Visitors to Old Roses
By MRS. FREDERICK L. KEAYS, Great Neck, L. I., N. Y. 1934 American Rose Society Rose Annual
EDITOR's NOTE.--In the American Rose Annual for 1932, Mrs. Keays told us much about the old roses which she has collected in her garden in Calvert County, Maryland. Last year she translated for us an important French text on Bengal Roses and gave suggestions for the identification of old classes.
WINTER is the season for those who love flowers to think about gardens, to plan for next summer, and, by fanning the memory, to live the pleasures of last summer over again. Especially is it a pleasure to think about roses, now deeply abed under hills of earth and winter protection, with sap low and safe, ready to mount to the warmth of spring. Many unreckoned hours go by for me in thinking about our old-time roses so many miles south of us, in southern Maryland; the roses of our elders and their elders and their elders' elders, back to the colonial beginnings; just old-fashioned roses, a hundred and fifty varieties and more, which we have gathered together because we love to ride this hobby to the end of the rainbow. Recollection of summer hangs richly over the sloping hillside where about four thousand rose bushes flourish in beds and rows, their beauty set up, as in a painting of a great old lady, by their scenic background of woods and low hills and a beautiful stretch of water. This rich remembering brings back visitors to our roses. As friends, casual visitors, or strangers, they have come. As friends to roses, they stay with us through the winter for, whether they meant to or not, each visitor has left something, often much, of himself with us. That is what we are thinking about now; and in recalling delightful hours spent a-rosing with friends old, or friends made in an hour over roses, we are finding "great refreshment to the spirit" during this silent season of gardening. These friends come back with their in and their choices and their enthusiasms, all as individual as their faces and their voices. Happily, there is no fixed canon in rose-gardening to regulate us. We do not have to plant and cultivate our gardens by a code, legalized by the Government or dictated by professional authority. Free are we to indulge in any wild and irregular sort of rose-growing our tastes or our hobbies get us into. And, by the same token, there is no canon for viewing another person's garden. We are free to think whatever we like about it. Our visitors have nothing like a code, either. They admire, or they do not; and admiring, carry off all the blooms they want. No one says, "You must admire my Souvenir d'un Ami or get out of my garden!" It seems strangely probable that these roses of our old-time gardens, these precious relics of our great and greater grandmothers, compel admiration for themselves--everybody lingers and seems to love them. Our visitors have come from near and far. Some have journeyed here to visit roses dear to them from past associations, some to find again roses they were familiar with as children; some to see, if possible, roses they have always wanted to see for one reason or another and have not found. One never guesses how much sentiment lies behind such a visit. Such observations as our visitors make are our reward when we let them loose in our gardens, and they become the inspiration of our winter thinking about visitors. Up the farm road, on a fine spring morning, comes striding a sturdy farmer, a strong man of the soil who can walk miles behind a plow and wear out two teams in a day. When he tells us his name we remember that we have heard his voice from across the cove, calling to his cows and shouting at his horses. He is a neighbor. "I've seen you people working out here. I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to come and find out what you were doing. "We tell him. We invite him to come down and have a look. With a hearty good-by he strides away. Ile has satisfied himself. We have enjoyed an exhibition of natural curiosity. No doubt he thinks we are great fools to work and fertilize and take away good land for old roses which might be better planted to cigarette tobacco. He has never come back. Probably, he never will. But one can believe that he now prunes and fertilizes his old rose bushes with greater interest. Up the road on a heavenly Sunday morning comes an unexpected carload of old friends from the North. They pile out. We welcome them, and all of us trail into the garden. Among them is an officer of a great industrial organization, a fine, city-finished, slightly gray man. We have known him for years. While the rest rove like so many pigeons here and there among the roses, he sits on a bench alone, a detached soul, looking, looking, to the right, to the left, below him, absolutely quiet. A young man sits down by him, a boy almost
ready to try for his place in a world of men. The quiet man begins to talk. He speaks almost fiercely. "Don't let yourself into anything you do not want. Don't, above all things, get yourself into any routine out of which you can never hope to be released. Don't, I pray you, become a business slave! I'm a business slave! I've never done what I wanted to do! I always wanted to grow things!" Imagine the surprise this boy felt at this outbreak of a big businessman! This man never asked a question about a rose. He did not touch a flower. He just sat and looked, and wanted to grow things. He will come back one day, when he is ready to start. On another glorious spring-to-summer Sunday, in the afternoon, come some friends from up the river. They have come often to see the roses, and choose their time this day because they know the blooms will be at their finest. Among them is a lawyer who works among the roses about his home, although he does not know names or varieties. Many of his roses are inherited plants, for his estate is old and honored. He takes much time and moves ahead slowly while his wife and children range from flower to flower. He puts his fingers behind each separate bloom which attracts him