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Parsons, John

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Rose discoverer   Listing last updated on 08 Jul 2020.
The Elms
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
United Kingdom
John Parsons, Esq. (1722 - April 4, 1798 Rickmansworth)

[From "Architecture of the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Rickmansworth", February 2008, p.2-3:] "Finally, in the church grounds you will find the Rickmansworth Rose. Until the late 18thcentury, the only roses grown in England werespecies that flowered just once a year. However, in 1789, the first specimens of a repeat-flowering rose plant from China arrivedin England.This rose, with a soft-pink, semi-double flower, was called the 'Monthly Rose' - it can flower in every month of the year. Sir Joseph Banks, the famous plant collector, and James Lee of the Vineyard Nursery in London, both attempted to cultivate the rose without success. It was in the garden of John Parsons in Rickmansworth that the rose first flowered in England. Presumably the sheltered position and damp micro-climate helped!
John Parsons, the son of a wealthy London brewer, was born in 1722. After the death of his father in 1741, he spent much time in Paris, accompanied by his mother and his two sisters. It may have been there or when she was performing at Covent Garden that he first set eyes on Domitilla Camperini, younger sister of ‘La Barberina’ [actually: Barbara Campanini (June 7, 1721 Parma - June 7, 1799 Barschau)], one of the most famous 18th Century Ballet dancers, and herself a dancer. At all events, they married, and settled in Rickmansworth in 1784, making their home at ‘The Elms’, now part of St Joan of Arc R.C. School.
We do not know how Parsons obtained his rose. As a wealthy man, he may have had Money invested in the East India Company, which traded with China, or he may have had it from Thomas Bates Rous, a director of the Company, who lived at Moor Park. European rose enthusiasts were most impressed by the rose, though it was not showy by modern standards.
Henry Andrews, the botanist, thought that it was 'one of the greatest ornaments ever introduced to the country'.
The rose, known as 'Parsons' Pink China' was used extensively in the 19th century for breeding purposes and almost every rose grown today that is not a native species rose owes something to John Parsons' rose. Domitilla died in 1796 and John followed her two years later. Their remains were placed in a vault beneath the old St Mary’s Church and a memorial tablet erected, which is still in the church, though it has clearly been moved during the 19th-century rebuilding of St Mary's
from its original site.
Parsons' rose is still cultivated today, under the name of 'Old Blush'. Three specimens of the rose have been obtained and planted in the church garden, two near the tower and one in the cloister behind the wall on which the Parsons memorial has been placed. These may serve as mementoes of John and Domitilla, and to their unknown gardener, to whom no doubt much of the credit for the flowering of the rose is due.
This piece is based on an article by Jane Kilpatrick, which appeared in the Rickmansworth Historical Society Newsletter [Issue No. 63]."

[From "Gifts from the Gardens of China", by Jane Kilpatrick, 2007]

[From "An Unlikely Vineyard" by Deirdre Heekin, 2014, p.258:] "...The first mention of this rose actually as Parson's Pink China in England occurs in 1793 when it was being grown at Rickmansworth in the gardens of Mr. Parson. Such was ist Impact on gardening in England that by 1823 it was said to be in every cottage garden in the country. Parson's Pink China appears to have been officially introduced into English horticulture in 1793 by Sir Joseph Banks, then director of the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens in London, and was most likely collected near Canton by Sir George Staunton, a member of Lord Macartney's embassy in China in 1792. James Colville propagated and sold it under the name of Pale China Rose and later it acquired the name Old Blush."
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