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When the British came to India, in the 17th century, originally as a trading company- the East India Company – their ships from China, carrying merchandise –tea and opium- to England would stop over at Calcutta on India's east coast. Most of these ships carried live plants including roses, and they would be kept in the Botanical Garden in Howrah, near Calcutta, to recover before their onward journey to England. This botanical garden was started by Sir William Roxburgh in 1793. His book, 'Flora Indica" published in 1832 mentions many rose species as growing in the garden. Many would have come from China, as did 'Fortune's Double Yellow' and other Chinas and early Teas. Quite a number of these are still available in old nurseries and Viru and I are systematically collecting all these old roses – all name-less!
R. roxburghii has been named in his honour.
Indeed, according to one version, R. laevigata –your 'Cherokee Rose' - was introduced into the U.S. by the East India Company in 1759.
Indeed, import of roses from China must have started much before the days of the East India Company by the land route- the Silk Route- and by sea during the heyday of the Chola dynasty of South India (1000 C.E.).
Even today there are a number of 'mystery' roses that do not appear to be what came from China to the Calcutta Botanical Garden. An interesting example is the red rose used widely today in garlands.
Another is the white rose of Vijayanagar mentioned earlier. Which must obviously have been a Chinese import as it was used on a very large scale during the festival of Dussehra which falls in October. Clearly, a repeat flowering white rose.
Sadly, even more recent introductions have been lost, like the fascinating double form of R. clinophylla mentioned as common in northern India by Rev. Firminger, in the 1900's.
From trade, the East India Company metamorphosed into a colonial power, fighting local kingdoms and annexing vast tracts of land so that by the 1900's India was ruled by the King of England.
One such king, in the deep south of India that the British fought and vanquished, was Tipu Sultan, a Muslim king who ruled the state of Mysore from 1749 – 1799. Tipu was a great lover of plants and especially of roses, and he named his garden 'Lal- Bagh', which means the Red Garden, because of its huge beds of red roses. We surmise that they must have been repeat- flowering Chinas, as the hot summers and very mild winters would have killed any once flowering varieties.
The British, as indeed other Europeans – we had the French, the Dutch and the Portuguese annexing territories in India- were great botanists, and they plant-collected all over the country. R.clinophylla (called R. involucrata then) was sent to Roxburgh in Calcutta by Francis Buchanan Hamilton in 1803. There is an interesting description in 'The Book of Roses- A Rose Fancier's Manual' (1838) by a Mrs. Gore: I quote 'The parched shores of the Gulf of Bengal are covered, during the spring, with a beautiful rose, found also in China and Nepal. The flowers of the Rosa involucrata are white, solitary, surrounded with a collar of three or four leaves, out of which they seem to emerge; while in the vast thicket of the beautiful Rosa semperflorens (a native also of China) the tigers of Bengal and crocodiles of the Ganges are known to lie in wait for their prey'. This is similar to what the French rosarian Boitard said in his 'Manuel Complet' (1836).
R.gigantea, the 'Empress of Roses' as Graham Stuart Thomas called it, was discovered by Sir George Watt, Surveyor General to the British India Government, in 1882 in Manipur in north- east India. But it was introduced by General Sir Henry Collett in 1888 from Burma, who sent seeds to the Calcutta Botanical Garden, which in turn sent them to Kew and to Monsieur Crepin, the taxonomist in Brussels.
The period of British rule (1600-1947) also saw the establishment of great rose collections. One of the most outstanding was Sims Park in Coonoor in the Nilgiri Mountains of southern India, established in 1874. Even as late as the 1950s this garden boasted of a comprehensive collection of many of the early Hybrid Teas, including a large number of the Pernet hybrids. I still recall the excitement with which I beheld for the first time, in 1951, the blooms of the golden yellow 'Julien Potin'. There were many others like the excellent specimens of the bicolor 'Condesa de Sastago', the famous American H.T. 'Talisman', and the creamy yellow and red 'Rev. F. Paige Roberts' (H.T. 1921) An impressive garden feature was the giant standards of the H.T.'President Macia'- enormous flowers in shell pink, but yet endowed with an amazing elegance, no doubt the gift of its immediate parent, 'Ophelia'. I still grow it and it can be found flowering happily in many an otherwise neglected garden in our hills.
The same Nilgiri Mountains had a fantastic collection of over 1500 roses owned by the Maharaja of Pitapuram, a princely state in the 1940's.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, the famous British architect who designed the Viceregal Lodge in Delhi in the early 20th century (which later became the President of India's official residence) also designed and laid out, around it, a magnificent Mughal style formal garden which boasted an array of roses. This garden is open to the public every spring.
Soon after India gained Independence, in 1947, a spanking new capital was built for the state of Punjab in north India by the well- known French architect, le Corbusier and a beautiful 30 acre rose garden laid out. This is now called 'The Zakir Hussain Rose Garden' named after a President of India who was a connoisseur of roses. A feature of this garden, commented upon rapturously by the English author Hazel le Rougetel talks of her sitting in the shade of the climbing Noisette, 'Marechal Niel'.
Much more recently, in 1995, was started the Centenary Rose Park in Ootacamund in the same Nilgiri Mountains mentioned earlier, which has over 2000 varieties, mainly modern roses.
You would have seen photographs of some of these gardens in the Exhibition mounted by Clair.
The rose movement in India gathered strength with the establishment of many rose societies including the doyen of them all, the Rose Society of India, in Delhi. An apex body, the Indian Rose Federation, representing these societies, was founded in 1978 and a rose annual, which highlights developments in the rose world, both Indian and global, is published in time for the annual national rose convention held every January.
One outstanding innovation which contributed to the growth of the rose movement, was the 'Polybag' method of rose propagation, which was the brain child of Mr. N.A. Joshi, an engineer, not a horticulturist, of Western India. A flow chart showing how this is done is in the Exhibition. Without exaggeration, some millions of roses have been budded by this method. May I add that planting roses dispatched bare-root in the tropical warmth of India is a heartbreaking experience for most rosarians, and so the polybag method was very timely indeed.
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