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Gardens - Roses Of Yesterday

( Originally Published 1901 )

"Each morn a thousand Roses brings, you say ;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday ? "

- Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by EDWARD FITZGERALD, 1858.

THE answer can be given the Persian poet that the Rose of Yesterday leaves again in the heart. The subtle fragrance of a Rose can readily conjure in our minds a dream of summers past, and happy summers to come. Many a flower lover since Chaucer has felt as did the poet : —

" The savour of the Roses swote
Me smote right to the herte rote."

The old-time Roses possess most fully this hid-den power. Sweetest of all was the old Cabbage Rose — called by some the Provence Rose — for its perfume " to be chronicled and chronicled, and cut and chronicled, and all-to-be-praised." Its odor is perfection ; it is the standard by which I compare all other fragrances. It is not too strong nor too cloying, as are some Rose scents; it is the idealization of that distinctive sweetness of the Rose family which other Roses have to some degree. The color of the Cabbage Rose is very warm and pleasing, a clear, happy pink, and the flower has a wholesome, open look ; but it is not a beautiful Rose by florists' standards, — few of the old Roses are, — and it is rather awkward in growth. The Cabbage Rose is said to have been a favorite in ancient Rome. I wish it had a prettier name ; it is certainly worthy one.

The Hundred-leaved Rose was akin to the Cabbage Rose, and shared its delicious fragrance. In its rather irregular shape it resembled the present Duke of Sussex Rose.

One of the rarest of old-time Roses in our gar-dens to-day is the red and white mottled York and Lancaster. It is as old as the sixteenth century. Shakespeare writes in the Sonnets : —

"The Roses fearfully in thorns did stand
One blushing shame, another white despair.
A third, nor red, nor white, had stol'n of both."

They are what Chaucer loved, " sweitie roses red, brode, and open also," Roses of a broad, flat expanse when in full bloom ; they have a cheerier, heartier, more gracious look than many of the new Roses that never open far from bud, that seem so pinched and narrow. What ineffable fragrance do they pour out from every wide-open flower, a fragrance that is the very spirit of the Oriental Attar of Roses ; all the sensuous sweetness of the attar is gone, and only that which is purest and best remains. I believe, in thinking of it, that it equals the perfume of the Cabbage Rose, which, ere now, I have always placed first. This York and Lancaster Rose is the Rosa mundi, — the rose of the world. A fine plant is growing in Hawthorne's old home in Salem.

Opposite page 462 is an unusual depiction of the century-old York and Lancaster Rose still growing and flourishing in the old garden at Van Cortlandt Manor. It is from one of the few photographs which I have ever seen which make you forgive their lack of color. The vigor, the grace, the richness of this wonderful Rose certainly are fully shown, though but in black and white. I have called this Rose bush a century old; it is doubtless much older, but it does not seem old; it is gifted with everlasting youth. We know how the Persians gather before a single plant in flower ; they spread their rugs, and pray before it ; and sit and meditate before it; sip sherbet, play the lute and guitar in the moonlight; bring their friends and stand as in a vision, then talk in praises of it, and then all serenade it with an ode from Hafiz and depart. So would I gather my friends around this lovely old Rose, and share its beauty just as my friends at the manor-house share it with me; and as the Persians, we would praise it in sunlight and by moonlight, and sing its beauty in verses. This York and Lancaster Rose was known to Parkinson in his day ; it is his Rosa versicolor. I wonder why so few modern gardens contain this treasure. I know it does not rise to all the standards of the modern Rose growers ; but it possesses something better — it has a living spirit; it speaks of history, romance, sentiment ; it awakens inspiration and thought, it has an ever living interest, a significance. I wonder whether a hundred years from now any one will stand before some Crimson Rambler, which will then be ancient, and feel as I do before this York and Lancaster goddess.

The fragrance of the sweetest Roses — the Damask, the Cabbage, the York and Lancaster—is beyond any other flower-scent, it is irresistible, enthralling; you cannot leave it. You can push aside a Syringa, a Honeysuckle, even a Mignonette, but there is a magic something which binds you irrevocably to the Rose. I have never doubted that the Rose has some compelling quality shared not by other flowers. I know not whether it comes from centuries of establishment as a race-symbol, or from some inherent witchery of the plant, but it certainly exists.

