Monday, June 20, 2011

Scots Roses

As high rose tide begins to wane, I have started to look at the incredible photos taken by my friends, Alex and Aurora Solla. I was struck by the beauty of the Scots roses. One rarely sees these in gardens anymore, although they were touted by Gertrude Jekyll, in her book “Roses for English Gardens.” These roses have been grown since at least the 1700s and are often found around cellar holes on abandoned farmsteads or rural cemeteries.

My first encounter with Scots roses was in a cow pasture at the Finger Lakes National Forest in Hector, NY between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. They had formed a thicket near an old farm house site. The farms here date back to 1790 when soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War were awarded tracts of land in payment for their services. These parcels were one mile square. The roads that formed their boundaries are still there today. Many of these farms were abandoned between the 1890s and the Great Depression, when they were purchased by the Federal Government. The roses that remain in these fields have been flourishing untended for at least 100 years!

Scots roses are hybrids of Rosa spinosissima, which had been called Rosa pimpinellifolia. These roses are single (5 petals) and found in white, yellow or pink. Scots roses, though once blooming, are among the first roses to bloom. Here in Ithaca, NY, they start to bloom in May- a welcome sight after a long winter. Their fragrance is a mix of tea rose and citrus. They set shiny currant-like hips that are chocolate brown or maroon in color. Their leaves are very small with 7-11 serrated leaflets. Their stems are covered in many short prickles/bristles. This species grows from three to five feet tall and sucker readily.

The first mention of these roses for garden use was by Robert Brown of Perth, Scotland in 1793. He offered eight double flowered varieties. By 1810, Robert Austin of Glasgow offered over 100 varieties. These roses were at the peak of their popularity from about 1820-1840 after which they were superseded by larger flowered and repeat flowering roses. In 1848, William Paul listed only 75 varieties. In 1936, Edward Bunyard listed 36 varieties. In 1965 McFarland listed only 15. While the names are lost, many more survive in gardens- both cultivated and abandoned.

Most of the Scots roses are known more by a description of their form and color rather than by name. And so, they may be called single/semi-double/double + white/yellow/blush/red/ marbled/two colored/dark colored. Mary McMurtrie wrote and illustrated a beautiful book of them, “Scots Roses of Hedgerows, and Wild Gardens.” It was first published in 1998 by Garden Art Press.

While some of the ones I have are known, named varieties, most of them have been collected/rustled on farms and cemeteries. They are as precious if not more so than the named ones to me.

The next installment on this blog will focus on rose rustling. I was just out on Father's Day with my son and wife collecting some old roses in Hammond Hill State Forest. This is the best time of year in central NY to do this.

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