French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden

Mary Ann Egan Rose

Mary Ann Egan Rose

The history of the rose is the history of humanity. These words from A Rose Odyssey written by J.H. Nichols in 1937, perfectly describe the French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden. This old rose repository conserves Oregon’s first blooms in displays arranged to interpret their historical significance. Comprehensive signage conveys connections between social culture, horticulture, and early settlers of the French Prairie, and the surrounding Willamette Valley in Oregon. This unique approach of telling history through the stories of roses engages by visually, intellectually, and emotionally connecting the visitor to the lives of early settlers. They see, touch, and smell living history while reading interpretative signage that relates a story connected with each rose. The garden is under construction in Brooks, Oregon, and will be completed in spring 2014.

Brooks Historical Society Depot Museum

Brooks Historical Society Depot Museum

Since 1986, the Brooks Historical Society (BHS) has been gathering local history by conducting oral interviews, collecting documents, photographs and artifacts of the area, and making these resources available to the public in an educational research library at their historic Depot Museum. The Society’s mission of preserving the past, while enriching the future, of their rural agricultural community is furthered by participation in the rose garden project. French Prairie and Willamette Valley families are contributing their Oregon Trail and other historic roses to the garden. The French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden will serve as a safe haven for these oldest roses, and the new educational archive in the Depot Museum will save the stories. This history is preserved for the next generations, and offers a unique experience for connecting present lives to living roots of the past. Greater awareness of the place of these treasured roses in history will help ensure that these oldest roses will continue to survive to tell their tales.

Rose Garden Pavilion design by Michael Wellman, Silverton, Oregon

Rose Garden Pavilion design by Michael Wellman

The garden is arranged in six collections. Throughout the rest of the year we will talk about the individual rose collections on this blog. Our immediate focus is construction of the garden. Every garden needs a place to sit and smell the roses, and this garden will have a beautiful pavilion design by architect, Michael Wellman of Silverton. Mr. Wellman generously donated his professional time to put our dreams into a buildable plan. The concrete foundation was sponsored by an 1892 Oregon Pioneer descendant, Claire McCarthy. A first class job was done with the concrete, and the next building phase will begin soon. Decorative support beams will be milled from cedar logs using historic equipment at the onsite volunteer-operated sawmill. Garden Galley Iron Works in Hubbard, is making beautiful rose cages to hold seven climbing roses. The eight-foot-tall rose cages are in progress at Garden Gallery’s custom iron-working shop. We will purchase a trellis from their huge selection of pre-made ornamental iron designs to support a recent rose acquisition. We are grateful for the deep discount from Garden Galley that allows us to beautify the garden with these necessary structural elements. Community support is instrumental, and is the driving force behind the successes of this project.

Historic Sawmill at Antique Powerland

Historic Sawmill at Antique Powerland

Antique Powerland Museum Association (APMA) is a campus of independent heritage museums that individually and collectively educate the public on the history and cultural significance of antique farm equipment, vehicles, and historic machinery with an emphasis on steam power. Brooks Historical Society saved the 1900 Southern Pacific Brooks Depot from the wrecking ball by moving the train station to the sixty-two acre Antique Powerland site at 3995 Brooklake Road NE, in Brooks in 1989. The garden is adjacent to a replica 1910 farmhouse that is the site’s caretaker residence, and a museum that will exhibit an old-fashioned kitchen and parlor.

Marechal-Niel courtesy of French Prairie Historical Society

Marechal-Niel vintage print courtesy of French Prairie Historical Society

Plan a visit to Willamette Heritage Center in Salem any time between March 1st through May 31st in 2014 to see an exhibit featuring the French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden. We are taking over the display cases in the orientation center that is the entrance to the Willamette Heritage Center-Mission Mill museum complex. Details will follow, so stay tuned!