The variety of Roses known to old American gardens, as to English gardens, was few. The English Eglantine was quickly established here in gardens and spread to roadsides. The small, ragged, cheerful little Cinnamon Rose, now chiefly seen as a garden stray, is undoubtedly old. This Rose diffuses its faint " sinamon smelle " when the petals are dried. Nearly all of the Roses vaguely thought to be one or two hundred years old date only, within our ken, to the earlier years of the nineteenth century. The Seven Sisters Rose, imagined by the owner of many a Southern garden to belong to colonial days, is one of the family Rosa multora, introduced from Japan to England by Thunberg. Its catalogue name is Greville. I think the Seven Sisters dates back to 1822. The clusters of little double blooms of the Seven Sisters are not among our beautiful Roses, but are planted by the house mistress of every Southern home from power of association, because they were loved by her grandmothers, if not by more distant forbears. The crimson Boursaults are no older. They came from the Swiss Alps and therefore are hardy, but they are fussy things, needing much pruning and pulling out. I recall that they had much longer prickles than the other roses in our garden. The beloved little Banksia Rose came from China in 1807. The Madame Plantieris a hybrid China Rose of much popularity. We have had it about seventy or eighty years. In the lovely garden of Mrs. Mabel Osgood Wright, author of Flowers and Trees in their Haunts, I saw, this spring, a giant Madame Plantier which had over five thou-sand buds, and which could scarcely be equalled in beauty by any modern Roses. Its photograph gives scant idea of its size.

What gratitude we have in spring to the Sweet-brier ! How early in the year, from sprouting branch and curling leaf, it begins to give forth its pure odor ! Gracious and lavish plant, beloved in scent by every one, you have no rival in the spring garden with its pale perfumes. The Sweetbrier and Shakespeare's Musk Rose (Rosa moschata) are said to be the only Roses that at evening pour forth their perfume ; the others are what Bacon called " fast of their odor."

The June Rose, called by many the Hedgehog Rose, was, I think, the first Rose of summer. A sturdy plant, about three feet in height ; set thick with briers, it well deserved its folk name. The flowers opened into a saucer of richest carmine, as fragrant as an American Beauty, and the little circles of crimson resembling the Rosa rugosa were seen in every front dooryard.

In the Walpole garden from whence came to us our beloved Ambrosia, was an ample Box-edged flower bed which my mother and the great-aunt called The Rosery. One cousin, now living, recalls with distinctness its charms in T830 ; for it was beautful, though the vast riches of the Rose-world of China and Japan had not reached it. There grew in it, he remembers, Yellow Scotch Roses, Sweetbrier (or Eglantine), Cinnamon Roses,White Scotch Roses, Damask Roses, Blush Roses, Dog Roses (the Canker-bloom of Shakespeare), Black Roses, Burgundy Roses, and Moss Roses. The last-named sensitive creatures, so difficult to rear with satisfaction in such a climate, found in this Rosery by the river-side some exact fitness of soil or surroundings, or perhaps of fostering care, which in spite of the dampness and the constant tendency of all Moss Roses to mildew, made them blossom in unrivalled perfection. I remember their successors, deplored as much inferior to the Roses of 1830, and they were the finest Moss Roses I ever saw blooming in a garden. An amusing saying of some of the village passers-by (with smaller gardens and education) showed the universal acknowledgment of the perfection of these Roses. These people thought the name was Morse Roses and always thus termed them, fancying they were named for the family for whom the flowers bloomed in such beauty and number.

Among the other Roses named by my cousin I recall the White Scotch Rose, sometimes called also the Burnet-leaved Rose. It was very fragrant, and was often chosen for a Sunday posy. There were both single and double varieties.

The Blush Rose (Rosa alba), known also as Maiden's blush, was much esteemed for its exquisite color; it could be distinguished readily by the glaucous hue of the foliage, which always looked like the leaves of artificial roses. It was easily blighted ; and indeed we must acknowledge that few of the old Roses were as certain as their sturdy descendants.

The Damask Rose was the only one ever used in careful families and by careful housekeepers for making rose-water. There was a Velvet Rose, darker than the Damask and low-growing, evidently the same Rose. Both showed plentiful yellow stamens in the centres, and had exquisite rich dark leaves.

The old Black Rose of The Rosery was so suffused with color-principle, so " color-flushing," that even the wood had black and dark red streaks. Its petals were purple-black.

The Burgundy Rose was of the Cabbage Rose family ; its flowers were very small, scarce an inch in diameter. There were two varieties : the one my cousin called Little Burgundy had clear dark red blossoms ; the other, white with pink centres. Both were low-growing, small bushes with small leaves. They are practically vanished Roses—wholly out of cultivation.

We had other tiny roses ; one was a lovely little Rose creature called a Fairy Rose. I haven't seen one for years. As I recall them, the Rose plants were never a foot in height, and had dainty little flower rosettes from a quarter to half an inch in diameter set in thick clusters. But the recalled dimensions of youth vary so when seen actually in the cold light of to-day that perhaps I am wrong in my description. This was also called a Pony Rose. This Fairy Rose was not the Polyantha which also has forty or fifty little roses in a cluster. The single Polyantha Rose looks much like its cousin, the Blackberry blossom.

