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Musings » The Rose in America
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McFarland, J Horace
New York
The Macmillan Company 1923

This book is one our rose treasures, 86 years old, with a beautiful colored insert on the front board showing a red ‘Dr Huey’ rose. The colors have remained very fresh probably because this book sits on our bookshelf almost all the time and is not exposed to the light.

McFarland, 1859 – 1948, is more or less forgotten these days but he was a powerful combination of visionary supported by solid business acumen and lots of “brass”. To use the wonderful Yorkshire expression he was a ”warm man”. He made his money in printing, especially with colored garden catalogues, long before color became commonplace.

His other talent lay in photography. McFarland took superb photographs of flowers and plants. The National Agricultural Library in College Park, Maryland, has almost his papers and pictures. A few years ago they issued note cards based on his pictures of dahlias. Even in black and white they are striking.

He would have been right at home with our Civic Participation committee. As he looked round his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he was horrified. It was a sordid mess. For more than 50 years McFarland led the drive to improve the lives of Americans by pushing the idea of parks, open space and cleaning up eyesores. That included making sure the city had pure water and proper sewage removal. He was no starry-eyed dreamer. The term “environmentalist “ had not yet been coined but he was the prototype. He actively supported the formation of the National Park Service in 1916.

He was deeply enamored of roses and wrote several books about them. His enthusiasm led him to become a founder of the American Rose Society and he edited the society’s annual for years. The 1937 book How To Grow Roses remains a valuable text for rosarians. His instructions were easy to follow and led to success.

The Rose in America was his second book, after a 1904 book, Getting Acquainted With Trees. The author used mostly his own color photographs of roses to great effect. We are so jaded by color and images today we cannot begin to imagine how exciting this would have been right after the First World War. The club was founded in 1926 so the librarian would have bought The Rose in America soon after it came out.

The topics of the various chapters range from the history of the rose in civilization to the best way of keeping roses alive through a cold winter. Chapter 2 is headed ”The Usual Roses”. Chapter 3 is headed “The Unusual Roses”, so we know he had a sense of humor. What he meant by the “unusual rose” were species from China or North America which are rarely used in creating hybrids.

McFarland used the terminology of his era. Among the “usual roses” he listed “Pernetianas”, no longer considered to be a class of their own. They are really a sub- class of the Hybrid Tea. This book, like the roses themselves, has the charm of antiquity but with a good foundation of reliable fact.