Northwest Rose Historians wishes you a safe and happy Independence Day! In Portland, fireworks light up the skies over the Willamette River. Across the Columbia River is Ft. Vancouver, site of a Hudson Bay Company fur trading outpost, Est. 1824. The fire works from the Fort rival any in the nation. July 4th must have been a rowdy night when HBC Chief Factor Dr. John McLoughlin, fur trappers, HBC employees, and pioneers took to heart President John Adam’s 1776 request to celebrate “with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

Vintage Independence Day Postcard

Vintage Independence Day Postcard

Cemetery Roses – Lest We Forget

May is the month of remembrance.  Forget-me-nots bloom in Oregon gardens, and we remember our Mothers, or the mother figures in our lives, on the second Sunday in May.

In the 19th century grieving survivors from both sides of the American Civil War were following the ancient practice of  laying flowers on soldier’s graves.  The last day in May was set aside to honor fallen soldiers, and the day was known as Decoration Day.  In ensuing decades, and after World War I, this day of national remembrance bestowed honor upon any American that had died in any war.  After World War II the day became known as Memorial Day, and in 1968 the day of recognition was moved to the last Sunday in May.  In popular American culture, the special day of commemoration for those who have died in our nation’s service, now remembers and honors all who have lived and died before us.

Honor the BraveGenerations of families pay tribute to the memory of lost relatives and friends, and visits are made to cemeteries across the nation.  Freshly picked garden flowers and roses are laid on loved ones’ graves.  Flags decorate the graves of all veterans, and there is an ongoing effort by war historians to locate the graves of forgotten Civil War soldiers.  In preparation for Memorial Day visitors, many cemeteries perform an overzealous “spring cleaning” that has become detrimental to this landscape and sacred place.

In MemoriamFrom the very beginning, the cultivation of roses has been associated with love and beauty.  Throughout the ages humankind, has lavished roses on ceremonial ritual, and special occasions, whether solemn or celebratory.  From cradle to grave, roses have a prominent place in the monumental events of our lives.

In this post, we discuss how roses connect social history with the “spirit of place.”  Victorian sentiment expressed continuation of life through grave-side plantings, and revealed emotional connections or stories concerning the dearly departed through symbolism etched in gravestone markers.  Etchings of a broken rose bud might symbolize a life cut short.  Joining rosebuds could mean a mother and child died together.  2012-11-05 044Roses planted as graveside memorials were often a treasured family rose.  In the Northwest, a rose planted on a mid-to-late 19th century grave might be an Oregon Trail Rose.  Many pioneers packed nursery stock in their wagons and stowed rose hips and other seeds in a safe place for the long journey.  Upon arrival, the plants and seeds were placed in new gardens, providing both food and an emotional bridge to a life left behind.  Death was a frequent visitor in days before penicillin and modern medicine.  Beautiful plants and flowers of all kinds were planted graveside by grieving loved ones.  Pioneer roses often followed the person that brought the rose out west to their grave, and these hardy roses can outlive generations of a family.

As rose historians, we often visit cemeteries in search of old roses.  We are frequently taken by the amazing difference plantings make in the atmosphere of a “final resting place.”  One that is filled with roses, flowering shrubs, flowers, and trees, provides sheltering warmth that eloquently communicates the loving care of a community for its departed citizens.

1852 Bethany Rose planted in Bethany Cemetery, Silverton OregonOne such rose is the Bethany Rose.  Hanson and Lavina Stevens, with seven of their children, crossed the plains to Oregon in 1852.  Lavina died only seven years after arriving in Oregon, and Hanson died in 1883.  They are buried together near Silverton, Oregon.  A rose grows at their gravesite.  Family reunions have taken place annually since 1891, and the rose is mentioned in the notes taken during the gatherings.  The rose’s story and the family’s story have become intertwined.  Family tradition remembers that Lavina brought either rose hips or a cutting with her from their Iowa farm.  She would have planted it after they settled on their Donation Land Claim.  The family speculates that one of her children planted a cutting at the gravesite after a monument was installed, around 1902.  Named after the cemetery in which it grows, the Bethany Rose courageously withstood decades of near annihilation by mowing machines and annual herbicidal applications.  Northwest Rose Historians placed the rose on its honor roll of roses, the Northwest Heritage Rose Registry, in 2011.  In 2012, a curb was installed to protect the rose from mowers and a plaque was placed telling the story of the rose.

