Breeders of Note: James Plaisted Wilde (Penzance Roses)

Ed Cunningham


James Plaisted Wilde was born in 1816, in England. He became a lawyer, and later, a judge, known as Lord Penzance. Roch Rollin (www.rosegathering.com/penzance.html) wrote that Lord Penzance spent much of his life in the "mild south of England. There he relaxed from the stresses of judicial duties by enjoying his gardens. Apparently his roses afforded him great enjoyment because he started to hybridize, and grow them from seed. He had his own ideas; in a period famous for its huge Hybrid Perpetuals and delicate Hybrid Teas, he strove for scented foliage."... (Peter Beales noted that Lord Penzance, along with Joseph Pemberton, was one of a very small handful of breeders who did not pursue the dominant fashion of the day). Shortly before his death in 1899, Lord Penzance introduced 16 of his roses over a 2 year period (1894 & 1895)." His roses have become known as the "Penzance roses." Lord P. found life-long inspiration in the writings of a fellow Scot, Sir Walter Scott, and consequently named 13 of his roses for characters in those books.

These "Penzance roses may reach as much as 10 ft. They all have fragrant foliage to various degrees, though not as fragrant as the species. They are all quite hardy, thriving at Montreal (zone 4) with no winter protection." Roch Rollin acknowledges much valuable cultural information from our own tour Guide at the Montreal Rose Garden, Claire Laberge (small world !).

Regrettably, the parentage of most of Lord Penzance's roses is unrecorded. What is known is that he usually employed Rosa Eglanteria as the seed parent. The only specifically identified pollen parents are `Harison's Yellow,' the pollen parent of `Lord Penzance,' `Rosa foetida' for `Ellen Bellenden,' and ` R. foetida bicolor' for `Lady Penzance.' When recorded, most pollen parents were listed merely as `Hybrid Perpetual,' or as `Bourbon,' `Hybrid China,' or `species.'

Penzance roses have left their legacy in the works of many other breeders. A review of the HELPMEFIND website reveals that the primary Penzance rose which left a breeding legacy was Lucy Ashton. Her recognizable descendants show up beginning in the third generation. They include roses by Dr. Brownell (`Atom Bomb'), Kordes (`Lilli Marlene,' `Goldbusch'), Harkness (`Margaret Merrill'), and too many Buck roses to list. In the fourth generation, the recognizable roses and breeders become too numerous to mention, but do include Sam McGredy, David Austin, Meilland, and Sean McCann.

Some of the more interesting Penzance roses include:

Anne de Geierstein: single, gold centered, orange-red blend blooms with a gold center; strong fragrance;

sweetly scented foliage; very vigorous; one of the most fragrant eglantine hybrids.

Brenda: delicately colored peach-pink blossoms that occasionally repeat their bloom; has especially aromatic foliage.

Edith Bellenden: single, medium pink blooms; strong fragrance. Foliage is fragrant... the leaves offer a stronger perfume... very hardy

Green Mantle: Steven Scanniello wrote: "Perhaps the most fragrant of all the Penzance hybrids, producing sweet-smelling flowers as well as strongly scented leaves. Flowers: bright pinkish red, prominent white eye, yellow stamens."

Jeanie Deans: crimson-scarlet, dark red blooms. Strong fragrance. Semi-double bloom form.

Lady Penzance: orange-coppery pink blend blooms. very strongly apple scented foliage. Cupped, single bloom. This is probably the best known of his roses. It is also the only Penzance rose noted to be particularly susceptible to disease (blackspot); thank you R. Foetida bi-color.

Lord Penzance : soft rosy yellow, paler at base, yellow stamens, single, scented foliage

Lucy Ashton: single, pure white flowers with the edges of each petal touched with pastel pink. Scented

foliage... Flowers pure white, edged pink, single; foliage dark, fragrant; vigorous growth; seasonal bloom.

Meg Merrilees: bright crimson/deep pink blooms. Strong fragrance. Single-to-semi-double bloom form;

extremely vigorous & one of the best of its group. "Aromatic foliage like the wild species."

Minna: white, semi-double blooms with a clear salmon-rose flush and appear at their best in the shade;flowers & foliage fragrant.


Springing from Rosa Eglanteria ( a species rose), these roses tend to have smaller, single or semi-double blooms on tall, dense, very thorny plants which make excellent hedges. Many have the ability to tolerate some shade and poor soil. However, they have also inherited some of Eglanteria's modest susceptibility to Blackspot. Since they can bloom on laterals at every horizontal node, they are well suited to the practice of "pegging." This involves reaching up into the air, grabbing a young, pliable cane, and looping it back down to the ground; this induces the cane to send out flowering laterals over nearly the whole of its length, rather than just near the growing tip. Some of these roses may also have inherited the tendency to sucker readily (a good thing if you want a hedge; a bad thing if you want a rose that stays in place). I have found it confusing that the parent Eglanteria stock is also variously referred to as `Sweet Briar,' and `R. Rubignosa.' They are all the same rose.

The thing about these roses that has captured my fancy is the "apple fragrance" of the foliage. I've read that they have been appreciated for hundreds of years for wafting out that delicious fragrance on summer nights, when covered with dew. Gee, a rose whose leaves intoxicate you, so you don't have to ahng around waiting for the next flush of blooms. I look forward to sitting in the screen house on summer nights, beside one of these Eglanterias. Of interest to exhibitors is the fact that, unlike many species roses, R. Eglanteria tends to bloom at the same time as the hybrid teas ("Show-Time"!).

The annual "Combined Rose List" can help you find sources for many of these roses. The HELPMEFIND.com website reports that Pickering, and Vintage Roses are sources for some of them.

Roch Rollin concluded his tribute to Sir Walter Scott and Lord Penzance by noting that "The great Scottish novelist's influence is still felt today, his books are still read, and inspire films (Rob Roy). Lord Penzance's roses are still selling after more than a hundred years. May the works of these two unusual men continue to inspire us for a long time to come."

Sources for his article include Scanniello's book `Climbing Roses,' and Beales' `Classic Roses,' as well as those referenced in the article.


This article, reprinted from the Rhode Island Rose Review, won an ARS Award of merit for 2003



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Date last edited: 01/21/10
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