Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Roses of Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado

Michael Mowry in Tampa

Me with a Fairmount Rose

Toni Tichy with her Riverside find 'Josephine Bruce'

Marlea Graham with "Fairmount Ragged Robin"

Marlea Graham with "Fairmount Flouncy Pink"

Marlea Graham with "Caswell Pink"

"Fairmount American Pillar" by Michael Mowry

"Fairmount American Pillar" by Michael Mowry

"Jo An's Pink Perpetual" in Tampa

"Fairmount Proserpine" by Michael Mowry

"Mae Fair Pink" (since ID'd as the rootstock Manetii)

"Mae Fair Pink"

"Fairmount Red" by Michael Mowry

"Alice Flores Purple Hybrid China"
by Michael Mowry

When I rode my bicycle on a lovely June day in 1989 through the park-like beauty of Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, I had no idea it would soon be changing my life and that as a result I’d be haunting those 260 acres for the next 12 years. In the last year I’d had an epiphany as an organic landscaper and begun using own root Old Roses in my Tampa and Denver clients’ yards and thus got in the habit of noticing them in my travels. So some distance from me as I pedaled there was a forlorn-looking shrub laden with sultry magenta-red blooms interspersed in between dead canes and lusty thriving ones. "Fairmount Red" I called it and I was smitten.

A couple weeks later I went back with kelp and fish and cottonseed meals in my back pack and fed it after pruning away all the dead wood and shaping it. Noting that lawn mowers had nuked the many suckers that had been coming up in nearby sod, plus weed whackers had buzzed the base back to near the headstone, I "stole" a sucker that had survived the mayhem and till I moved away in 2002 that clone not only made me swoon every June in my south hedge of roses, it was a crucial breeder for me. "Fairmount Red" LOVED that feeding and leapt into growth....2 years later after a second such feeding its arching length matched that of my 1985 Nissan pick up truck! But the feeding had a negative consequence...the blooms lost most of their oxblood tones and became so magenta that when I led tours of Fairmount for the Denver Botanic Gardens people asked why I had named it "Fairmount RED"!

At first I "snuck" into Fairmount Cemetery to look for other Mystery Roses, take notes and photograph them, suspecting my passion would not be understood by the folks running the place...and I was right. One day as I snapped photos with my long lense 35 mm camera, a very stern landscape foreman, alerted by a worker with a walkie talkie, drove up quickly and inquired suspiciously what I was up to. He seemed both baffled and relieved by my answer, explaining that the cemetery grounds also attracted some folks with steamier passions than roses and had been found engaging in a number of unmentionable acts alone or with "playmates" behind headstones. So by contrast my rose obsession seemed odd but benign! He drove off and the balance of that summer got used to seeing me there very often, clutching camera and notepad.
By the end of that same summer I had met Jo An Cullen, a high-energy, high-fashion colorful woman who was head of public affairs at Fairmount and had already begun having her new favorites dug up each fall by the crews and planted in a central area where she hoped some day to see a formally declared preservation garden of Fairmount’s roses. Tall, stately, matriarchal, crafty and irreverently funny, she was determined that president Frank Hegner and the board come to share her love of the roses. So we became fast allies as I continued my discovery and cataloguing efforts. Frank and his wife, who been using the roses as subjects in a drawing class at the Denver Botanic Gardens, attended a presentation I gave there about these roses and soon I was leading annual tours each June. I will always treasure the memories of half a dozen years of dragging people from bush to bush across the sprawling property, noting folks’ favorites and their astonishment at the potencies and qualities of fragrances each rose shared with hungry noses. They LOVED it that Jo An welcomed all to take cuttings to root for their home gardens.
A very nice by-product of my leading these tours was students making discoveries as I would lead folks on short cuts from one bush to the next....I had gotten so close to the subject that I literally was not seeing the forest for the rose trees, some "Banshee types" reaching 15 feet in height. Several times I would marvel at how MANY times I had walked RIGHT past a rose and not noticed it whereas a first time tour taker would call out "what about this one?". Of course, being obsessive by nature, I’d get into a froth and have the fun of shared group discovery and first time examination of a new rose find, with us often devising a study name right there on the spot.

