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Peter D. A. Boyd

Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias: their rediscovery and conservation

Peter D. A. Boyd

Web version of

BOYD, P.D.A. 2007a. 'Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias: their rediscovery and conservation'. Rosa Gallica: A French Journal about Roses. No. 5. Spring 2007. pp. 65-69.

[Summary of presentation to the International Heritage Roses Conference at Chaalis, France. 12th - 15th June 2007]

The true Scots Roses are cultivars of Rosa spinosissima (also known as Rosa pimpinellifolia) and some hybrids of the species that have a similar character. Scots Roses are sometimes known as 'Pimpinellifolias'. However, that term is often used to include hybrids of R. spinosissima that are not 'typical' Scots Roses and is also used to embrace other species within the group Pimpinellifoliae (e.g. R. ecae, R. foetida, R. primula, R. sericea and R. xanthina).

Scots Roses flower profusely in May and June with single or double flowers (often sweetly scented) in white, cream, yellow, pink, red, purple or mauve and some cultivars have marbled or striped blooms. Most 'typical' Scots Roses have small leaves and prickly stems, spreading by suckers to form a mound of foliage and flower. Many of them produce attractive black rounded heps. Some cultivars also have good autumn foliage colour in shades of red and orange.

Several of the old hybrids are crosses between R. spinosissima and R. pendulina or R. foetida. Some hybrids differ in appearance from 'typical' Scots Roses, having larger leaves on taller, more upright stems and arching growth. Some hybrids have elongated reddish heps instead of the typical rounded black ones.

The first 'variety' of Rosa spinosissima was described in Scotland in the 17th century. By the end of the 18th century, nurseries could still only offer the single white, one with single red flowers and another with single marbled or striped flowers. However, in 1793, Robert Brown and his brother collected plants of Rosa spinosissima on Kinnoull Hill near Perth in Scotland and planted them nearby, in the nursery of Dickson and Brown. Within a few years, Robert Brown had developed several coloured single- and double-flowered varieties. Robert Brown in Perth, Robert Austin in Glasgow and other nurserymen in Scotland and England continued to raise new forms and, by 1830, one British nursery could offer some 300 varieties. New varieties and hybrids of Rosa spinosissima were also raised in France, other parts of Europe and America but a smaller number than in Britain.

Some private individuals built up large collections of Scots Roses. The Duke of Bedford had created a Rosarium Scoticum at Woburn Abbey with about 260 varieties of Scots Roses by 1830 and the Duke of Buccleuch had a collection of 150 varieties at Dalkeith Palace near Edinburgh. As far as I am aware, nothing remains of these and other large collections.

By 1874, Shirley Hibberd wrote in The Amateurs Rose Book that 'the varieties are only to be met with in old gardens, as they are all quite out of fashion'. In 1902, Gertrude Jekyll wrote in Roses for English Gardens that 'those who are interested in this class of Rose should inquire in the good old Scotch gardens, where no doubt fine forms still exist that have not come into trade'.

Although the number of Scots Roses commercially available became fewer and fewer, some varieties persisted as British 'cottage garden' plants because people had a special affection for them. They also achieved special significance in other countries (e.g. a double yellow hybrid was carried across America by settlers and a double white form is associated with celebrations of Midsummer in Finland).

Moreover, although the old cultivars had gone out of fashion by 1900, Rosa spinosissima was used extensively in rose breeding in the 20th century. In Canada, Dr. Frank Skinner (an ex-patriot Scot) and others raised a number of hybrids that could cope with the extreme cold of Canadian winters and, in Germany, Kordes raised the Frühlings series (e.g. Frühlingsmorgen). More recently, the species has been used as a parent in new hybrids raised in Finland where Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias are very popular.

I have been collecting Scots Roses for a number of years, exploring old gardens in Scotland and elsewhere. Many in my own collection of nearly 300 cultivars and hybrids of Rosa spinosissima have been propagated from surviving plants in old gardens, while others have been obtained from nurseries or friends in Britain and other countries. In 2006, the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG) awarded my collection Full National Collection status.

I am writing a book on the history, nomenclature and cultivation of Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias that aims to be a fully referenced 'definitive' source of information for garden historians and rose lovers. I have already published a number of articles for specialist journals and gardening magazines in Britain, France, Germany, Finland and the USA. Most of these articles are available on my website.

In the course of my research, I have derived a list of about 1000 names of Scots Rose cultivars from books, nursery catalogues and other publications dating from the 17th century to the present day. These studies will provide an accurate source of information on the date of introduction of varieties and the original descriptions, where available, provide a good basis for checking the naming of those cultivars still in cultivation.

Although hundreds of different named Scots Roses were available in the early 19th century, very few Scots Roses are now available from nurseries. Often, even those that are available have wrong or misleading names. Such a small number of Scots Roses have been described in rose books published within the last fifty years or so, that nurserymen and gardeners have been tempted to apply one of those few recently published names to the plants in their collection. Most of the names applied to Scots Roses described in 'modern' rose publications were not used before the 20th century or were applied to different varieties in earlier times!

I have assisted with the identification of Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias at the Europa- Rosarium at Sangerhausen in Germany, at the Roseraie du Val-de-Marne at l'Ha˙ les Roses near Paris in France and elsewhere. My examination of the Scots Roses in these important collections has revealed some errors in labelling that have already been corrected or will be corrected following further study.

Although I have been able to find old Scots Rose varieties surviving in old private gardens and public collections, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Every year, I have been told of plants or collections destroyed and some of those from which I have been allowed to collect in the past have since disappeared, so that the plants I propagated have become even more important. An individual Scots Rose surviving in an old garden may be the last example of a particular cultivar and therefore have a significance that may not be obvious! A number of the cultivars that I have found in old gardens are apparently unique to the site where I found them.

Scots Roses are significant survivals of a little-known historic horticultural phenomenon and fashion. They are also beautiful roses, largely disease free, very hardy and resistant to drought. They have much to contribute to rose-breeding and modern gardens.

I hope that, in future, my own collection will act as a resource for DNA work and other scientific research but also provide material for the dissemination of old varieties. There are several cultivars of Scots Roses that I have rediscovered which equal or surpass the beauty of the varieties in commerce. It is my intention, when possible, to make propagating material available to public collections such as the Europa-Rosarium and nurseries that can then play a part in preserving and disseminating them.


Peter D. A. Boyd

Collections Manager, Shrewsbury Museums Service, Barker Street, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY1 1QH

Tel. 01743 361196

e-mail: peterboyd@shrewsbury.gov.uk

website: www.peterboyd.com


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