Tried and True

 Reynolds Hole: Roses in His Heart

Patsy Cunningham

  Roses have been cultivated for many thousands of years, to the best of our knowledge at least to 3000BC. Literature about rose growing also has an ancient past. Confucius, who lived around 500BC, wrote that the emperor of China had 600 books on the cultivation of roses. Pliny, a Greek writer of the first century AD, spent much time in his “Natural History” describing varieties of roses in detail and explaining how best to cultivate them. Since that time many people have made rose growing an important part of their lives and have written to share their knowledge, experiences and joy in this pursuit. Roses in the Middle Ages were grown for medicinal purposes in monasteries. The monks wrote about their cultivation and uses in their herbals.

After printing presses made books generally available, it became possible for more rosarians to record their experiences, trials, failures, suggestions and sheer love of roses. The books they wrote often have much good advice to offer to the modern rose grower. They also can give you a different perspective, making you feel kinship with a long line of rose gardeners.

The oldest book on rose growing that I personally have is not at all ancient, it’s from nineteenth century England. Called “A Book About Roses”, it was written by the Reverend S. Reynolds Hole. Literary style was quite different back then. The book is chock-full literary allusions, metaphors, Greek and Latin quotations. Despite that, it’s an interesting read, filled with Hole’s humor and his passion for roses. He was “a rosarian who carried his learning lightly and who could communicate it with robust practicality and gentle wit. The man that Lord Tennyson called ‘The Rose King’… had produced a classic.”(Elias) The British public loved it, it went through 19 printings. It starts, “He who would have beautiful Roses in his garden must have beautiful Roses in his heart.”

The first few chapters deal with the causes of success or failure. Semper Fidelis is his first order. Roses require care throughout the seasons and years, they cannot be planted and ignored. He recommends that “Rosarium be both exposed and sheltered; a place of both sunshine and of shade,” that is, protection from harsh winds without sacrificing air circulation; and full morning sun but some afternoon shade. Soil should be cultivated: “thoroughly drained and dug and dunged”. Some additions to the soil to make it more loose and friable included some familiar materials like sand, vegetable matter, lime and manure. Cover the garden with manure in the fall and dig it in come spring. Less common are the additions of soot, cinders, burnt clay or burnt earth.

His chapters on choosing varieties for the garden and for exhibition include many roses still extant today. If he were to grow just one rose, it would be “Gloire de Dijon”, a climbing tea. “It has symmetry, size, endurance, colour (five tints…), and perfume…good in every point for wall, arcade, pillar, standard, dwarf, en masse, or as a single” specimen, or even as rootstock. He loved many varieties though, starting with a mere dozen bushes and building up to 5000. “My good father, whose delight was in agriculture, calmly watched not only the transformation of his garden, but the robbery of his farm…[and expressed] his hope that I would leave a little for the wheat.”

Reverend Hole found rose growers to be a diverse lot, running the gamut of the laboring class to the nobility. Early on, he was invited to a rose show in April, well before the usual June flush. He found that local mechanics and other workers were showing roses that they grew in tiny homebuilt greenhouses, often miles from their homes and places of work. The show was in an inn, with the roses in beer bottles. “I have never seen better specimens of cut roses, grown under glass, than those that were exhibited by those working men.” After extolling the benefits of rose growing on character and health, he then notes that exhibiting is not without its pitfalls. Some people slept in their greenhouse the night before a show to prevent pilfering and it was not unknown for someone to buy a rose off another to complete his perfect grouping.

He was puzzled why there were large shows devoted to dahlias, carnations and even gooseberries, but nothing more than local shows for roses. He wrote to rosarians and florists all over England for support and then became a primary organizer for the first National Rose Show. It was held in St. James Hall in London, July 1, 1858. Exhibitors came from all over, with Hole travelling 120 miles to arrive at the show at 5:30AM. It was a great success, with over 2000 visitors paying a shilling each to see the almost 10,000 blooms. It was marred slightly by by the loudness of the brass band they hired; in subsequent years they chose strings and reeds. They were also up against the Great Stench of London, but “they defied this adversary, they defied and defeated with their delicious perfume the foul smell which at that time invaded London from the Thames.” The third year, when it was staged at the “Crystal Palace”, the National Rose Show drew 16000 visitors.

Much of the remainder of the book gives instruction in choosing roses for exhibition, budding and growing them, transporting them and show prep and props. Charles LeFebvre, La France and Safrano were among his favorites, but the appendix lists 17 pages of roses recommended for exhibition. He recommends the common English briar, or rosa canina, for propagating the roses. Rather than inserting the bud into a T shaped cut in the rootstock, he favored a vertical slit only, “the transverse cut being quite unnecessary, and liable to cause breakage if too deeply made.” Along with many other Victorian rose exhibitors, he found that “maiden” plants, that is roses budded just the previous summer, could grow the most perfect of individual blooms. After the first national rose show, where it was seen there was no uniformity in how the roses were displayed (some were even inserted into potatoes for moisture and the potatoes left visible nestled in hay), rules were made about the sizes and types of show props allowed. Our modern English boxes come from these exhibitions. A nice touch they had was to cover the boxes with fresh green moss, providing a natural green background for the roses.

Samuel Reynolds Hole was born in 1819 and lived most of his life in Caunton Manor with his wife Caroline, where he raised his roses and his children, and was the local Vicar. He was a well loved preacher, (he preached in over 500 churches) known for his down to earth manner and use of humor and stories in his sermons. He had a lasting friendship with the great gardener Gertrude Jekyll, and with Charles Dickens. Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle, Millais and Thackery were among the writers and artists that he maintained correspondence with. When the National Rose Society was founded in 1876, he became its president until his death in 1904. When William Paul named a rose Reynolds Hole, he commented that “I did not think I should live to be described as a ‘splendid maroon dashed with crimson, large and globular, generally superb.’” He was appointed Dean of Rochester when he was 68, necessitating a move from his beloved Caunton Manor. He was energetic in all he did, traveling to the US and Canada when he was 75 to raise money for Rochester Cathedral, while simultaneously taking notes for his next book.. In one of his final books, “Our Gardens” he wrote that anyone with money may employ a Head-Gardener to do the work for him, but “The Heart-Gardener makes a garden wherever plants will grow, and finds something beautiful, go where he may.”




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Date last edited: 01/21/10
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