Alice Flores did exactly that when I took her there for a couple of hours before she had to fly out after speaking at the Heritage Rose Foundation conference in Denver in 1997 that Bill Campbell and I had co-hosted. She found a stunning purple Hybrid China, an Alba-Damasky thing and several others by high tailing it right towards the south end after I had spent years largely combing the north end. It is funny to recall now, but I HAD to be back at the conference, and we got separated and time was running out....I felt like Jackie Gleason bellowing out "ALICE! ALICE! ALICE!" vainly trying to find her. Well I did, and she was levitating at her discoveries, saying she’d love to come back one summer, pitch a tent and have it. It was a thrill to have her plus Stephen Scanniello, Mike Shoup and others in attendance take my tour and offer their thoughts as to ID’s on some of my finds, such as "Fairmount Malton" plus "Fairmount Flouncy Pink" and "Mae Fair Pink" both of which badly stumped everyone.

Over the years I was blessed by visits from Marlea Graham, Bill Grant, Fred Boutin and Clair Martin, a Weeks Roses representative, plus a ‘Fine Gardening’ editor that not only helped me better understand these lovely enigmas, but also to spread the word of this massive mother lode of OGRs and Mystery Roses that periodically suffered heart breaking loses due to rogue landscaping activitities.

The powers-that-be at Fairmount have a mixed record of preserving these living treasures....creating a wonderful gazebo garden collection of them as I found and catalogued them, the autumn 1997 "massacre" of hundreds of them all over the 260 acres against my advice, which led to new growth being killed by winter and a subsequent 2 year set back for most of them, printing a lovely book about the roses of Fairmount Cemetery, reversing Jo An’s invitation to continue the tradition of visitors taking cuttings to root by banning this in 2002 against my counsel, hers, and dozens of renowned rosarians who wrote and faxxed in protest, promoting the roses in their historical tours, killing roses with herbicides and transplanting them against advice, repeat mowings till dead, and hiring me to do a lengthy consultation for the landscape crew and that foreman who "caught" me being a Peeping Tom years before!
With neighbors and tour takers no longer being able to take cuttings, the effort to clone these roses to increase their numbers and thus reduce the likelihood of extinction was hurt badly. I was told a powerful new board member had made a massive donation and insisted the practice cease...well, as they say, money talks. (But I’ve been told that some dedicated rosarians have undertaken "guerilla actions" and made clones of key cultivars after I moved back home to Tampa in 2002.)

Heather Campbell at High Country Roses has been a wonderful ally in my efforts to see these roses, plus those discovered by Toni Tichy at Riverside Cemetery (owned by Fairmount Corporation) cloned and made available to the public. In 2001 I mailed Heather cuttings of all the best and/or remontant roses from both cemeteries. A few years alter I had the nostalgic thrill of giving a seminar at a large Colorado nursery and seeing tray after tray of "Fairmount Red", "Fairmount Proserpine", "Beulah Blakely" and others all for sale in High Country’s pots!! What a ripple effect that June 1989 bicycle ride had triggered!
By the time I left Denver that one last time, 77 Old Roses and Mystery Roses had been found and catalogued, and all recorded by Denver photographer and friend Michael Mowry...he and I spent many a bleary-eyed June mornings trying to catalogue them all in peak bloom, recording images of shrub, leaves and blooms. Many discoveries happened as we tromped about, our finding "Fairmount Chevy Chase", ‘Careless Love’, "Fairmount Condesa de Sastago" and others by accident as we passed between rows of ornate head stones. Classes found there include Hybrid Perpetuals, Gallicas, Damasks, Bourbons, China Hybrids and Hybrid Chinas, Hybrid Multifloras, Hybrid Wichurianas, Mosses, Hybrid Eglanterias, Albas, various "Banshee things", plus some oddballs that stumped all.
Folks from afar like Mel Hulse and Kim Rupert solved the VERY longstanding enigma of "Mae Fair Pink", its species-ey look baffling many a visiting rosarian...when I visited Bill Grant in 2001, Mel gave me a plant of Rosa manettii after Kim had suggested that ID....Kim was RIGHT! But with it being considered a mild climate rootstock, it has never occured to anyone it could be the "Mae Fair Pink" at Fairmount and scattered around metro Denver in yards where winters can dip to 20 degrees below zero farenheit! My last find, up near Alameda Avenue, is likely either a Portland or, as Fred Boutin suggests, an early archetypal Bourbon from the Ragged Robin/Proserpine clan. And that is the one rose there I had NOT cloned before I moved away...I MUST remedy that!
So visit Denver some June, and along with the mountain panorama, intoxicate your soul with sumptuous peonies, stately bearded iris, and the sea of Old Roses rippling waves of color and perfume across a 260 tree-filled preserve dating to 1890. Take notes and photos, share your thoughts with me, and if a few cuttings somehow end up in your purse or camera bag, I won’t tell!

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