Over the holidays I’ve been planting new roses and thinking how nice it will be when they flower this summer…. that led to me to thinking about rose shows. If you’ve ever been to one then you have several Victorian clergymen to thank. One was the Rev Henry Honywood D’Ombrain about whom I wrote recently. You might be surprised to learn that the Rev.Henry had any time to spare after helping start gladi-mania, his ministry, his journalism, his gardening, hybridizing and exhibiting but the industriousness of Victorian gardening clerics was seemingly endless.
In December 1876 D’Ombrain and Canon Reynolds Hole called a meeting of rose enthusiasts at the Adelphi Terrace in London. There were 5 clergy amongst the 20 or so attendees.
“The proceedings were enthusiastic and unanimous” and as a result the National Rose Society was formed.
So who were these rose-loving vicars ?
Top of the list must be Reynolds Hole, then a canon of Lincoln Cathedral, but later Dean of Rochester who is probably the most well known of all the gardening clergymen of the Victorian age. Like D’Ombrain he seems to have been tireless, writing for the horticultural as well as the theological press, and rode to hounds, shot and fished with enthusiasm on a regular basis.
Hole was also a very keen gardener and rosarian in particular. He wrote of how one summer evening in 1846 his “eyes rested on a Rose” and then “read every book I could find on the rose, and every catalogue. If I heard of a garden in which roses were grown, I went to see – they were few and far between in those days, but I had youth and horses on my side, and I rode any distance.”
Before the establishment of the National Rose Society, along with nurserymen Thomas Rivers and William Paul, he had organized the first ever national rose show, at St James’s Hall, Piccadilly on 3 July 1858. Previously, he said rosarians “were only a contingent of Flora’s army – the rose was but an item of the general flower show. We were never called to the front.”
Exhibitors at this first show were divided into three classes: nurserymen, amateur (ie in the old sense of non-professional) rosarians with hired gardeners, and amateur rosarians without hired gardeners (which for the first time at this level allowed the working-class to enter on what might be considered fair terms). There were few exhibition rules so whilst most flowers were displayed in vases or bottles hidden by moss in a container, a few exhibitors inserted their cut stems into straws pushed into potatoes to keep the roses better hydrated, and others wired their blooms so they stayed upright instead of flopping naturally.
The 10,000 blooms on display had to compete with the Great Stench of London, but “they defied this adversary, they defied and defeated with their delicious perfume the foul smell which at that time invaded London from the Thames.” It was great success with 2,000 visitors.
The following year in the Hanover Square Rooms the rules began to be tightened: no potatoes, straws or beer bottles were allowed. The new venue was, as it turned out, soon equally overrun by visitors, and so in 1860 the show moved to the grander spacious surroundings of the Crystal Palace where 16,000 people paid their shilling to attend.
In 1861 the show was hosted by the Royal Horticultural Society in their newly opened gardens at Kensington, “and the weather being all that could be desired, and immense concourse of the wealth and fashion London assembled on the occasion,” including royalty. “Some notion may be formed of the magnitude of the collection from the fact that the cut roses extended over a space of 500 feet.” The crowds were entertained by the bands of the Lifeguards and the Coldstreams who performed “various pieces from the most popular operas.” The RHS continued to host the show until 1877.
Despite being the squire of his own village at Caunton near Newark, Hole was more than capable of overlooking class and money, especially where horticulture was concerned. “Not a soupcon of sympathy can I ever feel for the discomfiture of those Rose-growers who trust in riches.” The love of the rose was all.
He wrote wittily, if rather scathingly: about a wealthy would -be rose grower who claimed to have spared no expense or trouble over her roses without success: “You have taken no trouble which deserves the name: and as to expense, permit me to observe that your 50 roses trees cost you £4, and your sealskin jacket £20. You don’t serve beautiful roses, and you won’t have them until you love them more.” [A Book about Roses, p.10, where there are other similar anecdotes] Instead he delighted in judging shows and offering advice to anyone at all who was passionate about their gardening, especially their roses, as I will explain in another post soon.
A Book about Roses can be read on-line or downloaded at:
In his rectory at Caunton near Newark Hole grew more than 400 varieties of roses, and after he moved to Rochester, had 135 in the deanery garden. His favourite was the comparatively recently introduced Gloire de Dijon [bred by Jacotot in 1853] which “has symmetry, size, endurance, colour (five tints…), and perfume…good in every point for wall, arcade, pillar, standard, dwarf, en masse, or as a single”
Hole also edited the Gardener’s Annual for 1863, contributed to The Garden, founded by his friend William Robinson in 1871, and wrote several gardening books. A Book about Roses, How to Grow and Show Them (1869) ran through 15 editions before the end of the century, and clearly helped popularize the subject. It starts: “He who would have beautiful Roses in his garden must have beautiful Roses in his heart.” It was read and much admired by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Hole recalled in his memoirs how the laureate had written to him crowning him as “the Rose-King” and placing him on a “throne of purple sublimity.”
