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Articles » Roses
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This column has only touched on roses in passing, because it did not see how it could do justice to such a vast topic in four hundred words or less. Nevertheless, in a moment of madness, the column is going to give it a try.

Our indispensable library has half a dozen books about roses from the early 1920s to about 1970. At one point, the club either subscribed to the “American Rose Annual” or perhaps a member donated it to us. I moved the volumes off the open shelves to make space for more recent books but they have a faded period charm (don’t we all?) and remain a fine source of information about rose growing and breeding in those decades.

My initial idea was to take a rapid canter though all six books and give a breezy account of them as I went. That idea collapsed as soon as I got to page 39 of the first book I picked up, How To Grow Roses by Robert Pyle in 1925. He was the secretary of the American Rose Society at the time and went on to become president soon afterwards.

It is dull looking little volume, nothing one would even glance at next to the handsome and colourful books we have now. This book was signed out of the library twice, once in 1935 and once in 1936. There are one or two coloured illustrations but most of the images are reduced to black and white, making the book somewhat unappealing. The version in our library is the 16th edition.

What caught my attention was his carefully compiled lists of the most popular roses in 1924, eighty years ago. He did it systematically, region by region, sending out questionnaires. It was surprising how many responses he got. The all time popular favourite other than a bush or climbing rose was ‘Frau Karl Druschki’, a white Hybrid Perpetual also known as ‘Snow Queen’. It is still grown today by old rose enthusiasts.

This is a very robust plant, bred by Peter Lambert of Trier in Germany and launched in 1901. Frau Karl Druschki was the wife of his foreman Herr Karl Druschki. Pyle’s list showed that the rose was still going strong more than twenty years after it appeared.

He sorted the replies by type of rose. Among the bush or hybrid teas ‘Radiance’ topped the list, followed by one called ‘Gruss an Teplitz’, a crimson triple hybrid China-Bourbon-Tea. ‘Radiance’ is not shown in Phillips and Rix’ splendid The Quest for the Rose, but ‘Gruss an Teplitz’ is. The Hungarian breeder Geschwind released this rose in 1897. Phillips and Rix’ illustration is a photograph of an old plant in a California cemetery.

Through the years thousands upon thousands of hybrids have been created so it is not surprising that only a few can be illustrated. When I tore myself away from Pyle’s lists and turned to another one of our treasures, J. Horace McFarland’s The Rose in America, 1923, I found that the hasty introduction of a new variety supplanting a well-tried and reliable favorite was rampant back then too.

Roses are such a vast topic that I will prepare more library notes on them in the future.