and looks each sweet rose searchingly in the face, hunting the beauty which pleases him. He is making a deliberate, painstaking search for perfection. "This I like best." He has chosen from among them, the old red Gallica rose, the "damasked" rose of Shakespeare and Bacon, the red rose of the herbals of John Gerard and Parkinson, and from all we can learn, the earliest rose brought to America by the colonists. His choice is very sound, too. For beauty of outline, form, regularity of petals, gay color, fragrance, and bright golden circular center, the red Gallica is remarkably fine. It may be common, but it stands the test. What a splendid, calm judgment, what a keen discrimination, and what independence of thought and decision have gone into this choice! You would feel that if this man made your will it would be a solid affair. The impression he made when he said, "This I like best," is as vivid as though he now stood with his fingers behind the rose. He has come again. He will come very often, I hope. His deliberate consideration has given us much food for thought about the search for perfection of bloom. Up the road comes a station wagon. Two dear friends and neighbors get out. One is a general gardener who works hard and well in her heavily planted and luxuriant garden. The other, a good gardener, too, has a beautiful garden laid out with box borders, scaled in fine proportion to her handsome home; a garden with an insatiable capacity for consuming plants. In it are quantities upon quantities of choice varieties of irises and roses. Of the two, she is especially the rose-lover. Our visitors go to the roses like moths to a flame. They hover about the fullest and most picturesque ones, looking for gorgeousness of bloom, comparing and grading pinks and reds and yellows for their strong color value. The fact that all of our roses are oldfashioned varieties is not to the point. Roses are roses, and that is enough. Dates add nothing to their charm and take nothing from it. History is of no consequence. To these roselovers, the color of a rose in the garden is its most powerful asset. Fragrance, yes, for a rose to cut and take into the house. Decorative value-picture value-in the garden is the test. They agree upon that, but not upon which rose has it most. Their final choices are different. These friends come again and again. We exchange cuttings of roses they like best for cuttings of crape-myrtles and other old roses and rhizomes of iris. When we visit our friend with the big box-bordered garden, we find cuttings in rows in the nursery, planted under two-quart glass jars in the old-fashioned Maryland manner, the square bottles clear and glistening in the sun like the bayonets of an army. So the glass will glitter through the winter; the cuttings will root; the plants will come. They will, then, be transplanted to the great garden and will repeat the story of the decorative value of a rose in bloom. This is something to think about during the unreckoned hours of silent gardening. Now, up the road comes a Ford sedan. We have been expecting it. We go out to meet four strangers. By correspondence we have arranged the date for these four rose-lovers from Virginia. One of them is a landscape architect, a graduate of the Cambridge school, an experienced, capable, quiet, and very likable person. We become friendly at once. We expand about a mutual interest. We let our visitors loose among the roses, which seem to be unusually lovely this day. They may pick anything they like. They enjoy their freedom, but pick so little that we fill. a box for them later. We follow the landscape gardener. Questions fly between us. She is an old rose-lover who has known old roses all her life and spent much of that life in old Virginia gardens. We have a discussion about our Perle des Jardins. She knows her points about this rose and about other old Tea roses. Our fondness for Tea roses is greatly gratified by this interest. She tells us how in her study of flowers she makes little water-color pictures of petals to record color shadings, an idea we seize upon. Later, letters are
exchanged. A package of blooms of Perle des Jardins comes-petals fallen off, of course -but in their mass showing the peculiar color mixtures. Later, cuttings come in a bundle and, with luck, her Perle des Jardins will be added to our roses next summer. We are very keen to know what notes she is making. We find she is taking down much careful data about height of bush, color and abundance of foliage, growth of a normal plant, as well as notes about color of bloom and fragrance. To her, as a professional, fragrance is absolutely essential. Whence would come the romance of an old Virginia garden if not from fragrance of roses on the evening air? Especially she seems to linger over the little double Lucida rose, so dainty in form and color and scent, so clean in stem and leaf. This is the modest Rose d'Amour, much loved by Miss Jekyll; much loved by us, too. So, we make a mental note upon her refinement of taste. We listen with eagerness while she speaks of roses suitable for hedges. She has seen many rose hedges. She understands them and would make them of the everblooming China roses, pink and red, the Microphyllas, both Rubra and Alba odorata; of the bush Noisettes and of Rose d'Amour. Soon she is considering roses for shrubbery and the edges of woods, making notes about the height and spread of Damasks and Centifolias and other Junes, as well as some Hybrid Chinas which show such dash and confidence. Her active mind runs to period planting, and what roses she would choose for old Virginia and Maryland gardens about old houses with great chimneys. Now, she is writing things down about Musk and Ayrshire climbers and the climbing Tea-Noisettes, visualizing them, with their long shoots and panicles of bloom, in possession of old porches and those lyre-shaped structures for supporting flouncing pillar roses, as accents in old gardens. What a superb sense of delicately and perfectly conceived effect she shows! Training has had something