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Climbing Roses: Obsolete And Undeveloped Strains

[The Importance Of Climbing Roses]  [Hardy Climbing Roses]  [Less-Hardy Types]  [Obsolete And Undeveloped Strains]  [The Use Of Climbing Roses]  [Supports For Climbing Roses]  [Planting And Care] 

Climbing Roses
If we consider the evolution of modern climbing roses as a highway by which the rose has progressed to its modern development, we should expect to find it strewn with the debris of discarded types which for one reason or another failed to keep up with the procession. From the highway, occasional side-roads detour into attractive country, some of which apparently end as blind alleys, others pursue a brief course and dwindle into unfrequented trails, while a few return to the highway and blend into the main stream of traffic again. These detours represent attempts to utilize species which failed to merge with the general line of progress and those whose influence is slight.

When the nineteenth century dawned, the procession was already well under way, for climbing roses have existed just as long as bush roses. While the development of the latter was more rapid because of the interest in roses as exhibition flowers and bedding plants, early attempts at hybridization brought climbing roses of the Ayrshire, Boursault, and Noisette strains into existence, as well as others which we know little about.

It is amazing to consider the energy with which the production of new roses was carried on a century or more ago. The foundations of practically all modern races were laid at that time. Outmoded classes were cast aside with appalling ruthlessness, and, as the century advanced, the hedge-rows and byways became cluttered with discarded varieties and unwanted types. Let us stroll along looking with unprejudiced eyes at the wreckage we find, to ascertain if anything of value has been cast aside. At the same time, let us venture into the side-roads to discover why they are no longer used, and whether one of them might not turn out to be a short-cut by which we could advance more quickly toward the goal of a perfect climbing rose.

THE AYRSHIRE ROSES (Rosa arvensis)

Throughout most of Europe, and particularly in Scotland and northern England, Rosa arvensis trails in abundance over wastelands, climbing through hedges and thickets, often completely hiding the undergrowth from view. Its solitary flowers are small and fragrant. They are borne in great profusion in June and July. The plant is exceedingly hardy and vigorous, existing in rough, sterile soil where a few other plants will grow.

The earliest garden varieties of R. arvensis were raised by a man named Martin, of Dundee, Scotland, in the early years of the nineteenth century. All of them were white or pink. But about 1838, the famous English rosarian, Thomas Rivers, produced a dark red variety called Ayrshire Queen, from a seedling of the Blush Ayrshire fertilized by the Tuscany Rose, long since lost. Ayrshire Queen has disappeared from catalogues, if not from cultivation, and can no longer be obtained.

Bennett's Seedling, or Thoresbyana, is sometimes listed in modern catalogues. It is a very pretty, double, fragrant, white Ayrshire rose which was found among some briers by a gardener named Bennett, in Nottinghamshire, England.

The Dundee Rambler was considered by rosarians of the nineteenth century to be the best of the family, but Ruga, a hybrid of an Ayrshire by a Tea rose, was also credited with much beauty and fine fragrance.

In 1854, Rivers wrote that there seemed to be no limit to the vigorous growth of the Ayrshire roses, and he described two plants of Bennett's Seedling two years old, with stems 10 inches in circumference. He also recommended them for planting in rough ground, on banks, in parks, and in shrubberies, for the roses of Arvensis blood are hardy enough to withstand severe winter weather and need little or no attention after planting. They are essentially trailing and should not be pruned. The true strain of Ayrshires bears the flowers singly and not in clusters; only the later and more complex hybrids bear flowers in bunches.

The place of the Ayrshire roses is taken by the Wichuraiana hybrids in modern catalogues. But Dundee Rambler and Bennett's Seedling are grown even now, and several other varieties can still be purchased. Boston Beauty and Beacon Belle are pretty little ramblers of American origin but much inferior to Wichuraianas of the Dorothy Perkins type, and scarcely worth growing nowadays.

Nevertheless, R. arvensis and the old varieties, if they can be obtained true to name, may still offer the rose-breeder something of value in their rapid, vigorous growth, fragrance, and extreme hardiness.