Another small Rose was the Garland Rose. This was deemed extremely elegant, and rightfully so. It has great corymbs of tiny white blossoms with tight little buff buds squeezing out among the open Roses.

Another old favorite was the Rose of Four Sea-sons — known also by its French name, Rose de Quartre Saisons — which had occasional blooms throughout the summer. It may have been the foundation of our Hybrid Perpetual Roses. The Bourbon Roses were vastly modish; their round smooth petals and oval leaves easily distinguish them from other varieties.

Among the several hundred things I have fully planned out to do, to solace my old age after I have become a " centurion," is a series of water-color drawings of all these old-time Roses, for so many of them are already scarce.

The Michigan Rose which covered the arches in Mr. Seward's garden, has clusters of deep pink, single, odorless flowers, that fade out nearly white after they open. It is our only native Rose that has passed into cultivation. From it come many fine double-flowered Roses, among them the beautiful Baltimore Belle and Queen of the Prairies, which were named about 1836 by a Baltimore florist called Feast. All its vigorous and hardy descendants are scentless save the Gem of the Prairies. It is one of the ironies of plant-nomenclature when we have so few plant names saved to us from the picturesque and often musical speech of the American Indians, that the lovely Cherokee Rose, Indian of name, is a Chinese Rose. It ought to be a native, for every-where throughout our Southern states its pure white flowers and glossy evergreen leaves love to grow till they form dense thickets.

People who own fine gardens are nowadays un-willing to plant the old "Summer Roses " which bloom cheerfully in their own Rose-month and then have no more blossoming till the next year ; they want a Remontant Rose, which will bloom a second time in the autumn, or a Perpetual Rose, which will give flowers from June till cut off by the frost. But these latter-named Roses are not only of fine gardens but of fine gardeners ; and folk who wish the old simple flower garden which needs no highly-skilled care, still are happy in the old Summer Roses I have named.

A Rose hedge is the most beautiful of all garden walls and the most ancient. Professor Koch says that long before men customarily surrounded their gardens with walls, that they had Rose hedges. He tells us that each of the four great peoples of Asia owned its own beloved Rose, carried in all wanderings, until at last the four became common to all races of men. Indo-Germanic stock chose the hundred-leaved red Rose, Rosa gallica (the best Rose for conserves). Rosa damascena, which blooms twice a year, and the Musk Rose were cherished by the Semitic people ; these were preferred for attar of Roses and Rose water. The yellow Rose, Rosa lutea, or Persian Rose, was the flower of the Turkish Mongolian people. Eastern Asia is the fatherland of the Indian and Tea Roses. The Rose has now become as universal as sunlight. Even in Iceland and Lapland grows the lovely Rosa nitida.

We say these Roses are common to all peoples, but we have never in America been able to grow yellow Roses in ample bloom in our gardens. Many that thrive in English gardens are unknown here. The only yellow garden Rose common in old gardens was known simply as the " old yellow Rose," or Scotch Rose, but it came from the far East. In a few localities the yellow Eglantine was seen.

The picturesque old custom of paying a Rose for rent was known here. In Manheim, Pennsylvania, stands the Zion Lutheran Church, which was gathered together by Baron William Stiegel, who was the first glass and iron manufacturer of note in this country. He came to America in 1750, with a fortune which would be equal to-day to a million dollars, and founded and built and named Manheim. He was a man of deep spiritual and religious belief, and of profound sentiment, and when in 1771 he gave the land to the church, this clause was in the indenture : —

"Yielding and paying therefor unto the said Henry William Stiegel, his heirs or assigns, at the said town of Manheim, in the Month of June Yearly, forever hereafter, the rent of One Red Rose, if the same shall be lawfully demanded."

Nothing more touching can be imagined than the fulfilment each year of this beautiful and symbolic ceremony of payment. The little town is rich in Roses, and these are gathered freely for the church service, when One Red Rose is still paid to the heirs of the sainted old baron, who died in 1778, broken in health and fortunes, even having languished in jail some time for debt. A new church was erected on the site of the old one in 1892, and in a beautiful memorial window the decoration of the Red Rose commemorates the sentiment of its benefactor.

The Rose Tavern, in the neighboring town of Bethlehem, stands on land granted for the site of a tavern by William Penn, for the yearly rental of One Red Rose.