to do with that, but natural taste, gentleness, and a love of the growing plant have a part. Such a sound lesson in planting has-been contributed to our winter hours by this visitor who gave the best of herself to us so freely; a lesson full of the meaning of complete beauty of the growing thingflower, leaf, form, growth, refinement, fragrance; a beauty attained by using a plant in the best way to give its entire loveliness to a garden. We hope this charming visitor, this artist in gardens, will come again. She has already made herself permanent with us whether she makes the long trip to the garden again, or only lives on in winter recollections. Late in the autumn, a bit too late for the best of the autumn show, another sedan comes up the road and we go out to greet our visitors. This is another visit by arrangement. Our rose visitor is an expert rose-man, accompanied by his wife and a dear friend of theirs and ours, through whom this visit has come about. This is a great day for, so far, this is the first and only visit to our garden of a trained, professional rose horticulturist who in his day's work breeds new roses. No cock-sure attitudes this day! We are timid; half afraid to say anything about our old roses, for fear he would consider them of no significance and would prove indifferent to our hobby. Naturally, we feel that a man who can grow such roses as he can, and can breed such new roses as he has bred, all of which we had already seen in their magnificence on our visit to the wonderful garden under his care, is so far beyond us that the graceful thing to do would be to turn him loose and let him go alone, thereby doing nothing to frustrate his pleasure, if he could find any pleasure in our garden. That does not work. He refuses to go alone; we must go with him. We must tell him things. We go with him. We never leave him, we keep him overtime. What a fine tour among roses it proves to be! The feeling of a bending back, the fragrance of roses, is present today as we smell and touch this and snip a bloom of that. In the language of his own art, he speaks about color, its depth, translucence, value; about form of the flower, its arrangement of petals, its balance and weight; about foliage, its quality and manner of growing, its color, shape, and character; about growth of the plant, its attainment and healthy progress; about rose-hips and the tendency of certain sorts to set seed. He knows his Bourbons, Teas, Chinas, and their hybrids by leaf and bush as well as bloom. He is the only visitor, so far, who runs a leaflet through his fingers to get its texture by a sense of touch. Truly, he knows how to gather his rose-facts. Very important to this visitor is health in roses, and the healthy character of roses of southern Maryland, free of smoke and gases, deep in clay and sandy loam, strikes him and brings forth his approval. Soil and free, pure air are subjects for thinking about, as are sunshine and protection from wind and moisture from near-by water. Being very knowing himself, he asks many questions, according to a tendency which may be observed, that the more one knows about anything, the more one asks questions. This lively rose-talk is a banquet for us. Our visitor evolves his preferences slowly. They are based upon trained evaluations. In particular he admires the
Tea-Noisettes. To us this seems an exhibition of exquisite taste, as we think the Tea-Noisettes are the finest among all roses of their time-and are not alone in so thinking. We offer him anything he wants. He wants very little. As we remember now, Safrano and Duchesse de Brabant, both Tea roses; Faded Pink Monthly an early bush Noisette, the yellow Tea-Noisette which we think to be Jaune Desprez, and the carmine,and purple Damask Perpetual, Rose du Roi à Fleurs Pourpres, were all he wanted. However, this list is the choice of the rose-breeder, par excellence. Every one is clear in color, rich in fragrance, of attractive and abundant foliage, fine growth, sturdy health; all sound, capable roses. Every one is a seed-bearer and pollenizer of true and tested quality, recognized by the great breeders of the long ago as valuable in strength and dependability for breeding, and used extensively by them in the development of modern roses. This choice, so stimulating to recall, leads us into thinking about roses in a more comprehensive way. We think how nature shows her purpose to stand firm in certain varieties. At the same time she gives to men the opportunity to use these sure roses for further variation and multiplication and thereby add to the beauty of gardens. The long story of rose progress from the specimens of old roses in our garden to the unnamed new roses grown under his care, is spun into a fabric for the imagination to play upon. Such is the memory of this revealing visit of the rose culturist, who, with no suspicion that he is giving us such richness of contact, is so modest, so kindly, so intelligent, so encouraging. May he return, soon and often! By no count of a season are these all of our visitors, nor are they the only ones who left with us much to remember in their observations, their reactions, their choices. Many, many more have added to our storage of winter thoughts. We would not part with one of them, however different, however unusual. Dean Hole says that "He who would have beautiful roses in his garden must have beautiful roses in his heart." We meditate through this off-season of winter upon which are the most beautiful roses, which are the most beautiful among our old roses. We know what we like best, but so many different roses have been chosen as most beautiful that we conclude there must be just as many different hearts for roses to live in as there are beautiful roses. That being so, we are convinced that, strangely true as it may be, these old-time roses do cast a spell of their own conceiving, do compel admiration for themselves. Except for the busy farmer, he who comes, lingers, and he who lingers chooses something without which life will never be quite the same again.