1852 Isham Rose blooming in November 2012 in Hopewell Cemetery, Dayton, OregonFive generations of Isham descendants have handed down their family rose.  James Jefferson Isham, his wife Clarissa Wynn, and their five children, left Illinois in 1852.  In Missouri, they joined a wagon train and the westward migration on the Oregon Trail.  It is told that the family brought several favorite roses with them.  After arriving in Oregon they first settled on the French Prairie of the Willamette Valley, and planted their roses.  As the family moved down the Prairie from Champoeg, a fragrant pink rose continued to travel with them and was planted in Wheatland, then Labish Center, and finally the rose was planted on four corners of  the family plot in Dayton.  Only one of the original four roses still grows in the cemetery, and it is hoped that the three lost roses will be replanted.

Near Drain OregonNorthwest Rose Historians understands the problem of limited time and funds for cemetery upkeep, and the comparative ease of weed whackers and herbicides.  However, the possible trade-off for the sense of reverent regard seems inestimable.  To those who keep the treasured plantings, from carefully kept urban cemeteries, to more casual naturalized rural settings, we recognize the commitment made to extra care.  As a last resort, perhaps the loving plantings can be concentrated in borders or beds, accompanied by small markers to honor the departed loved ones they represent.  However, nothing replaces the rose or lilac beside the gravestone that dates it – a devoted tribute to a dear one, and an invitation to linger and reflect.

Eugene Masonic Cemetery, Eugene, Oregon, June 2012To ensure the continuing survival of the two roses mentioned in this post, and other pioneer and cemetery roses, cuttings will be planted in the French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden that is under way on the grounds of Antique Powerland Museum Association in Brooks, Oregon.  For more information, please contact Northwest Rose Historians through our contact page on this site.


Philip Foster Farm Rose Ramble

Barlow Road 1846

Barlow Road 1846

Progress is being made on the historic rose gardens at the Philip Foster Farm in Eagle Creek, near Estacada, in Clackamas County, Oregon. The farm was the original destination of the Barlow Road, an early spur of the Oregon Trail. Philip Foster and Sam Barlow built the road around Mt. Hood in 1846, giving pioneers an alternative to the treacherous passage down the Columbia River on their way into the Willamette Valley.

The Foster Farm grounds have been designed with informal cottage gardens. We are now adding “roses with a history” to these gardens. After much sleuthing around the general area for old roses, and spending many hours in museums, libraries, and living rooms gathering stories, the Rose Ramble is beginning to take shape.

Six of our pioneer roses have been planted, beginning at the entrance kiosk, and continuing through the grounds to conclude at the old house site in the far corner of the farm. The on-site blacksmiths and their students have been busy designing markers that will share the rose stories.

Perennial and Seed Flowers at Philip Foster Farm

The Foster Farm grounds have been designed with informal cottage gardens.

Many of the roses are still in the “cuttings” stage, and need more time to develop good roots; others have not yet been cut, and still more are waiting to be discovered. These roses are primarily from the Donation Land Claims in the general vicinity served by the historical society centered at the Philip Foster Farm, and are helping to tell the history of the area.

This vigorous rose was planted by Mary Ann Stormer more than 150 years ago on the original Stormer land claim. The twelve-foot long arching canes are a glorious sight in late spring when the “once bloomer” is covered in pink roses with bright yellow stamens.

Mary Ann Stormer Rose

Mary Ann Stormer Rose

Anna Johnston’s blush pink rose stands beside by the front steps of the Victorian home that was hand-built by her husband, using trees growing on the property. Andrew Johnston built it in 1899, after seeing a magazine photo that featured a Queen Anne home with its steep roof, spindles, and towers. He turned the spindles on his own lathe for the gingerbread trim. This charming summer blooming rose will delight visitors at the Rose Ramble.

