Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Roses of Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado

I spent 12 years tromping this lovely 260 acre historic cemetery founded in 1890 and over that time with the help of folks taking my tours found and catalogued 77 varieties of roses, not counting Moderns and Minis. I helped the folks there, along with Jo An Cullen, to create a collection of many around the lovely Victorian gazebo, and submitted detailed annual reports. My friend Michael Mowry was invaluable in his dedication to helping me photograph specimens there over MANY a sleep-deprived morning. Sadly, I was informed two years ago that after the departure of yet another director of public affairs that ALL of those reports were missing. I will now and then list here some of the reports I gave them but will not list the locations of the roses as when I did, a board member there despite my warnings, had roses dug up to be moved to the gazebo.....which killed some cases they were the ONLY specimen. Since I dearly loved (and love) those roses that were a centerpiece of my life for twelve years, I won't share data that could further endanger those that remain. Despite the objections of world famous rosarians, that same board member convinced the board to ban visitors from taking cuttings to root at home to increase their numbers to help insure their survival as had been done for many many decades. Since the Fairmount board's ACTUAL concern for the roses as demonstrated by real world action vs. words can easily be questioned, I agree with the many rosarians who called that year for civil disobedience by discreetly taking cuttings to make sure those stunning gems survive both time and political machinations seemingly stemming from a primary focus of tax-emempt status vs. truly caring for the roses as I did and do. See below the balance of a report (now lost) that I submitted to the board in 2003.

Balance of 2002 Roses of Fairmount and Riverside Report

Hi Nancy,

As promised I am providing the balance of my report on the roses at both cemeteries, along with my invoice for the tour I was asked to lead last June.

1. At my expense last year I sent cuttings of approx. 24 more varieties of the roses of Fairmount to 3 growers in Utah, Texas and Colorado as additional insurance against the extinction of any more varieties due to raspberry cane borer (now assaulting “Sister Knight Species”), landscape crews, herbicide applications and due to the public last year suddenly being denied its traditional century old role as an invaluable ally in the preservation of the wonderful roses at both cemeteries. I will not being asking to be reimbursed for those costs nor the time involved in gathering, processing, packaging or mailing them.

2. “Study names” were at last chosen for all 4 seemingly heirloom red Hybrid Teas I have found, catalogued and photographed at Fairmount. Comparisons so far indicate none are ‘Crimson Glory’ and a 5th was determined to be a somewhat modern red HT.

3. A board member theorized last year that the reason so many roses at both cemeteries can’t be identified was due to “120 years of exposure to high altitude UV”. But even if either cemetery had been open that long, there is no evidence, anecdotal or scientific, that UV radiation causes roses or other plants to “sport” (mutate). Plus such sports do not displace entire original plants but are individual branches, such as the pink sport discovered on a plant of ‘Dr. Huey’ at the south end of Fairmount 3 years ago. Instead it is simply a question of continued dedicated studies at Fairmount leading to the identification of the Mystery Roses at Fairmount as I have undertaken the last dozen years, aided by fellow rosarians fascinated by and commited to them. Last year was a watershed year in that effort, with visiting California rosarian Marlea Graham either directly confirming, (or providing crucial leads) that:

“Mae Fair Pink” is in fact the rootstock rose R. Manettii

“Fairmount Ragged Robin” is in fact Ragged Robin

“Fairmount Gruss an Teplitz” is in fact Gruss an Teplitz

All of these roses are associated with mild climates i.e. southern California so each year rosarians would hesitate to make those conclusions. Yet after her notion for “Mae Fair Pink” (which has stumped everyone for years) I used digital photographs sent on the internet plus a plant of R. manettii sent me to receive confirmation from some of the best rosarians that her seemingly odd hunch based on her familiarity with R. manetti in mild climate settings WAS on target

4. I have confirmed again with America’s top rose breeder Tom Carruth that Mystery Roses at cemeteries and elsewhere can NOT be renamed and patented for resale for profit as they are pre-existing varieties. I had hoped that this could be a source of in come for the preservation of the roses at Fairmount but plant patent lawns clearly prohibit it. All that can be done is for them to sold under their study names as Mystery Roses to increase their numbers and spread the recogntion of the Fairmount name. Perhaps growers selling them might agree to donate a portion of each sale, but patenting and renaming would be unethical and illegal. The notion that they are all radiation-induced mutants capable of being patented is a false one that the Fairmount Heritage Foundation would be ill-advised to follow through on.

5. While I may be in Denver to pursue business and rose studies this summer, I cannot project any dates with certainty that would allow me to conduct tours of and for Fairmount as in so many years past. Special provisions would need to be made to enable my schedule to coincide with the peak bloom times of mid June.

