From the Newsletter of the Heritage Rose Foundation, October, 2017. pp 10-15.
'Arnold' — From Acclaim to Obscurity
"He was so modest. It wasn't until decades later I was to learn what an important part he himself had played in raising these plants." — Betty Blossom Johnston, from a profile she published in Horticulture magazine in 1957 about her grandfather, the rose hybridizer Jackson Thornton Dawson. Horticulture had eulogized Dawson as the 'Walt Whitman of horticulture" in 1916.
Case for a D-Lister
The most celebrated roses do at least one of two things: innovate or illuminate. So, 'Peace', the ultimate Alister, reset the course of Hybrid Teas and told a poignant tale of survival and hope during World War II. 'Knock Out', 'La France', 'Champneys' Pink Cluster' and a handful of others get a seat at the VIP table.
If those are the celebrities of the genus Rosa, then the little-known 'Arnold' is a D-lister. Yet 'Arnold' has a lot in common with 'Peace' and its peers: It may have been the first major Hybrid Rugosa; it is a namesake of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum, once the site of a rose program as ambitious as the Roseraie de L'Haÿ; and its origin story features what may have been America's first botanical garden (at Harvard College in 1672), and the American Civil War.
[Photo doesn't paste here]
Herbarium specimen of 'Arnold'
If that weren't enough, 'Arnold' appears to have lived a double life in Europe under the name 'America'. As the flagship cultivar of Harvard's new breed of American roses, 'Arnold' arrived in England in 1892 on the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World. Nurseryman George Paul gave it a new name to match the occasion (Darlington 1915).
In counterpoint to its story, 'Arnold' is simple. Like 'Champneys' Pink Cluster', or Knock Out®, it has a modest number of petals arranged simply — though in 2002 its brilliant shades of crimson and green inspired the Journal of the American Medical Association to rhapsodize about it as a stand-in for the mythical Christmas Rose (Leet 2002).
Still, 'Arnold' is a no-name rose, despite a soap-opera-worthy narrative.
The Rise and Fall of Harvard's Rose Empire
In 1851, historian Francis Parkman, Jr. was ill. Blinding migraines, shot knees, crippling depression. His wife offered a suggestion: "with all your getting get roses." Parkman's rose garden helped him recover (Whitehill 1973) and he became one of America's leading experts on the genus, publishing The Book of Roses between installments of his seven-volume France and England in North America.
A decade later, the militaristic writer had to sit out the Civil War. But he got a consolation prize: several crates of Asian flora — the first shipment of plants to New England from Japan, including species never before seen in the West (Spongberg 1993). The stash had been intended for another horticulturist who joined the Union Army. Parkman began hybridizing his windfall, selling his Lilium parkmanii to an English collector for $1,000.
Soon Parkman found a disciple — a propagator so gifted that his peers had to borrow from music, poetry, and the dark arts to describe him (Allen 1891). Jackson Thornton Dawson began working for Parkman in 1871 at Harvard, recalling forty years later how Parkman introduced him to newly discovered and disregarded Asian roses (Archives 1911). Sometime before the mid 1880s (Falconer 1888), Dawson bred tens of thousands (Blossom 1957) of hybrids of Rosa rugosa. Only two, a pink and a crimson, had commercial merit. But he hoped their care-free nature would revolutionize rose gardening. The fully-double pink rose was stolen. The other would become 'Arnold' (Dawson 1902).
Dawson would adore his 'Arnold' until the end of his life, writing just a few years before his death that "when the sun shines on the Arnold rose the eyes are quite dazzled" (Dawson 1911). He particularly valued its rich fragrance, perpetual bloom, and vigor. C. S. Sargent, the director of the Arnold Arboretum also admired 'Arnold', rating it as "perhaps the showiest rose in the shrub collection" (Sargent 1919).
After a long period of circulation among collectors, Dawson's Hybrid Rugosa won recognition from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1892 (Society 1892). Perhaps encouraged by the award, Sargent sent Dawson's rose to Europe (Darlington 1915), where Rosa rugosa and a set of its recent hybrids had begun selling. An English nursery christened it 'America' and introduced it. 'America' quickly earned a reputation as one of the best roses of its era in Europe (Société 1912).
For a moment, it looked like the same success would occur back home. In 1893, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society awarded Dawson's rose its highest honor for hybridization (Mass. 1893) and Sargent made it the namesake of the arboretum (Rehder 1922). As much as 22 years after being hybridized, 'Arnold' finally entered commerce in the US, the same year Parkman died.