Anna Johnston Rose

Anna Johnston Rose

The exciting new rose history project is spearheaded by Northwest Rose Historian Gerri Morse. A long time resident of the area, Gerri has been interested in pioneer heritage and local history, and has been an old garden rose advocate, for decades. Her overflowing repository of “saved” roses has provided many of the historic roses already planted and dedicated by Northwest Rose Historians in a variety of locations.

Gerri is planting a hedge of roses grown from discarded pruned canes from The End of the Trail Pioneer Garden in Oregon City. The Rose Ramble hedge will be dedicated to plant historian and folklorist Erica Calkins. Ms. Calkins was active in local pioneer rose preservation, and planted the Oregon City garden in 1993, in conjunction with the Oregon Sesquicentennial. Ms. Calkins’ book, Hatchet, Hands and Hoe: Planting the Pioneer Spirit (Caxton Press, 1996), is a treasure trove of fascinating folklore and pioneer plant usage.

For information on visiting The Philip Foster Farm National Heritage Site, please see the website:

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Summary of Northwest Rose Historians’ accomplishments during 2011 and 2012

Eugene Masonic Cemetery, Eugene, Oregon

Eugene Masonic Cemetery, Eugene, Oregon

After a long hiatus we are finally updating a two-year whirlwind of rose preservation efforts.  We have worked with many rose friends on various projects, and are thrilled to have so many great things and accomplishments to report.  Please accept our apologies for not keeping up with the blog as originally intended.  Our New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to stay in touch with our readers through regular postings.  The following is a summary of recent accomplishments:

Northwest Heritage Rose Registry  The Rose Registry is an honor roll of roses that have come our attention.  The roses are deserving of recognition for a part they play in lives and communities of the Northwest region.  The Registry is  “official” in the sense that we present a certificate of recognition, research and preserve the stories, and when possible, plant a cutting from the rose in a public location.  Currently, eleven roses are on the list and we have had eight plantings.  Upcoming posts will relate the fascinating journey of each rose and how its unique story weaves into the cultural fabric of history and landscape of place.  Please contact us if you, or someone you know, would like to share their rose and story with us.

Knighted by the Royal Rosarians  Two members of NWRH were honored in June, 2012, for heritage rose preservation efforts.  Honorary Knights of Rosaria, Dame Laura and Dame Kathleen wear their beautiful medals with deep appreciation for this meaningful recognition.  The Royal Rosarians are the official ambassadors of the City of Portland and the Portland Rose Festival.  For more than 100 years, Royal Rosarians have been honoring the legacy of tradition with rich pageantry and ceremonies from the mythical realm of Rosaria.  They are internationally known for their dashing white suits and love of roses.

Mary Drain Albro     1876 - 1962

Mary Drain Albro
1876 – 1962

Mary Drain Albro    NWRH follows the pioneer rose trail blazed by Mary Drain Albro and her Pioneer Rose Association. In the years 1936 through 1949, Ms. Albro was very active pursuing Oregon pioneer rose preservation work.  She left her personal papers and manuscript to Pacific University Library’s Special Collections, in Forest Grove, Oregon.  To honor her, NWRH placed a bronze plaque, and planted what Ms. Albro believed was the Mission Rose, at the Old College Hall on the University campus.  Joining us that day for the dedication and reception were seventeen Royal Rosarians and University President, Dr. Lesley Hallick.  NWRH was instrumental in honoring Mary Drain Albro on Portland’s Walk of the Heroines.  Her name is engraved on a granite panel and her biography is accessible through the online archive at Portland State University.  NWRH planted a Mission Rose and placed a commemorative sign at the Civic Center in Drain, Oregon, to recognize Ms. Albro’s pioneer rose preservation work.  Ms. Albro was a proud descendent of Charles Drain who was founder of the city, and an Oregon Trail Pioneer of 1852.  Mayor Sue Anderson made arrangements for the dedication.

