Friday, July 1, 2011

roses' other names

In recent years, my visits to our Idaho 'vacation' home -- an old farmhouse on 40 acres (no mule) -- have been in June and December. This has meant that I miss the showiest spring flowers: forsythia, daffodil, oriental poppy, lilac, rose, peony, tulip, iris. On two May visits over ten years ago, however, I saw blooms on the single (e.g., five-petaled) roses that had grown forever outside Alice's bedroom window. They were stunning. Both yellow and red-orange flowers grew on the same branches, and one of the neighbors told me that the variety was called Joseph's Coat. Naturally I yearned to see them again.

Thanks to an unusually cool and rainy spring, there were a few Joseph's Coat blooms still hanging on when I arrived on June 11 this year. This was both good and bad news. Good because I could see them again, bad because my number-one 'vacation' chore on this visit was to dig the old roses away from the foundation so that our older son could paint that side of the house. It was definitely not the proper season for pruning roses, but this had to be done, and the plant had certainly survived the drastic trimmings I'd given it in recent Junes.

I happily picked a yellow bud and a couple of full-blown red-orange flowers for a table bouquet that would give me a chance to watch the color changes closely along with our six-year-old granddaughter. I assiduously searched the Internet for Joseph's Coat roses, and found many references to a variety developed in 1964. It was described as 'variegated,' and was a climbing rose, but the photos showed a many-petaled 'floribunda' variety. Another Joseph's Coat rose, only available from Gurney's as far as I could tell, was a double (not single) rose with red (not yellow) buds that turned yellow and then back to a coral phase in between.

Good thing I called Steve's cousin Robert about another matter. He was about to leave town so couldn't get together as I'd hoped, but when I told him I was cutting back the Joseph's Coat rose he set me straight. In fact, Robert had helped Alice (Steve's mother) find the original plant sometime in the early 80's, and gone with her to dig it out of someone else's garden since it wasn't available in any local nursery. Its name was Austrian Copper, not Joseph's Coat, and Robert thought Alice had donated a start of it to the heirloom rose section at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

After having assumed that I was working with a rose that had been in place since the early 1940's, when Steve's parents moved into the farmhouse, I was astounded to learn that it was less than 30 years old. And, googling Austrian Copper at last, I was disabused of many other preconceptions.

Rosa foedita bicolor, commonly known as Austrian Copper, is a species (not hybrid) rose, which means it will grow wild and reproduce from seed. It has been growing in the Caucasus since sometime before 1590. I thought that all roses came from China to England with the eminent botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820), but in fact the wild ones grew on all continents as far back as the 12th century.

In spite of spending so much time on the Internet while in Idaho, I managed to finish cutting back Alice's beloved Austrian Copper rose. A few shoots are standing about a foot from the wall. I'd like to transplant them to more appropriate spots next spring before they get too large to handle.

Now our older son will be able to patch and paint the foundation, then scrape, prime, and paint the clapboards antique pearl with cinnamon cherry trim around the windows. Next spring, Austrian Copper will stand tall, but not so close, against its new background, and I will look at heirloom roses at the Idaho Botanic Garden.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License