When William Paul, a co-founder of the Rose Society, named a rose Reynolds Hole, the Dean commented that “I did not think I should live to be described as a ‘splendid maroon dashed with crimson, large and globular, generally superb.’” Unfortunately it has not lasted as well in cultivation as that named for his wife.
Like Dean Hole, Henry Honeywood D’Ombrain was also an active popularizer of all forms of horticulture and botany. During the 1860s he helped establish the Metropolitan Floral Society which aimed to revive interest in traditional florist’s flowers and held a series of shows at Crystal Palace, and the Horticultural Club. Like Hole he also wrote prolifically for magazines including editing The Floral Magazine, a well-loved but short-lived publishing venture on which he collaborated with James Andrews, a successful botanical illustrator.
In 1863 the Journal of Horticulture reported that the French rose-breeder Jacques-Julien Margottin had named a compact bush rose carrying large,strongly scented carmine-red double flowers after D’Ombrain. If you didn’t know it was a rose you might be forgiven for thinking that their report was from a stud farm: “Reverend H. Dombrain, was a seedling from Louise Odier crossed with Général Jacqueminot; and… it combined the qualities of both parents, the shape of Louise Odier and the colour and perfume of the Général.” The article was actually written by D’Ombrain himself under his usual pseudonym D.Deal and I suspect shows that underneath the clerical black and beard and whiskers lay a streak of self-deprecation.
The Gardener commented in June 1869: “The Rev. H. Dombrain, in the flesh, is a true rosarian, a trusty, genial writer, an accomplished florist, as all florists know; and in the flower he is one of our best Bourbon Roses. Not so beautiful, of course, as his daughter, Marguerite Dombrain …” She had been introduced by Verdier in 1865 and featured in the Floral Magazine, edited by her father, that year. Again he shows his droll wit by commenting in an article in The Journal of Horticulture that “Mademoiselle Marguerite Dombrain” was “very full, like her mamma La Reine, and having, I fear, her defect,” although even hiding behind his pseudonym he doesn’t dare explain what this fault might be!
In 1887 D’Ombrain published a slim volume Roses for amateurs, which while not as popular as Hole’s book still ran through two editions and many reprints during his lifetime, with further editions , revisions and updates by other authors after his death.
It offers practical advice, based on his own wide experience, and suggestions for gadgets for would-be rose exhibitors, as well a list of selected cultivars for different purposes.
Dombrain was at one stage vicar of St George’s in Deal. There, his love of roses is commemorated at the pub next door to the church. Named the Rose Hotel its sign features a red Bourbon rose and a yellow noisette on either side of its inn sign.
In 1897, when the Royal Horticultural Society established the Victoria Medal of Honour, D’Ombrain, like Dean Hole, was one of the first recipients of the new award.He died at Westwell in 1905, and is buried in the churchyard there.
The other clergymen in at the foundation of the National Rose Society were also an interesting bunch, although nowhere near as much is known about them. The Reverend Charles Bulmer was from Herefordshire and had written a book on local varieties of apples and pears called the Herefordshire Pomona and his sons founded the well-known cider company. Now owned by Heineken, it got into trouble recently by publishing an ad including a photograph purportedly of Rev. Bulmer – only to have withdraw it rapidly when it was discovered not to be him but a teetotal Methodist minister. Also at the inaugural Rose Society meeting was his friend Dr Robert Hogg who had founded the Journal of Horticulture to which Bulmer was a frequent contributor.
Also amongst the clergy present was yet another regular contributor to the Journal of Horticulture where he wrote under the pseudonym “Wyld Savage”. He had a pink hybrid perpetual Rev JBH Camm named after him in 1875, which was described as “carmine rose; large, semi-globular; fragrant, and free blooming; superb” [Parsons on the Rose, 1908, p.36]. Then in 1900 a large flowered “opaque salmon pink” bourbon was named JBH Camm [without the Revd]. Not content with 2 roses he also had a daffodil and a picotee carnation named for him.
And finally there was the wonderfully named the Honorable and Reverend John Townsend Boscawen, who was the brother of Viscount Falmouth, and Vicar of Lamorran in Cornwall. The two brothers developed Tregothnan Gardens, now Cornwall’s largest private botanical garden collecting new rhododendrons, rare trees and shrubs. They also made what are thought to be the earliest large-scale plantings of camellias in the open. Tregothnan is now famous for being the first commercial producer of tea in Britain. See the gardens website for more info:
Despite being the poshest Townsend Boscawen has been the most elusive to track down further so if anyone knows anything please let me know…
More on gardening vicars soon….