Old College Hall, Pacific University, Forest Grove Oregon.  Rose Planting and Plaque Dedication, July 21, 2011

Old College Hall, Pacific University, Forest Grove Oregon. Rose Planting and Plaque Dedication, July 21, 2011

Father Schoener's Nutkana Rose growing in Eugene Masonic Cemetery, Eugene Oregon

Father Schoener’s Nutkana Rose growing in Eugene Masonic Cemetery, Eugene Oregon

French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden  The French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden is a new repository of old roses that had been cultivated on the French Prairie in the Willamette Valley prior to 1910.  NWRH received a request to help with this project and we are providing twenty-three roses with historic ties to the French Prairie community.  This spring the garden will be planted next to the  replica of a 1910 farmhouse on the campus of Antique Powerland Museum Association in Brooks, Oregon.  NWRH has raised $1,500.00 for the project so far.  Brooks Historical Society will use a portion of the donation to acquire photographs of rose hybridizer Fr. Schoener.  Fr. Schoener lived in Brooks between 1911-1915.  He became internationally known as Padre of the Roses for his prolific rose hybridization.  Only two roses from his vast collection are still known today.  Both of these roses will be planted in the garden, and a historical record of his work in Oregon will be available at Brooks Historical Society’s Depot Museum. To become involved with the French Prairie Heritage Rose Garden please contact us.

Philip Foster Farm Historic Rose Ramble  Gerri Morse has been collecting Clackamas County roses for 20 years.  After joining NWRH she became interested in tracking down the stories of these beautiful roses.  She also started planning a rose garden for Philip Foster Farm National Heritage Site in Eagle Creek, Oregon.  The roses will be planted in a rambling pattern throughout the property.  Gerri will be writing posts for the NWRH blog to keep our readers up-to-date on the progress of the garden.

Frilly Pink Rose in Gerri's Garden

Frilly Pink Rose in Gerri’s Garden

Presentations  Speaking of roses, on eleven occasions NWRH was asked to give presentations to community groups in the region.  The most unusual location was in the beautifully restored  Hope Abbey Mausoleum at Eugene Masonic Cemetery. The Egyptian Revival style building was designed by Ellis F. Lawrence in 1914. Eugene Masonic Cemetery is widely known for its abundance of old garden roses and natural approach to landscape maintenance.  The cutest location was the Historic Butteville Store in Aurora.  We were speakers for the Lunch & Learn Series sponsored by Friends of Historic Champoeg.  The store is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in Oregon. The doors first opened in 1863!  The most rustic location was Philip Foster Farm in Eagle Creek, where we set up the projector in a lovely old barn with wood chips scattered across the ground.  The most elegant moment occurred at the State Capitol Museum in Olympia, Washington, when High Tea was served after our presentation.  Please contact us if your group is interested in learning about Northwest rose history.

La France Rose in honor of Mrs. Elizabeth Reynolds Lord was planted in the back garden of the Stae Capitol Museum In Olympia, Washington, May 14, 2011

In honor of Mrs. Elizabeth Reynolds Lord a La France Rose was planted in the back garden of the State Capitol Museum In Olympia, Washington, May 14, 2011

Published  We may have lost track, but NWRH was mentioned at least twenty-four times in various newsletters.  We were especially thrilled that an article written by NWRH was published in the Heritage Roses Group publication, The Rose Letter.

The Book  Our objective is to trace the history of the relationship between pioneers and roses in the Northwest region.  We are appreciative of the many people who have generously opened their personal archives to us.  Accumulating in our files are photographs, documents and historical accounts that provide a greater understanding of how early settlers and their descendents connect with roses in their family story and the larger community.  These stories will become even more important as time passes.  Please contact us if you, or someone you know, would like to share the story of their rose in our study.

End of the Oregon Trail Pioneer Rose Garden  The pioneer rose and vegetable garden on Abernathy Green in Oregon City was established by Erica Calkins in 1993 for the Oregon Provisional Government Sesquicentennial.  Over the ensuing decades the garden faced challenges, and is now cared for by Master Gardeners.  NWRH is assisting in a consulting capacity and we are locating some replacement roses, and additional pioneer roses to help restore the garden.  NWRH reorganized and cataloged Erica Calkins’ personal files that she had created during the development of her garden project.  The three file boxes are housed in the library of the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center.