6. It is increasingly possible that the vigorous plant I found of ‘Peace’ near a 1948 headstone is in fact a specimen of the long sought after original strain of ‘Peace’ sold before it was weakened by decades of over-propagation. And it seems the cuttings obtained by a skilled plant propagator are in fact thriving in that greenhouse Since author/lecturer/rosarian Bill Grant has proposed that the traditional date dividing Old Roses from Modern Roses be moved up from 1867 (the year ‘La France’ was introduced) to 1945 (the year ‘Peace’ was introduced into commerce) finding and cloning from one of those original plants sold would be in valuable. Last June I showed this plant to several rosarians and we all agreed that due to the vigor of the plant, its apparent longevity in that spot, with its base nearly integrated with the base of the headstone, and that tantalizing death date of 1948, there is cause to be hopeful.

7. Heather Campbell at High Country Roses in Utah continues to be a valuable ally in my efforts to increase the numbers of the best roses at both cemeteries off site, and this year should have a few more available to the public. In 2001 I sent her cuttings from Riverside knowing that none there had ever been cloned off site and it is thrilling to know that Toni Tichy’s lovely discoveries “Beulah Blakely” and “Obrecht” are now finding safe haven in the gardens of rosarians and rose lovers. I have 3 testing here in Tampa as “longshots” and several in my Denver garden plus many are now thriving on the grounds of the Denver Zoo due to the foresight and dedication of Merle Moore, who a few years ago was entranced by the roses at both cemeteries when I gave him and a few other rosarians a private tour.

8. Studying and cataloguing and preserving Old Garden Roses is hard work that takes TIME and focus, and early on I ignored the admonition I kept receiving from a now-board member that I was seeing the same 6 varieties over and over year after year. With so many noted authors and rosarians now having visited Fairmount and Riverside and seeing why I was so enthralled with the richness of rose varieties and Mystery Roses and now aiding me actively in my ongoing efforts that will continue despite my now living in Florida, I am hopeful that the board of the Fairmount Heritage Foundation will perhaps this summer spend some time getting to know (and hopefully love as I do) the remarkable roses under their oversight and thus reverse the tragic decree barring the public from taking cuttings that so alarmed high caliber rosarians within and outside of Colorado as it embodied the antithesis of Old Rose preservation. Maybe even a few board members will take cuttings and root them for their gardens.

9. In 2001Frank and Mary Sue asked me to commit June 16, 2002 to lead an abbreviated tour of Fairmount for the usual fee of $150. Please accept this line in this report as my invoice for having returned to Denver from Tampa and meeting that commitment and also providing detailed handouts to the tour-goers. My address is:

John Starnes

3212 West Paxton Avenue

Tampa, FL 33611

10. I have made provisions that photographs be taken of a few remaining varietes at Fairmount in June, and possibly all at Riverside by Colorado photographer Michael Mowry who has with great dedication and no pay allocated the last 3 sleep deprived Junes to cataloging the Fairmount roses just after sunrise on countless sleepy mornings. I have also made provisions to insure more cuttings be taken of key varieties not yet cloned off site, in particular the remarkable “Fairmount Red Damask” that Fred Boutin and Marlea Graham and Brent Dickerson all suspect is a crucial early Bourbon or early Hybrid Perpetual stemming directly from the Damask Perpetuals. It is perhaps one of top 3 discoveries made at Fairmount

11. Despite many hours buried in books and many repeat visits to Fairmount in late June and early July, I have yet to devise an effective study name for the extremely enigmatic plants that Michael and I discovered last year that closely echo “Fairmount Excelsa” yet are very clearly different...based on my spending 2 weeks with author Stephen Scanniello who in 1998 was the curator of the Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, using his and other books, and photographs I took on that remarkable trip with him seeing cemeteries MUCH older than Fairmount ( 1700's ) I keep returning to the notion that these 3 plants we photographed last year in fact contains traces of the species R. soulieana...on that basis I am succumbing to the urge to name them “Fairmount Chevy Chase”. That whole era that produced ‘Excelsa’ and ‘Dorothy Perkins’ and their ilk also produced a number of EXCEPTIONALLY similar hybrids, all stunted into dwarfdom by Colorado’s harsh winters. But since with the help of many rosarians over many years it was finally confirmed that the non-climbing mounds of pink roses all over Fairmount in July were in fact ‘Dorothy Perkins’ (which is a rampant rambler in mild winter regions like Seattle and Tennessee and England) I am hopeful that continued work by myself and others will solve this new intriguing mystery that illuminates once again the singularly spectacular treasure trove of roses that Fairmount and Riverside together offer the world.


John Starnes


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