We knew there were roses. Some were visible in the rock pile below the barn, two climbers draped across the old kitchen and there was a huge bush on the roadside. But we didn’t know that there were roses hiding under the goldenrod in the side yard and below the driveway. Nor did we know that there were roses behind the garage and along the ditch, or lying under the grass on the other side of the old kitchen or absolutely underground next to the bit of old cellar wall that stuck out by the southeast corner of the house.
The second year we were here, Stan needed to put a driveway down below the barn, right through the rock pile/rose hedge. We decided that we’d put up a fence along the east drive and move the roses out there. He had purchased an old backhoe at an auction, and we used it to move rocks and dig rose bushes. It was a good thing we had it, some of the rose roots were the size of tree roots. There were probably 10 or 12 bushes, which at the time I thought a lot. We planted them along the board fence, cut them down to about a foot and I spent the rest of the summer carrying water to them.
At about the same time, we pulled the bush on the road edge, and divided it into about 18 small bushes. It was a thorny, nasty bush, which I later learned is the R. rugosa ‘Hansa.’ We planted two on the rose fence and put the rest in the truck. That night after chores, we went up and down the road to friends and neighbors and gave away as many as we could. We had about a half a dozen left when we got home, which we left in the back of the truck overnight. The next morning, Stan went out and dug a trench along the orchard side of the fence below the barn and dumped what was left in it. He ran a hose down and watered them and we decided if they lived, they lived, with low expectations.
Meanwhile, I had been poking around the yard and discovered that the two main goldenrod ‘beds’ were really rose beds. There were about a hundred R. gallica officinallis ‘apothecary’ in the mess on the east side of the house, and R. gallica ‘rosa mundi’ (aka versicolor) and what I believe to be R. gallica 'Imperatrice Josephine' below the driveway on the west side of the house. Out in the east lawn, a smaller, velvety dark wine rose had suddenly made an appearance in the space now free of ‘Hansa,’ which I learned was R. gallica ‘Tuscany’. These weren’t necessarily your run of the mill farm garden roses. The old red rambler, R. wichurana ‘Excelsa' that was along the ditch, yes, very definitely a farm yard rose, but the R. alba ‘maxima’, not so much.
The two climbers, R. wich. ‘Dorothy Perkins’ and her daughter the ‘White Dorothy Perkins’, yes, as well as the Harison’s yellow. But the Russeliana that had spent several years hiding underground and the bourbon rose, ‘Reine Victoria’ that had been lying under the grass were pretty unknown in this area.
Of course, I didn’t know the names when I started. I still don’t know all the names. It has been an 18 year adventure in researching first in books and by mail and then later through the internet that has led me to these names. And I didn’t know how old many of them were. The apothecary is listed as from 1400, but that is only when it appeared in Europe, perhaps brought by returning crusaders. When I started finding these facts, I began to wonder where all of these roses had come from. I asked one of the former owner’s daughters. She said they were old, and that some of them had come with the family from England in the 1600s and moved with them from Connecticut to here, but that was all she knew, and that they were not as nice as modern roses. I kept my new found love for these elderly beauties to myself at that point. All of the ‘modern’ roses had been hybrid teas that died. The older roses had been taking care of themselves for at least 40 years, and I figure any plant that can survive that long on its own deserves all the respect I can give it.
Looking back, I should have made it a point to ask more of the family questions, but as they are all gone now, that is only 20/20 hindsight. When I decided to write more about my roses, I thought perhaps I could piece some of the history by looking into the history of the farm. There had been some treasured family stories about the farm told us by the former owners that I thought, perhaps, could lead me in some way to the history of the roses. It turned out to be an interesting search. As with many treasured family stories, some of the most quoted turned out to be myth when checked against the available facts, but there were some bits and pieces that took me back to Massachusetts and a little way towards England in the 1600s. This still didn’t give me any solid information on who the rose lover or lovers had been, so in the old tradition of farm and family myth, I have decided to invent some.
The first would be a woman who climbed on to a small ship with rose cuttings stuck in tiny bits of potato and hidden in the household goods she had been allowed to bring along. The mid seventeenth century was not kind to women, and she knew that she would need her packets of herb seeds and roses for medications and seasoning in the unknown world to which they were headed. There was no knowing what plants they would find there and so she made sure that the apothecary rose rode along. This rose would follow her descendants west as they moved from Massachusetts and land, eventually, here on our farm.
|Rosa 'mundi'||The 'apothecary' rose|
These roses were still in the future when the second rose lover came to this farm. She was a woman who found herself as many others in the nineteenth century, marrying a man who had lost his first wife and been left with a very young son. They had a medium length of time together, bearing 3 more children. Both found that education was of importance and the eldest son would eventually become a doctor. In the way of things, her husband allowed her some discretion with the farm yard, and she, being fond of roses, planted a few choice bushes near the house.
The third rose lover was this woman’s daughter. She inherited the farm after her older siblings went off to cities to live and her younger brother died tragically young. The man that she married (descendant of the first rose lover) introduced her to some ancient roses that his family had nurtured for 200 years and several thousand miles and she added them to her mother’s treasure trove. As the years passed, she added several new varieties
The fourth rose lover was the elderly woman from whom we bought the farm. The climbers, Dorothy Perkins and White Dorothy Perkins followed her and her husband to several homes along the way before settling here. It was she who planted the first Harison’s Yellow, the F.J. Grootendorst and the red rambler, Excelsa, that tumbled down ditch edges and around telephone poles.
She had found herself often at odds with her mother-in-law, not all that uncommon in the world, and when she built her new house, had the roses her mother-in-law had collected moved to a hedge below the barn, near the rock pile, which eventually grew around them.
The fifth rose lover, well that would be me, but I didn’t come here a rose lover. It is something that I’ve learned over the last 18 years. Having been allergic to roses for as long as I can remember, I never expected to have one rose. Needless to say, finding myself with hundreds of roses was a bit of a shock. But the more I learned about them, the more fascinated I became by them. I have even added a few myself, extending the collection of Hillfarm’s roses by about a dozen. More or less. So far.
The roses that were here are:
Rosa alba ‘maxima’ from about 1700
Rosa centifolia ‘Spong’ from 1804
Rosa centifolia muscosa, Common Moss a sport of R. centifolia 1700
Rosa gallica officinallis ‘apothecary’
Rosa gallica versicolor aka Rosa mundi
Rosa gallica ‘L’Imperatrice Josephine’
Rosa gallica ‘Tuscany’
Rosa ‘Goldfinch’ multiflora hybrid
Rosa rugosa ‘F. J. Grootendorst’
Rosa harisonii 'Harison’s Yellow':
Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’
Rosa pimpinellifolia ‘flore rubro multiplici’ syn. Spinonnisima
Rosa multiflora f. platyphylla (probably) aka Seven Sisters
Rosa ‘Reine Victoria’ bourbon:
Rosa Russeliana multiflora rambler
Rosa wichurana ‘Dorothy Perkins’
Rosa wichurana ‘White Dorothy Perkins’
Rosa wichurana ‘Excelsa’
Three that I am not sure of: possibly ‘Sarah Van Fleet’; an old hybrid tea, large and pink; and a purply red short climber.
I sincerely hope that the next owner of our farm will be a rose lover, or become a rose lover as I have. It is an inheritance of beauty that deserves to be extended for as long as can be imagined.
Oh, and by the way, the bushes in the rose hedge of 'Hansa' down below the barn all lived.