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Small Talk : Miniature Roses, Little Tokens of the Past, Tell Big Stories

April 20, 1986|TEDDY COLBERT | Los Angeles writer Teddy Colbert has an affinity for old roses and has studied their histories extensively

In the corner of my garden where it helps greet guests, the dwarf Polyantha and obvious relative 'Marie Pavie' is rarely without a flower, even in partial shade. Because 'Marie Pavie' is similar in coloring, gardeners refer to it as the round-budded Cecile Brunner, and it carries a date of 1888. Clusters of little white flowers tinged faintly with pink bend over shiny leaves and compose the most graceful bush in my collection. One seedling from the pale-pink 'Marie Pavie,' cross-pollinated with the little dark-red-flowered 'Tom Thumb,' was named 'Katharina Zeimet.' This offspring, introduced in 1901, is a small, white-flowered Polyantha.

The second era of modern miniatures is represented by 'Rosmarin,' dated 1965 and the first to be classed as a miniature rose. 'Rosmarin' is also a progeny of 'Tom Thumb,' crossed at a later date by breeder Reiner Kordes with 'Dacapo,' a Floribunda. The bush is plucky-looking, three-feet tall, upright and densely branched. The small white flowers have a deep pink tinge, and during winter there always seems to be one bloom for a nosegay. Although 'Rosmarin' ends my collection of old miniature roses, I prefer to think of it as the beginning of the newer introductions.

But there is a pretender in my bouquet. 'Sweet Chariot,' which I received from garden editor Bob Smaus, seems to belong there with the old-fashioned flower forms. What is it? I wonder. With those tones of deep lavender, could there be gallica in its history? The doubled petals and heady scent hint at centifolias; their perfume, prized from history, fills my room. The branches, shooting up from under the ground, remind me of gallicas, but they open out like Polyanthas and have their shiny green leaves.

'Sweet Chariot' is not old, though. The introduction date is 1984, and in my opinion the rose represents the summit of Ralph Moore's rose-breeding expertise. Moore, considered by John MacGregor IV to be "master of the miniatures," owns Sequoia Nursery in Visalia. When questioned about the parentage of 'Sweet Chariot,' Moore, in the accepted tradition of competitive hybridizers, was mum. The petals drop shortly after its sprays are cut, but that is inconsequential to me. It was, after all, bred for hanging baskets and landscape; besides, I like tokens of the past.

Most of the old roses in my collection can be seen in the rose garden at the Huntington Botanical Gardens and will be sold there in limited quantities during the Classic Rose Show, on April 26 and 27, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; reservations are required for Sunday. For information, telephone (818) 405-2160.

Southern California Heritage Roses meets the third Saturday of the month at the Huntington Botanical Gardens or in private gardens. Sub/Rosa, its quarterly newsletter, highlights the history of old roses, and the meetings offer invaluable local cultural information. Dues are $5 a year and can be sent to Roland Mettler, 3637 Empire Drive, Los Angeles 90034. Several mail-order sources for roses are listed in Beverly R. Dobson's yearly epic publication, Combined Rose List. Send $7.50 to 215 Harriman Road, Irvington, N.Y. 10533.

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