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Peter D. A. Boyd

In Search of Lost Scots Roses

Peter D. A. Boyd

Web version of

BOYD, P.D.A. (2005). 'In Search of lost Scots Roses'. PlantNetwork Newsletter No. 29, Cambridge. Based on part of a talk 'Darwin's family garden in Shrewsbury and the search for lost Scots Roses' presented to the PlantNetwork Conference on 'Historic and Cultural Significance of Plants in Cultivation' at the University of Birmingham, September 2005.


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. I am writing a book on the history and nomenclature of Scots Roses that aims to be a fully referenced 'definitive' source of information for garden historians and rose lovers. In the course of my research, I have derived a list of over 700 names of Scots Rose cultivars from eighteenth-, nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-first-century nursery catalogues, rose books and other publications.

However, my research has also involved collecting and studying surviving cultivars. Only a few cultivars of Scots Roses are now commercially available in Britain. My own collection of some 200 cultivars, many propagated from surviving plants in old gardens, has been submitted to the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG) for National Collection status. Most sucker freely and are easy to propagate. They flower profusely with single or double flowers (often sweetly scented) in white, cream, yellow, pink, red, purple or mauve and some cultivars have mottled or striped blooms.

The history of garden forms of Scots Rose started on Kinnoull Hill, Perth, where, in 1793, Robert Brown and his brother collected plants of Rosa spinosissima to plant in the nursery of Dickson and Brown. After a few years of seed-sowing and selection, Robert Brown had developed several coloured and double forms which were distributed to other nurseries in Scotland and England. Robert Brown and these other nurseries continued to raise new forms and, by 1830, one nursery alone could offer some 300 varieties.

Some private individuals built up large collections of Scots Roses ('Scotch Roses'). The Duke of Bedford had created a Rosarium Scoticum at Woburn Abbey with about 260 varieties of Scots Roses by 1833, and the Duke of Buccleuch had a collection of 150 varieties at Dalkeith Palace near Edinburgh by the 1840s. As far as I am aware, nothing remains of these collections.

By 1898, 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'; and, 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'.

I have spent a number of years inquiring in 'the good old Scots gardens' and elsewhere. I have been able to find old cultivars surviving. However, every year, I have been told of plants or collections grubbed out 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.

Members of PlantNetwork may have surviving Scots Roses in the gardens in their care. It is worth pointing out that 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 as survivals of a little-known historic horticultural phenomenon and fashion. I would be most grateful for answers to any of the following questions:

Do you currently have any Scots Roses in your garden's collection?
Do you have any record of Scots Roses having been in your collection?
Do you have any old nursery catalogues listing Scots Roses?
Do you have any other reference to Scots Roses in your archives?

Any information gratefully received!

If you can supply a photograph of any Scots Roses that you want identified, I may be able to suggest a name.

Peter D A Boyd

Collections Manager,

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



For more information about Scots Roses see:

Boyd, P D A (2005). 'A Personal Crusade in Search of Scots Roses'. Rosenjahrbuch 2005, Germany. http://www.peterboyd.com/rosapimp6.htm

Boyd, P D A (2005). 'Scots Roses for Scottish gardens'. The Scottish Garden, spring 2005.

Boyd, P D A (2004). 'Scots Roses in Europe and the Europa-Rosarium at Sangerhausen in Germany'. NCCPG Shropshire Group Newsletter, autumn 2004. See http://www.peterboyd.com/sangerhausen04.htm

Boyd, P D A (2004). 'Mary McMurtrie, painter of Scots Roses'. Historic Rose Journal Royal National Rose Society. No. 28 , autumn 2004 p.7. See http://www.peterboyd.com/mcmurtrie.htm

Boyd, P D A (2004). 'Scots Roses: a new look at an exuberant group of old roses'. Historic Rose Journal Royal National Rose Society. No 28, autumn 2004, pp 2-11. See http://www.peterboyd.com/rosapimp3.htm

McMurtrie, M (1998). Scots Roses of Hedgerows and Wild Gardens. Antique Collectors' Club Ltd., Woodbridge.


PlantNetwork is the national network of botanic gardens, arboreta and other documented plant collections; promoting botanical collections in Britain and Ireland as a national resource for research, conservation and education; facilitating networking and training among holders of plant collections through a programme of conferences and workshops and a regular newsletter.



See Scots Roses and other Pimpinellifolias for other papers on Scots Roses by Peter Boyd



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Revised: August 28th 2006.