By that time, Dawson had also already won awards for the first Hybrid Wichuranas and arguably the first Hybrid Multifloras bred from the species type (Whitacre 2015). Dawson became such an authority that Liberty Hyde Bailey invited him to write about his rose program for the Cyclopedia of American Horticulture. In the same vein, Dawson's colleagues at the Arnold Arboretum seized the highest superlatives for rose taxonomy (Rowley 1959) and the discovery of new species, while Sargent promised immortality (for at least a thousand years) to anyone who would fund a rose garden with every rose in existence in it.
[Photo doesn't paste here]
Postcard of 'Arnold'
Then more than a century of bad luck began. 'Arnold' bombed in the US, where it would take another decade for Rosa rugosa to be appreciated by gardeners. Dawson took it off the market, writing that "[his] hopes were dashed" (Dawson 1902). He reintroduced it in 1914 when it may have been as much as 43 years old. Unfortunately, 'Arnold' managed to be both too early and too late to the Hybrid Rugosa party. High praise for Dawson's rose quickly faded as the Hybrid Teas set the next trend. After Dawson's death, the Arnold Arboretum's own taxonomist, Alfred Rehder, published a Latin botanical description of 'Arnold' citing its date of origin as circa 1914 (Rehder 1922), following an error that had been spread by the American Rose Annual.
A generation later, even the existence of a rose breeding program at Harvard came into question. One of the Arnold Arboretum's own directors asserted that there had never been a rose breeding program there. Instead, 'Arnold' was simply a chance seedling that turned up one day in the living collections (Leet 2002).
The combination of three errors ensured that 'Arnold's would wait a hundred years before being considered for A-list status: false dates of hybridization and introduction; seeming lack of communication between George Paul and Sargent about 'Arnold' and 'America'; and the denial or downplaying of a rose breeding program that had been one of the most significant of any era. In evaluating the information available about 'Arnold', I use the simple standards "more likely than not," "possibly," and "unlikely."
Rosarians usually start the clock for Hybrid Rugosas with the French rose 'Mme. Georges Bruant', released in the winter 1887/88 catalog season. While most members of the class live on for garden value rather than order of introduction, 'Mme. Georges Bruant' proves the value of precedence. Yet, in January 1888, when Thomas Meehen's The American Garden announced the introduction of France's first significant rugosa hybrid, it also mentioned another member of the new class, in circulation for long enough to generate a reputation as the best of its kind...an unnamed crimson variety raised by Dawson (Falconer 1888). Assuming Dawson's account of his roses is correct, then this is probably 'Arnold'.
To give an idea of the trajectory of Dawson's roses from seedling to nursery catalog, Ellen Willmott named Dawson's Rosa x jacksonii after seeing it growing at Kew in 1897, three years before its commercial release. Dawson's own favorite creation, 'Sargent', entered circulation in 1903 and the market in 1912. The little-known 'Farquhar' may have been a parent of the similar 'Dorothy Perkins' despite being sold for the first time two years after it (Whitacre 2015).
Based on such circumstantial evidence and documents, 'Arnold' may be put forward as a candidate for first major rugosa hybrid, vying with 'Mme. Georges Bruant'.
By the same logic that 'Arnold' and the unnamed seedling from The American Garden are the same, 'Arnold' is probably also synonymous with 'America', one of the stars of turn-of-the-century gardens in Europe. 'America' had wide nursery distribution, featured in gardens such as the Roseraie de L'Haÿ, and is crowned in the French book The Most Beautiful Roses of the Early 20th Century, where its origin at "Haward University"[sic] is noted. When the British Royal National Rose Society published a retrospective on Hybrid Rugosas in its first annual in 1915, it recorded "Prof. Sargent of the Hartford Botanic Gardens" as the source and 1892 as the shipment date of 'America'. A reprint of the article indicated that "Hartford" was Harvard and that Sargent had in fact sent 'America' from the Arnold Arboretum rather than the Botanic Garden.
Every historical description of 'America' matches that of 'Arnold', raising the question of what rose Sargent sent in 1892, if not 'Arnold'. Dawson was the only person creating rose hybrids at Harvard and he emphasized that he only produced one rugosa shrub of value. The fact that 'America' arrived in Europe the same year that 'Arnold' won its first award supports the narrative that Sargent was showing off his rose program's first award-winner.
Another argument for synonymy requires seeing clues in the absence of them. Notably missing from European records — the name 'Arnold'. George Paul, his brother William Paul, Jules Gravereaux, and others in Europe had an obsession with Hybrid Rugosas. They bred them, sold them, and tried to collect them all. That none of them ever listed their close associate Sargent's most prized rose suggests that they didn't need to. They had it under the name 'America'.
