Hand Me Downs

Hand Me Downs

December 31 2020

Plants have stories to tell and the best stories are the ones that speak of love. The plants that your grandmother had, those that grew from little starts your friend gave you, or that favorite flower you picked up on a long awaited vacation. Because I have to check out local greenhouses, don’t I? Just about everywhere I go.

One of the most treasured plants in my gardens is a rose I dug up from my brother and sister-in-law’s recently purchased place, an old homestead in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. We had no idea what kind of rose it was, but it had clearly been there for a long time. The farm also had apple trees that were over 100 years old and is now a heritage orchard. The rose was about five feet tall and even wider and covered with many petaled pink roses with a delightful spicy scent.

I sure hoped it would survive on the other side of the mountains where I live and conditions are a bit more harsh. Especially since a lot of the hardy Canadian roses I grow are not known for their scent. After four years, my transplanted rose is about the size of the mother plant and covered with roses for about a month or more. It’s a one time bloomer and then it’s done for the year. But every time I walk through the gate where it’s planted, I have to literally stop and smell the roses. Yeah, it’s that good.

I still didn’t know what kind of rose it is, so I asked an online garden group and got a fascinating answer. It is a Rosa centifolia, or cabbage rose, centifolia meaning hundred petaled. It is a hybrid rose developed by Dutch breeders as early as the 17th century or earlier. One of the clues to it’s identity was a covering of slightly sticky hairs on the flowers buds and stems, thus the sport called Rosa centifolia ‘Muscosa’ or moss roses. Thomas Jefferson grew cabbage roses at Monticello, just one note in the story of these roses.

It is something wonderful to think that there is an heirloom rose growing in my garden that somehow made it’s way to Montana, perhaps carried west by settlers after first crossing the ocean centuries before. The travels of plants follow the endless and inevitable migration of humans. An ongoing process, whether intentional or not.

I dried a lot of the petals so I can be reminded of summer when the days grow short and to think of my sister-in-law every time I smell them. Many thanks to those who spread flowers and the love they speak of, all over the world.

Cabbage Rose, Rosa centifolia