The Banksian roses were introduced into England from China in 1807, and named by the botanist, Robert Brown, for Lady Banks. The stems are practically thornless and the plants grow with exceeding vigor. There are records of Banksian roses in England with trunks 2 feet, 4 inches, in circumference and a spread of 75 feet, bearing 50,000 to 60,000 flowers at one time. Throughout the southern states and on the Pacific Coast many magnificent Banksias are to be seen.

In the American Rose Annual for 1930 is a picture of a White Banksia thirty-five years old covering a pergola nearly 20 feet long. Some branches are 4 inches in diameter, while others have reached to an apple tree 2$ feet away and extended themselves to the very top, with several side branches extending along the limbs of the tree. On the other side, another branch has traveled nearly 25 feet to the top of a quince tree. This gnarled old rose blooms abundantly every spring, with occasional scattered blooms in the autumn.

In this country the only varieties available are the White and Yellow. In the old days there were seven or eight sorts, but it is doubtful whether any of them are still available. The Banksian roses are not hardy, and consequently they are only useful in the South and in California.

The White Banksia is deliciously fragrant, with an odor strongly resembling violets. The small flowers look like double cherry blossoms, very different from ordinary roses, and are borne in clusters.

The Yellow Banksia is a delightful variation, but its flowers are scentless, and the color is not very clear or strong.

So far as known, R. banksia has never been successfully hybridized with any other species, although its total lack of thorns, extraordinary vigor, and its remarkable three-parted foliage seem to offer considerable advantages, not to mention the delicious violet scent of the white variety.


The Bengal or China roses are descended from two forms of Rosa chinensis, the Blush China and the Crimson China, which were brought to Europe from China at sometime during the eighteenth century. Those two roses were so different from each other that the Blush China was called R. indica and the Crimson China was called R. semperflorens. From them a great many of the old-fashioned monthly roses were derived, and their blood entered largely into the production of the modern races. The original dwarf types were everblooming and had small foliage, wiry stems, and generally nodding flowers, but fragrance was weak or lacking.

Because of their everblooming habit, and because they were hardier than Tea roses, Bengals were popular garden plants during the nineteenth century, and, as happens to almost all roses which are grown in quantity, climbing sports developed. Such a sport on a Bengal rose appeared in the year 1858, and is recorded by Ellwanger. This was a vigorous climbing form of Agrippina which originated in the garden of the Rev. James M. Sprunt, of Kenansville, Georgia, who gave it his own name.

The only other Climbing Bengal of much importance is Climbing Gruss an Teplitz.

The strong, everblooming character of this class offers inducement to the breeder who is endeavoring to obtain everblooming climbers. A Bengal rose, Comtesse du Cayla, figures in the ancestry of the Hybrid Wichuraiana, Emily Gray, and seedlings of Emily Gray strongly revert to the China character. The Bengals (or Chinas) have also been bred into the complex Polyantha group, and it may be possible that the everblooming tendency of some Climbing Polyanthas is inherited from the Bengal strain.

Pure Bengals were relatively hardy and required little protection in severe climates. But the varieties available nowadays have been cross-bred with Teas and other tender classes so much that they cannot be depended on for complete hardiness without protection in the northern states.

THE BOURBON ROSES (Rosa borboniana)

The Bourbon roses are classified by Rehder as belonging to a hybrid species, Rosa borboniana. This is sometimes written R. borbonica. Rehder attributes their origin to the cross R. chinensis X R. gallica, but horticultural literature pretty definitely establishes the fact that the first Bourbon rose originated in a field where only Bengal and Damask Perpetual roses were growing. The Damask Perpetual, or Four Seasons, may have been a hybrid between R. damascena and some form of R. gallica, or perhaps other species were involved in its ancestry. But historically, at least, R. borboniana should be considered a hybrid of R. chinensis and R. damascena.

The name commemorates their place of origin, the Isle Bourbon, a French possession in the Indian ocean not far from Mauritius and Madagascar. It is now known as Reunion Island.

The Bourbon roses, as such, have almost disappeared. A few dwarf varieties are found in extensive gardens, such as the famous Hermosa and the ever-popular Souvenir de la Malmaison. The complete hardiness of the race throughout the North is very doubtful, for both Hermosa and Souvenir de la Malmaison require winter protection equal to that given to most Hybrid Tea roses.