But Sargent's silence prevents certainty — to put it in context, he also never corrected the American Rose Annual or his taxonomist Rehder when they wrote that 'Arnold' was created shortly before 1914...a far more crucial error.
[Photo doesn't paste here]
Legacy on the Down-Low
'Arnold' is just one piece of a monumental rose legacy at Harvard that weaves its way through major events in world history — the American Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution all the way back to Harvard's 1672 botanical garden, which itself was in part a result of the English Civil War. Correctly remembered, this association might add romance and luster to 'Arnold'. So it might be hard at first to understand how one of the Arnold Arboretum's own directors, Richard Howard, helped diminish it.
Horticulture magazine offers a window into Howard's thought process. According to a 1908 article by Rehder, every hybrid raised at the arboretum was a chance seedling, just as Howard said. There was just one exception: the roses (Rehder 1908). Unfortunately, Howard's slip is just a stand-in for a larger wave of forgetfulness. The Arnold Arboretum moved on to other projects and so did rose growers.
'Arnold' as Caveat
Whether 'Arnold' deserves to be placed beside 'Mme. Georges Bruant' as the first major example of a Hybrid Rugosa or whether it actually captured the fascination of European gardeners as 'America', it merits more attention than it has gotten in the hundred years since Dawson rereleased it. A quick glance at the rose literature of the past thirty years shows that the experts who still mention 'Arnold' often continue to repeat the false 1914 introduction date, fail to list Dawson as the first known American to produce Hybrid Rugosas, and ignore that it was the flagship rose of a program that set the stage for of rose breeding with cold-hardy Asian species like Rosa rugosa and R. wichurana. [Roses of America is the general exception; for examples of my point see Rosa rugosa from 1991 or The Old Rose Adventurer from 1999.]
If nothing else, the 'Arnold' story ought to serve as a case study for old rose collectors eager to flesh out the background of their own favorite roses. In other words, if a rose created at one of the worlds' foremost botanical institutions — one known for its record-keeping — could get so confused, expect it in other roses. ‘Arnold’ is a best-case scenario.
Allen, C.L. 1891. The Scientific Education of Gardeners. In Trans. of the Massachusetts Hort. Society.
Archives of the Arnold Arboretum. Newspaper clipping, “Plant wizard Dawson honored.” [circa 1911].
Archives of the Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries. Harvard Botanic Garden General History, Reports, Financials, Plant Records, and Plans.
Blossom, B. 1957. My most unforgettable character. Manuscript, Archives, The Arnold Arboretum.
Darlington, H. R. 1915. Rugosa Roses. The Royal National Rose Annual. 9: 31– 47.
------. 1917. Rugosa Roses. Journal of the International Garden Club. 1 (1): 219-35.
Dawson, J.T.1902. Some Recent Rose Hybrids. In the Cyclopedia of Amer. Horticulture (5th edition, pp. 1572- 1573). New York: Macmillan.
------. 1911. America's contribution to rose culture. Country Life in Amer. 20(4): 22-23,66.
Falconer, W. 1888. From Long Island. The American Garden. 9(2): 57.
Leet, J. 2002. Rosa arnoldiana. Journal of the Amer. Medical Association. 288(24):3082.
Massachusetts Horticultural Society. 1893. Transactions of the Mass. Hort Soc. Boston. p. 210.
Rehder, A. 1908. Arnold Arboretum Hybrids. Horticulture. December 12, 1908.
Rehder, A. 1922. New Species, Varieties and Combinations (Rosa). Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. 3: 11–18
Rowley, G.D. 1959. Some Naming Problems in Rosa. Bulletin du Jardin botanique de l'Etat a Bruxelles, Vol. 29, Fasc. 3 (Sep. 30, 1959), pp.205-211.
Sargent, C. S. 1919. Rosa Rugosa. Bulletin of Popular Information. 5(10): 37–39.
Société nationale d’horticulture de France. 1912. Plus belles roses au début du XXe siècle. Paris: C. Amat.
Society of American Florists. 1892. Proceedings from the Eighth Annual Convention. p. 128. Boston: Daniel Gunn and Co.
Spongberg, S. A. 1993. Exploration and Introduction of Ornamental and Landscape Plants from Eastern Asia. In: J. Janick and J. E. Simon (eds.), New Crops. Wiley, New York
Van Fleet, W. 1916. Possibilities in the Production of American Garden Roses. American Rose Annual. 1: 27–36
Whitacre, B. 2015. Filing a Missing Rose Claim: Jackson Dawson and the Arnold Rose. Arnoldia. 73(1): 17-27.
Whitehill, W.M. 1973. Francis Parkman as horticulturist. Arnoldia 33(3): 169- 185.