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Heritage roses: many of the plants brought West by pioneers are still thriving, thanks to efforts by dedicated rosarians.

Before the turn of the century, Mendocino, California, was an isolated community, connected to the rest of the world only by ships that plied the Pacific. But that didn't stop Daisy MacCallum - daughter of one of the area's original settlers, William Kelley - from obtaining roses. Many of them arrived on her father's supply ships to adorn her gardens in Mendocino and Glen Blair, east of Fort Bragg. MacCallum was a generous woman, and as the years went by, she gave cuttings of her roses to anyone who wanted them. Now, more than 100 years later, only 6 of her original 140 roses still live in the MacCallum House garden in Mendocino. But many descendants of those first plants thrive around old homes and in abandoned gardens.

Stories like MacCallum's abound in the West. When pioneer families came here by wagon on the Oregon and California trails, or by ship around Cape Horn, many carried their favorite roses with them. They protected the plants as lovingly as their other prized possessions - sometimes even sacrificing their drinking water to keep the roses alive.

Heritage roses - old roses that have survived since those times - can still be found growing in communities from Arizona to Oregon. Dedicated rosarians like Miriam Wilkins and Erica Calkins (see page 80) have made it their mission to save and perpetuate this diverse group of plants with names that run from the humble 'Adam' to the exotic 'Duchesse de Brabant'.

Organizations such as the Heritage Roses Group, founded by Wilkins, document the plants and work to locate, identify, tend, and renew them. At the same time, more growers are offering heritage roses (see sources on page 82), making it easy for gardeners to plant some living history.

Rescuing old roses in California

"I FELL IN LOVE with old roses 35 years ago when I bought my first home," says Joyce Demits. "I discovered they were the roses that survive in deer country." For more than three decades, she and her sister, Virginia Hopper, have been finding and preserving heritage roses.

The sisters have traveled up and down the Mendocino coast, scouting for plants and gathering' cuttings at abandoned homesteads. "Sometimes we would happen upon a row of rose bushes in full bloom partially covered by brush," says Demits. "Suddenly, we could 'see' a fence line. Of course, there was nothing left of the fence they bordered, or the home."

Demits and Hopper have documented nearly 400 varieties of heritage roses growing in Northern California. In the mid-1980s, they established the Heritage Rose Garden at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where visitors can view almost 50 varieties. The sisters also started a local chapter of the Heritage Roses Group.

Alice Flores, another aficionado, joined in local preservation efforts about 12 years ago. "I became fascinated with Mendocino's heritage roses because they're so beautiful and have wonderful fragrance," she says. "These tried-and-true roses are disease- and drought-resistant." Flores started identifying and mapping plants, locating about 50 sites in town where at least one historic rose grows.

Sadly, not everyone appreciates the value of these roses. "People see an old plant in their yard that hasn't been cared for and they rip it out," says Flores. She has helped persuade some homeowners to rejuvenate their old roses instead.

Thanks to the work of these women, Mendocino's historic roses are sure to live on. The three rosarians propagate and sell the plants through their mail-order nurseries. An endowment established by Hopper and Demits funds the Heritage Rose Garden, which also receives support from the Mendocino County Heritage Roses Group.

Tracking pioneer plants in Oregon

Appreciating roses must be in her genes, figures Erica Calkins of Oregon City, Oregon, since her grandparents were rose lovers too. But it wasn't until six years ago, when Calkins began studying pioneer history and the Oregon Trail, that her fondness for old garden roses really blossomed.

As Calkins delved into the past, she saw that roses played an important role in the lives of pioneer women. "I discovered stories about real people and their roses," she says. What impressed her most about the women was their determination to bring a touch of beauty to unfamiliar, often hostile surroundings.

During her research, Calkins discovered a manuscript by Mary Drain Albro that documented firsthand accounts of 23 roses and their journeys West. Like Albro, Calkins scoured the countryside, searching abandoned cemeteries, old homesteads, and roadsides. "I need a license-plate frame that says 'I brake for old roses,'" she jokes. Calkins has located 18 of the 23 roses on Albro's list. These survivors are now growing in the Heritage Gardens, which Calkins designed for the End of the Oregon Trail National Historic Site in Oregon City.

Yet several plants have eluded her. So at bloom time every spring she searches along backroads, hoping she'll glimpse a promising rose bush.

Calkins's favorites: 'Lady Penzance' (Rosa eglanteria or sweetbriar hybrid; salmon), 'Mme. Plantier' (alba; white), moss roses (red, pink, or white), 'Mutabilis' (China rose; honey yellow, pink, and chestnut blooms on same plant), R. centifolia (cabbage rose; pink shades), 'Rosa Mundi' (gallica; crimson with white and pink stripes).

Plant sources

Antique Rose Emporium, 9300 Lueckmeyer Rd., Brenham, TX 77833; (800) 441-0002. Catalog $5.

