Number 39    November - December 2004


By Dennis F. Rose


As part of our summer vacation and my son's high school graduation present we had made plans to visit my uncle and his wife, both long time Bermuda residents. My new aunt Nell is actually a Bermuda native and it seems as if everyone knows everyone else on the island. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the past President of the Bermuda Rose Society, Margaret King, the mother of my uncle's good friend.

Mrs. King collected me in the historic area of Hamilton, called Front Street and for the next several hours I was given a personal tour of many of the rose gardens of this lovely island. As we drove to our first destination Mrs. King related to me that she was very familiar with Clair Martin and that she had visited The Huntington on several occasions.

Roses growing on Bermuda were first mentioned by a shipwrecked Spaniard in 1639, who described them as quite abundant on the island. Since roses were used medicinally several centuries ago, it is not unusual that today on this remote island 700 miles east of the Carolinas people would have a number of uses for roses, both for their flowers as well as the rest of the plant.

Due to its location, Bermuda's ships sailed far and wide bringing roses to the island from many faraway lands such as China and the Far East. Noisette roses first grown in South Carolina by John Champneys and Philippe Noisette also found their way to this beautiful small island in the mid-Atlantic.

Our first stop was the Gibbons estate with its beautiful palm grove gardens and a spectacular lily pond which features a small island in the shape of Bermuda. Although the roses were few, the grounds were lovely and we had a chance to discuss some of the aspects of rose gardening in Bermuda. The Bermudians do a light pruning after the May flush, with a heavier pruning at the end of August. The annual rose shows are usually held in October, and it is not uncommon to see rose bouquets on the Christmas table. The bushes, including the hybrid teas, flower all year.

Our next stop was Waterville where the Bermuda National Trust has its headquarters. One of the island's finest rose gardens is here. The well-established garden was planted and is constantly maintained by the Bermuda Rose Society which, incidentally, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. During our visit we happened upon a volunteer who had just finished her weekly pruning. New members of the Society are given a "Belfield Rose" ('Slater's Crimson China') upon their induction.

The roses in this garden are planted with a great deal of underplanting including several of my favorites from The Huntington such as: 'Mutablis' (very widely grown on the Island), 'Slater's Crimson China' and 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'. The society has been propagating roses intensively for a very popular yearly sale. Of course the ever popular 'Cécile Brünner' was also among them. There were many other roses: 'Mrs. B.R. Cant' (Tea, 1901), 'La Marne' (Polyantha, 1915), and 'Pink Pet' (a China 1928) (all of which are in The Huntington Rose Garden).

The Society is very proud of their "mystery rose", a repeat-bloomer called 'Smith's Parish'. It is probably a tea from China and there is some suspicion that this is the 'Five Coloured Rose' a rose discovered in 1844. There is a rose labeled 'Fortune's Five Colored Rose' in our garden which is very close in appearance to 'Smith's Parish' except that it has a green eye. The 'Smith's Parish' also appears not only with white blooms with red streaks but with the normal red color (in various shapes) on the same bush! So the mystery of this rose continues.

Our next stop was the Bermuda Botanical Gardens in Paget Parish near Hamilton which contained a very impressive collection displayed in a more formal arrangement. The four beds are mass-planted with 'Agrippina', 'Duchesse de Brabant' and 'Parson's Pink'. 'Agrippina' is a China rose from 1832, also known as the 'Old Bermuda Red Rose'. It is found all over the island even in the most adverse growing conditions. There were many other modern bushes along with some older tea roses that I had also not seen before.

As a result of the semitropical climate in Bermuda many of the roses that found their way to the island have adapted to their new environment and I noticed some rather distinct differences from the varieties we maintain at The Huntington.

Margaret then took me to the Repository Garden maintained by the Bermuda Rose Society which basically consisted of several quonset huts in which roses are cultivated and propagated by the members.

We concluded our tour with Margaret showing me several Bermudian homes, known for their pastel colors and dazzling white roofs. As Bermuda does not have a fresh water source at all, water is collected from rain running off these limestone painted roofs into underground wells. As the weather is so unpredictable in Bermuda, this system is the best and only way to maintain any type of garden. As we drove back to Hamilton, I was able to see that wonderful roses are maintained both publicly and privately in spite of Bermuda's unusual and many microclimates.

Dennis Rose, Rose/Shakespeare Gardens Docent

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