End of the Oregon Trail Pioneer Rose Garden
in Oregon City has many lovely Rosa Mundi roses.

Pioneer Rose Garden in Lone Fir Cemetery  NWRH has its roots in Lone Fir Cemetery and the cemetery is hallowed ground where one of our members will be buried someday.  Although we are no longer involved with the cemetery rose garden project we contributed to the effort by organizing a Wine & Roses fundraising event, and a Tea & Roses educational event.  Through our efforts more than $2,000.00 was raised for the rose garden restoration.

Pinterest  Our Pinterest addiction started out innocently enough:  a few select photographs from our archives were uploaded into relevant categories.  This quickly morphed into an array of all-things-roses from other pin boards.  Within days this magnificent and impressive array of finery digressed into anything in certain shades of pink, and roses were no longer a requirement for pinning.  After regrouping, and many deletions, our pin boards are back on the rose track.  Although NWRH is about preserving old roses and their history, our Pinterest boards are predominately lifestyle inspiration for bringing the gracious and romantic beauty of roses into your home and garden.

Best Wishes for 2013

Best Wishes for 2013

Since we last checked in Northwest Roses Historians have been very busy in and out of the field.  We have spent thousands of hours driving back roads, combing old homesteads, and cemeteries searching for roses.  We are compiling mountains of archival research from dusty attics, libraries and historical societies.  Again, we apologize for not keeping up with the blog as originally planned, but we are off to a good start and promise to post more in 2013.  Happy New Year to all of you.  May your year be filled with the beauty of roses!


Northwest Heritage Rose Registry

The Northwest Heritage Rose Registry is our honor roll of roses and the people whose caring hands have tended these roses for generations. By collecting and sharing our region’s rose history and folklore we are increasing awareness of the cultural value of heirloom roses and the unique relationship these old garden roses and early hybrid teas share with Northwesterners. Central to our mission is replanting roses that have grown on private property for many generations to public spaces of the communities in which these roses were first planted. Linking living history to present times reinforces community identity and sense of place while entrusting our region’s oldest blooms to future generations.

1884 Nothiger-Morse Moss Rose planting - Pioneer Courthouse, Portland , Oregon February 18, 2011

The Northwest Heritage Rose Registry is budding out all over and coming into full bloom. This section of the NWRH blog tells the stories of people and families that have kept our region’s oldest roses alive for 100 years or more. The first two roses were planted at the Pioneer Courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon, and are each over 150 years old. Our next project replants a rose cared for by three generations for over 100 years in Shedd, Oregon. A ceremonial planting of a rose in memory of Mary Drain Albro took place on the campus of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon on February 14, 2011. This was the 75th anniversary date of her founding the Pioneer Rose Association. Read more about these historic roses and the amazing people who care enough to keep them growing for over a century. Up coming posts will have photographs, stories and so much more.

Do you know of any century roses that should be included in the Northwest Heritage Rose Registry? Listing roses in this honor roll of living history preserves family stories and rose heritage that is much too important to lose. Please contact us.

A Rose by Many Names

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. William Shakespeare penned these lines for Juliet perhaps knowing they would ring just as true more than five centuries later. As scientists unravel the mystery and history surrounding the ancestral lineage of roses through DNA testing, common names persist, adding confusion as well as recognition when identifying roses.

Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Old Blush (1759 - 1840)

Old Blush China, Pink Daily, Monthly Rose, Parson’s Pink or the Last Rose of Summer; take your pick. The Rosa indica vulgaris is known by these and many other names.  As part of a large wagon train, on May 1, 1852 Mr. Benjamin Robert Biddle and his nephew, Dr. James Robert Cardwell, left the Missouri River with a heavy load of nursery stock and dreams of setting up a nursery and fruit ranch in the Willamette Valley of the Oregon Territory. On a steep hillside along the banks of the Snake River their wagon overturned dumping the entire collection into the swiftly moving current.  All was swept away with the exception of one rose. That surviving Old Blush became known in the Willamette Valley as the Biddle Rose and was later known as the Cardwell Rose. Dr. Cardwell grew cuttings from his rose until the end of his days in 1916.