Heirloom Old Garden Roses, 24062 N.E. Riverside Dr., St. Paul, OR 97137; (503) 538-1576. Catalog $5.

Heritage Roses at Tanglewood Farms, 16831 Mitchell Creek Dr., Fort Bragg, CA 95437; (707) 964-3748. Catalog $1.

High Country Roses, Box 148, Jensen, UT 84035; (435) 789-5512 or Catalog $2.

Michael's Premier Roses, 9759 Elder Creek Rd., Sacramento, CA 95829; (916) 369-7673 or Free catalog.

Petaluma Rose Company, Box 750953, Petaluma, CA 94975; (707) 769-8862. Free catalog.

Rose Acres, 6641 Crystal Blvd., El Dorado, CA 95623; (530) 626-1722. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for catalog.

Ros-Equus, 40350 Wilderness Rd., Branscomb, CA 95417. Catalog $1.50.

Rose Ranch, Box 326, La Grange, CA 95329; (209) 852-9220. Catalog $3; free list.

Vintage Gardens, 2833 Old Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol, CA 95472; (707) 829-2035 or Catalog $5.

White Rabbit Roses, Box 191, Elk, CA 95432; Free catalog.



EL CERRITO. Celebration of Old Roses. One of the most outstanding rose events runs 11-4:30 May 17 at El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane (at Ashbury st.). Free. (510) 526-6960.

FORT BRAGG. Heritage Rose Garden, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 18220 N. Hwy. 1. Open 9-5 daily. (707) 964-4352.

GRASS VALLEY. Empire Mine Historic Park Rose Garden, 10791 E. Empire St. About 950 roses dating before 1929. (530) 273-8522.

MENDOCINO. A Walking Tour of Mendocino Heritage Roses. Self-guided tour brochures are available at the Mendocino Ceramic Studio, corner of Kasten and Ukiah streets.

SACRAMENTO. Sacramento Historic Rose Garden, Sacramento City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway (at 10th St.). More than 300 roses, mostly from the 1800s. (916) 443-2146.

SAN JOSE. San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, Guadalupe River Park & Gardens, Taylor St. (at Spring st.). (408) 298-7657.


DENVER. Fairmount Cemetery, 430 S. Quebec St. (at Alameda Ave.). About 1,500 old roses. (303) 399-0692.


OREGON CITY. Heritage Gardens at the End of the Oregon Trail National Historic Site, 1726 Washington St. (503) 557-1151.

SALEM. Tartar Old Rose Collection at Bush's Pasture Park, 600 Mission St. S.E. (High St. entry). Over 150 pioneer roses. (503) 588-6336.


Miriam Wilkins's love affair began in 1950 when she saw an ad for an old rose catalog in a women's magazine. Since then, she has collected almost 1,000 old roses - in fact, she ran out of space in her own garden in El Cerrito, California, and now has hundreds growing in her neighbor's garden. "I just got carried away," she explains.

In 1974, she placed a notice in the American Rose Society (ARS) bulletin inviting people interested in old roses to write her. "I was overwhelmed by the response," Wilkins says. In 1975, she started the Heritage Roses Group, a society dedicated to old roses, Today, the organization has 2,000 members in the United States, as well as groups in Australia and New Zealand. Similar groups exist in England and France.

To join the Heritage Roses Group in your region, write to Beverly Dobson, 1034 Taylor Ave., Alameda, CA 94501.

* WILKINS'S FAVORITES: 'Charles de Mills' (gallica; crimson aging to purple), 'Felicite Parmentier' (alba; pink), 'Jacques Cartier' (Portland; pink), 'Lady Hillingdon' (tea; apricot), 'Mme. Alfred Carriere' (climbing noisette; white), 'Mme. Hardy' (damask; white), Rosa roxburghii (species; double pale pink to cerise).


The world's largest rose, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is - at age 114 - one tough lady. She resides in Tombstone, Arizona. A Lady Banks' rose (Rosa banksiae banksiae 'Alba Plena'), she has a branch system that covers 8,000 square feet and a trunk measuring 150 inches in circumference.

The rose came to Tombstone in 1884, sent to a young bride named Mary Gee from her family back in Scotland. Gee gave a rooted cutting to Amelia Adamson, proprietor of Cochise House (now the Rose Tree Museum), who planted it on the patio. By 1937, the rose had grown so large that Robert Ripley noted it in his column, Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Today, Burt and Dorothy Devere own the rose and museum. The 9-foot-tall evergreen climber's fragrant white blossoms appear in March and April.

Admission to tour the historic home (at Fourth and Toughnut streets) and see the rose costs $2. For details, call (520) 457-3326.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles on rose events, Miriam Wilkins and the world's largest rose
Author:Swezey, Laureen Bonar
Date:May 1, 1998
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