In England the payment of a Rose as rent was often known. The Bishop of Ely leased Ely house in 1576 to Sir Christopher Hatton, Queen Elizabeth's handsome Lord Chancellor, for a Red Rose to be paid on Midsummer Day, ten loads of hay and ten pounds per annum, and he and his Episcopal successors reserved the right of walking in the gardens and gathering twenty bushels of Roses yearly. In France there was a feudal right to demand a payment of Roses for the making of Rose water.

Two of our great historians, George Bancroft and Francis Parkman, were great rose-growers and rose-lovers. I never saw Mr. Parkman's Rose Garden, but I remember Mr. Bancroft's well; the Tea Roses were especially beautiful. Mr. Bancroft's Rose Garden in its earliest days had no rivals in America.

The making of potpourri was common in my childhood. While the petals of the Cabbage Rose were preferred, all were used. Recipes for making potpourri exist in great number ; I have seen several in manuscript in old recipe hooks, one dated 169o. The old ones are much simpler than the modern ones, and have no strong spices such as cinnamon and clove, and no bergamot or mints or strongly scented essences or leaves. The best rules gave ambergris as one of the ingredients ; this is not really a perfume, but gives the potpourri its staying power. There is' something very pleasant in opening an old China jar to find it filled with potpourri, even if the scent has wholly faded. It tells a story of a day when people had time for such things. I read in a letter a century and a half old of a happy group of people riding out to the house of the provincial governor of New York ; all gathered Rose leaves in the governor's garden, and the governor's wife started the distilling of these Rose leaves, in her new still, into Rose water, while all drank syllabubs and junkets — a pretty Watteau-ish scene.

The hips of wild Roses are a harvest — one unused in America in modern days, but in olden times they were stewed with sugar and spices, as were other fruits. Sauce Saracen, or Sarzyn, was made of Rose hips and Almonds pounded together, cooked in wine and sweetened. I believe they are still cooked by some folks in England, but I never heard of their use in America save by one person, an elderly Irish woman on a farm in Narragansett. Plentiful are the references and rules in old cook-books for cooking Rose hips. Parkinson says : " Hippes are made into a conserve, also a paste like licoris. Cooks and their Mistresses know how to prepare from them many fine dishes for the Table." Gerarde writes characteristically of the Sweet-brier, "The fruit when it is ripe maketh most pleasant meats and banqueting dishes, as tarts and such-like ; the making whereof I commit to the cunning cooke, and teeth to eat them in the rich man's mouth."

Children have ever nibbled Rose hips : —

" I fed on scarlet hips and stony haws —
Hard fare, but such as boyish appetite
Disdains not."

The Rose bush furnished another comestible for the children's larder, the red succulent shoots of common garden and wild Roses. These were known by the dainty name of " brier candy," a name appropriate and characteristic, as the folk-names devised by children frequently are.

On the post-road in southern New Hampshire stands an old house, which according to its license was once " improved " as a tavern, and was famous for its ghost and its Roses. The tavern was owned by a family of two brothers and two sisters, all unmarried, as was rather a habit in the Mason family; though when any of the tribe did marry, a vast throng of children quickly sprung up to propagate the name and sturdy qualities of the race. The men were giants, and both men and women were hard-working folk of vast endurance and great thrift, and, like all of that ilk in New England, they prospered and grew well-to-do ; great barns and out-buildings, all well filled, stretched down along the roadside below the house. Joseph Mason could lay more feet of stone wall in a day, could plough more land, chop down more trees, pull more stumps, than any other man in New Hampshire. His sisters could bake and brew, make soap, weed the garden, spin and weave, unceasingly and untiringly. Their garden was a source of purest pleasure to them, as well as of hard work ; its borders were so stocked with medicinal herbs that it could supply a town-ship ; and its old-time flowers furnished seeds and slips and bulbs to every other garden within a day's driving distance ; but its glory was a garden side to gladden the heart of Omar Khayyam, where two or three acres of ground were grown over heavily with old-fashioned Roses. These were only the common Cinnamon Rose, the beloved Cabbage Rose, and a pale pink, spicily scented, large-petalled, scarcely double Rose, known to them as the Apothecaries' Rose. Farmer-neighbors wondered at this waste of the Masons' good land in this unprofitable Rose crop, but it had a certain use. There came every June to this Rose garden all the children of the vicinity, bearing milk-pails, homespun bags, birch baskets, to gather Rose petals. They nearly all had Roses at their homes, but not the Mason Roses. These Rose leaves were carried carefully to each home, and were packed in stone jars with alternate layers of brown or scant maple sugar. Soon all conglomerated into a gummy, brown, close-grained, not over alluring substance to the vision, which was known among the children by the unromantic name of "Rose tobacco." This cloying confection was in high repute. It was chipped off and eaten in tiny bits, and much treasured — as a love token, or reward of good behavior.

