stringent rules that governed the show. Undeterred, he pleaded with the show Secretary to let him enter the show but was refused. With a box of twelve different roses, he found an empty space to place his blooms. He was shooed from one place to the next, until the exasperated judge gave him an entry card and told him to put his roses on the floor “and leave them there!” His roses were poised against many experienced exhibitors, and to his delight, he won second prize in the show.

He and Florence attended many rose shows from that point on with great success. 1896 was a zenith for them; they entered 49 boxes at 12 different shows and won 48 prizes including 32 first prizes. Joseph was now recognized as an authority on roses, and many were impressed that he had blooms for nearly three months of the year. As his interest in roses kept increasing, he became aware of the shortcomings of the roses he grew with their short blooming period and stiff appearance.

In 1911 he became president of the National Rose Society. Having been ordained an Anglican cleric years before, he now turned his thoughts to breeding. He wanted to create roses that would out-bloom his grandmother's roses and provide a continuous and bountiful display of bloom for the garden on bushes that were free growing and healthy. The Reverend also held fragrance to be of great importance.

He started working with the rose ‘Trier’ bred in Germany by Peter Lambert and introduced in 1904. In addition to ‘Trier’ he used the species rose, R. foetida, contemporary popular varieties of hybrid teas, bourbons, hybrid perpetuals and polyanthas. In 1913 Joseph became a nurseryman as he introduced his first hybridizing attempts with ‘Danaë’ and ‘Moonlight’ (ABOVE). ‘Danaë’ has dark shiny foliage that is a nice contrast to the pale-yellow buds with golden stamens. ‘Moonlight’, clothed in creamy-white fragrant blooms, contrasts well with the healthy dark green foliage and the dark brown-red wood.

He originally marketed his roses as hybrid teas, but in 1919 he adopted the recommendation from the Secretary of the National Rose Society, who, two years earlier had reviewed Pemberton’s latest introduction, ‘Pax’ saying, “A new hybrid musk of the first order, very strongly perfumed---real musk---.” ‘Pax’ is a large rose with relaxed form and is covered with masses of drooping, creamy white blooms with golden stamens that are richly scented. From this point on, his roses were recognized as hybrid musks.

As he was rapidly developing and marketing new roses, he dropped the “Rev” from his advertisements, and sold his roses as J. H. Pemberton. Around this time, he also resigned from his curacy. His roses were very well received, and there was a ready supply of eager customers for these roses that produced an abundance of bloom, had a more relaxed form, general good health and vigor and fragrance to boot!

Next came ‘Kathleen’ (LEFT) in 1922; a lovely single blush-pink to cream colored fragrant flower in large clusters adorned with extremely healthy, dark green leathery foliage. The following year, probably the most popular of his roses, ‘Penelope’ hit the market. This rose won the National Rose Society Gold Medal, though to some rose lovers at the time, it was a surprise, as it didn’t produce the same quantity of bloom as some of his other varieties. ‘Penelope’ (BELOW) is dressed in large trusses of semi-double seashell-pink blooms that are sweetly fragrant. Prominent golden stamens contrast nicely with the medium green, healthy foliage.

Joseph was taken ill in 1926 and died shortly thereafter. Florence continued the business after her brother’s death, with the help of their two gardeners, J. A. Bentall and R. Spruzen. In 1927, they introduced ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Felicia’ in 1928. Florence passed away in 1929, and the era of the Pemberton’s at the “Round House” came to an end. The two gardeners went their separate ways and each continued to breed roses. Bentall’s most notable introductions were ‘The Fairy’ in 1932 and ‘Ballerina’ in 1937.

Curiously, the results of Pemberton’s part-time hybridizing may prove more enduring than the works of several rose breeders who dedicated their whole lives to the enterprise of breeding and propagating roses. The hybrid musk roses, with their strong constitutions, shrubby habit, generous blooms, and plenty of fragrance achieved what Joseph set out to accomplish - out bloom his grandmother's roses.

Some other Pemberton roses include:

‘Prosperity’, 1919; sweetly fragrant, creamy ivory white double blooms flushed pale pink in clusters on an upright plant.

‘Vanity’, 1920; a loose form that grows up to six feet is covered with cerise-pink fragrant flowers for much of the season.

‘Cornelia’, 1925; apricot-pink flowers cloak this plant that is always in bloom. Flowers are small, and very fragrant.

‘Felicia’, 1928; outstanding large shrub. Rich pink blooms with salmon shadings and great fragrance. Tough and reliable.

All photos submitted by Nanette Londeree


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