Common usage names can be regional, associated with persons or events, descriptive of characteristic form or bloom time, or just plain whimsical. Chapeau du Napoleon, also know as Napoleon’s Hat or Crested Moss, Rosa centifolia cristata, does indeed resemble Napoleon’s trademark tricrom hat. Favored by romantic Victorians, this unusual fragrant rose was essential for gardens of the era and is said to have been traveling across the plains and around the Horn with other migrating roses.

Rosa centifolia cristata, Chapeau du Napoleon, Heirloom Roses - St. Paul, Oregon

Nomenclature is fraught with peril and we at Northwest Rose Historians do not claim to have all the answers. Especially difficult is identifying Old Garden Roses found in cemeteries, tucked away into corners of farmsteads, or growing along byways.  Many Found Roses will never regain their previous common or scientific names and are often renamed after the person who ‘found’ the rose. This includes many old garden roses and early hybrid teas once common in Northwest gardens. Cross pollination occurs in the wild, or ‘sports’ can spontaneously off-shoot developing into a whole new rose. Some introduced roses have naturalized to the point of being mistaken for native. So, “What’s in a name?” — a lot of mystery and history waiting to be uncovered….


Pioneer Rose Trail

Thirty-two million year old fossilized rose fragments discovered by Steven Manchester in the John Day Fossil Beds of eastern Oregon were harbingers to the cultivated wild and imported roses traveling westward in the 1800s as priceless treasures linking pioneers to homes and loved ones they were leaving behind. Pioneers began the perilous two thousand mile overland trek under differing circumstances. Many were well equipped but others were ill prepared, lacking enough supplies, equipment or fortitude to endure the unimaginable hardship, deprivation and loss of life that accompanied their hopes and dreams of a better life in the wide open frontier. Multitudes of women eagerly embraced the adventure but others were painfully uprooted from homes, left with no choice but to follow westward bound husbands and migrating family. Diaries and letters attest to tearful partings between loved ones separating for all time.

     “The saddest parting of all was when my mother took leave of her aged and sorrowing mother, knowing full well that they would never meet again…”    

                                     Martha Gay Masterson, pioneer of 1852*

Rosa foetida harisonii and lounging insect, Tartar Old Rose Collection, Bush's Pasture Park Salem, Oregon

Rosa foetida harisonii and lounging insect, Tartar Old Rose Collection, Bush's Pasture Garden Park Salem, Oregon

Handed down from mother to daughter, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor or dug from one’s own dooryard garden, pioneer women packed roses along with their Bibles, quilts and dishes. Tender slips, cuttings and roots stowed in buckets, rooted in potatoes and even in tea cups needed protection from freezing temperatures and drying heat. When crossing arid lands women shared their own scarce drinking water with their precious cargo to keep it alive. Not all roses crossed the plains successfully. Wagons broke down and overworked animals died, possessions were abandoned and some pioneers took to foot carrying what they could on their backs and the carefully packed roses perished or were planted trailside. Legend has it that one could travel westward following roses marking tragedy on the trail.

Six to eight months later most travelers did arrive, fanning out across the land. New homes were constructed, essential kitchen gardens seeded and carefully planted and tended surviving roses symbolized triumph over adversity, providing a sense of place in a wild unfamiliar landscape. These spreading roots and bountiful canes of fragrant blooms were generously shared; weaving distant former lives with hopeful new beginnings, kindling friendships with strangers while evoking memories of days gone by and those left behind.

*From the excellent book, One Woman’s West, by Martha Gay Masterson, edited by Lois Barton, Spencer Butte Press, 1986.

Stay tuned for a future post about Steven Manchester’s amazing rose fossil discovery.