The Mason house was a tavern. It was not one of the regular stopping-places on the turnpike road, being rather too near the town to gather any travel of teamsters or coaches ; but passers-by who knew the house and the Masons loved to stop there. Everything in the well-kept, well-filled house and barns contributed to the comfort of guests, and it was known that the Masons cared more for the company of the traveller than for his pay.

There was a shadow on this house. The young-est of the family, Hannah, had been jilted in her youth, " shabbed " as said the country folks. After several years of " constant company-keeping " with the son of a neighbor, during which time many a linen sheet and tablecloth, many a fine blanket, had been spun and woven, and laid aside with the tacit understanding that it was part of her wedding outfit, the man had fallen suddenly and violently in love with a girl who came from a neighboring town to sing a single Sunday in the church choir. He had driven to her home the following week, carried her off to a parson in a third town, married her, and brought her to his home in a triumph of enthusiasm and romance, which quickly fled before the open dislike and reprehension of his upright neighbors, who abhorred his fickleness, and before the years of ill health and ill temper of the hard-worked, faded wife. Many children were born to them ; two lived, sickly little souls, who, unconscious of the blemish on their parents' past, came with the other children every June, and gathered Rose leaves under Hannah Mason's window.

Hannah Mason was called crazy. After her desertion she never entered any door save that of her own home, never went to a neighbor's house either in time of joy or sorrow; queerer still, never went to church. All her life, her thoughts, her vast strength, went into hard work. No labor was too heavy or too formidable for her. She would hetchel flax for weeks, spin unceasingly, and weave on a hand loom, most wearing of women's work, without thought of rest. No single household could supply work for such an untiring machine, especially when all labored industriously — so work was brought to her from the neighbors. Not a wedding outfit for miles around way complete without one of Hannah Ma-son's fine tablecloths. Every corpse was buried in one of her linen shrouds. Sailmakers and boat-owners in Portsmouth sent up to her for strong duck for their sails. Lads went up to Dartmouth College in suits of her homespun. Many a teamster on the road slept under Hannah Mason's heavy gray woollen blankets, and his wagon tilts were covered with her canvas. Her bank account grew rapidly — she became rich as fast as her old lover became poor. But all this cast a shadow on the house. Sojourners would waken and hear throughout the night some steady sound, a scratching of the cards, a whirring of the spinning-wheel, the thump-thump of the loom. Some said she never slept, and could well grow rich when she worked all night.

At last the woman who had stolen her lover — the poor, sickly wife — died. The widower, burdened hopelessly with debts, of course put up in her memory a fine headstone extolling her virtues. One wakeful night, with a sentiment often found in such natures, he went to the graveyard to view his proud but unpaid-for possession. The grass. deadened his footsteps, and not till he reached the grave did there rise up from the ground a tall, ghostly figure dressed all in undyed gray wool of her own weaving. It was Hannah Mason. " Hannah," whimpered the widower, trying to take her hand,—with equal thought of her long bank account and his unpaid-for head-stone, —" I never really loved any one but you." She broke away from him with an indescribable gesture of contempt and dignity, and went home. She died suddenly four days later of pneumonia, 'either from the shock or the damp midnight chill of the graveyard.

As months passed on travellers still came to the tavern, and the story began to be whispered from one to another that the house was haunted by the ghost of Hannah Mason. Strange sounds were heard at night from the garret where she had always worked ; most plainly of all could be heard the whirring of her great wool wheel. When this rumor reached the brothers' ears, they determined to investigate the story and end it forever. That night their vigil began, and soon the sound of the wheel was heard. They entered the garret, and to their surprise found the wheel spinning round. Then Joseph Mason went to the garret and seated himself for closer and more determined watch. He sat in the dark till the wheel began to revolve, then struck a sudden light and found the ghost. A great rat had run out on the spoke of the wheel and when he reached the broad rim had started a treadmill of his own — which made the ghostly sound as it whirred around. Soon this rat grew so tame that he would come out on the spinning-wheel in the daytime, and several others were seen to run around in the wheel as if it were a pleasant recreation.

The old brick house still stands with its great grove of Sugar Maples, but it is silent, for the Masons all sleep in the graveyard behind the church high up on the hillside ; no travellers stop within the doors, the ghost rats are dead, the spinning-wheel is gone, but the garden still blossoms with eternal youth. Though children no longer gather rose leaves for Rose tobacco, the " Roses of Yesterday " bloom every year ; and each June morn, " a thousand blossoms with the day awake," and fling their spicy fragrance on the air.

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