Numerous climbing sports originated from Bourbon roses. Perhaps the best known was Climbing Souvenir de la Malmaison, which is still an excellent everblooming climber for the South.

But other Climbing Bourbons, not sports, were also originated, two of which are in American commerce. The prettiest is Zephirine Drouhin, a very vigorous climber with handsome foliage and large, vivid pink, fragrant flowers. It is relatively hardy, withstanding temperatures down to zero without damage and blooms most profusely in early summer producing an occasional flower toward autumn. Zephirine Drouhin has furnished a sport, Kathleen Harrop, which resembles it in all particulars except that the flowers are attractive light pink.

Many other varieties achieved good repute in their day, and one of them, Charles Lawson, is considered by amateurs fortunate enough to possess it as one of the finest climbing roses in the world. It is not in commerce in this country, and its description reads a great deal like that of Zephirine Drouhin. Blairii No. 2 was exceedingly popular for many years, and the famous Coupe d'Hebe may still be found in British and Continental catalogues.

The last word on Bourbon climbers has not been written. In fact, some of the most modern climbers derived from Teas, Hybrid Teas, and Hybrid Perpetuals seem to exhibit strong Bourbon characteristics, and we do not doubt that if the old rosarians could come back, they would immediately classify Mme. Gregoire Staechelin and certain other modern climbers as Bourbon types. This is not an unreasonable assumption, because both the Hybrid Teas and Hybrid Perpetuals from which Staechelin and its allies are descended have a strong strain of Bourbon in their ancestry.

THE BOURSAULT ROSE (Rosa pendulina or R. l'Heritierana)

The Boursault or Alpine roses are descended from Rosa pendulina, which was known to older botanists and gardeners as R. alpina. It differs from all other climbing species in the dark color of its flowers, which it has transmitted as rich purple and violet crimson shades to some of its hybrids. The first double-flowered form of the Alpine rose was given the name of an enthusiastic French amateur, Monsieur Boursault, and most other varieties of that class have borne the same name in one form or another. Probably the original Boursault rose was a hybrid of the Bengal, R. chinensis, and the Alpine rose, R. pendulina. Rehder, the modern authority, classes this hybrid as R. lheritierana, and it is a fact that one of the ancient Boursault hybrids was known as L'Heritier. Mrs. Gore's Manual of 1835 gives R. reversa, Violet Bengal, and Paniculated Bengal as synonyms of that name. Her description of the old rose matches very closely an earlyblooming shrub rose grown in Connecticut and northeastern Ohio where it was carried by the settlers of the Western Reserve many years ago. In farmyards and in the lawns about old residences it makes immense arching bushes of long, pliable, almost thornless stems, with glittering purplish bark sometimes covered with a grayish bloom like that on a plum or grape. The flowers are dark violet-red, semi-double, with white streaks on the center petals. They are more than an inch across, fragrant, and borne singly all along the garlandlike stems. The grayish foliage is rather broad toward the tip, with deep notches at the point. The bush blooms very early in northern Ohio, sometimes preceding the fine old shrub or Scotch rose, Harison's Yellow, and a little after R. hugonis. It is presumed to be in commerce under the name of L'Heritierana.

Other varieties existed a hundred years ago, varying in color from purple to white. The old red Boursault, Amadis, was highly regarded. Its large, semi-double, dark crimson flowers were borne in immense clusters. Inermis or Inermis Elegans was a fine variety with large, rosy or violet-pink flowers. It had practically vanished from cultivation under that name, but reappeared several years ago in northern Michigan where its extreme hardiness had attracted the attention of an observing rosarian who wished to rename it for his daughter. It was identified as Mme. Sancy de Parabere by an amateur familiar with roses in France; but Peter Lambert, a German authority, claims that Mme. Sancy de Parabere is only a synonym of Inermis.

No Boursault is really very vigorous as climbers go. The bushes lose their foliage very early and the flowers are rough and badly shaped. The merits of the race are fragrance, extreme hardiness, and a very early flowering season.

The species, R. pendulina, has been worked with very sparingly, and who knows whether a dash of Boursault might not improve the hardiness of some of our modern climbers?