Monday, 14 October 2013

Gilding the Rose

As I promised recently, here is another in the series of contributions I have been writing for the Otago Rose Society's monthly newsletter.

With an Ashes cricket series in progress, this tale of two cricketers, one an Australian and the other an Englishman, is topical, albeit that only the Australian was an international player of renown while his English counterpart, born 96 years earlier, was but an enthusiastic village cricketer.  
The Englishman, Joseph Hardwick Pemberton, was born into a well-to-do family in 1852, and lived his entire life of 73 years in his ancestral family home in the village of Havering-atte-Bower, Essex. His happy childhood days were reportedly made even happier by playing in the large garden with informal winding paths overgrown with shrubs and punctuated by numerous old roses grown by his grandmother.  It was there that young Joseph’s love of roses germinated, and even as a small child he insisted on wearing a rose bloom in his buttonhole when he attended church with his family.
As a young man Pemberton studied theology, became a curate and was eventually the inaugural priest of the Church of Ascension at nearby Romford. In his spare time, he followed a variety of interests in addition to cricket. He was a breeder of horses, but it was his love of roses that led to his lifelong hobby of exhibiting and eventually breeding the loveliest of all garden plants.
At the age of 22, Reverend Pemberton began exhibiting roses from the long established garden at the family home, which by that time was occupied only by himself and his sister Florence, five years his junior. Neither Joseph nor Florence ever married and they lived together there until Joseph’s death in 1926. Florence soon became as immersed in exhibiting roses as was her brother and they were inseparable joint exhibitors at rose shows for many years.
It was almost inevitable that Pemberton would eventually dabble in breeding roses. When he emerged onto the scene as a breeder, however, it wasn’t with the aim of producing exhibition blooms. His aim was to establish robust varieties which would bloom for long periods while retaining the charm of the old roses in the Pemberton garden. As the foundation stock for his breeding line, Joseph chose a shrubby rose ‘Trier’ from a German breeder, Herr Peter Lambert. By introducing carefully selected elements from roses in his late grandmother’s collection, Rev Pemberton gave birth to a unique grouping of roses which were later classified by leading rosarians of the day as Hybrid Musk roses. Pemberton, who became a nurseryman on his retirement from the clergy at age 60, himself adopted the term ‘Hybrid Musk’ soon after.
Following Joseph’s death in 1926, the nursery continued under the management of Florence Pemberton and in total, the Pemberton nursery introduced close to fifty new varieties, two of their early successes being Hybrid Musk roses ‘Pax’ and ‘Moonlight’.  Another popular creation was ‘Pemberton’s White Rambler’. ‘Robin Hood’, introduced the year following Joseph’s death, became a parent of numerous Kordes roses, including ‘Iceberg’.
And so to the Australian cricketer, Max Walker. Following Walker’s retirement from an illustrious test cricketing career, he became a popular author and a pioneer of the after-dinner speaking circuit. He was (and still is) a larger-than-life character and a wonderful storyteller. When asked how one person could possibly have witnessed so many outrageously hilarious incidents in a relatively short period as an international sportsman, Walker replied “I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story”.

An English rose nursery’s website advertises three of Rev Pemberton’s roses as “The Vicar’s Daughters Collection”, claiming ‘Penelope’, ‘Cornelia’ and ‘Felicia’ were named after Joseph Pemberton’s daughters. Did the nursery’s marketing guru follow Max Walker’s example, or could it be that the bachelor vicar had a dark secret? 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Between two trees, there lies a story true....

"Between Two Trees" is a song that was popular more years ago than I really want to remember, but I was reminded of it today when I visited the very small town which was the home of my childhood. Two trees, still reaching skyward after all these years.

The first is an English Oak (Quercus robur). Soon after I started school as a 5 year old, my teacher took our class for a nature walk in the plantation behind the school. There, she urged her charges to select a fallen acorn, take it home, plant it in the ground and wait for a tree to grow. This I did, and despite my father's periodic attempts over the years to impede its progress with the aid of a chainsaw, here it is today.

The second is a Californian Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), which almost 60 years ago was the subject of a boyhood escapade in which I was challenged by my mate to ascend and hold my hand horizontally above the highest point. Well, what sort of a boy wouldn't take on such a challenge? A sensible one, probably! But I had to be a hero, albeit a very frightened hero - especially considering the strong wind swaying the treetop to and fro on that long ago day! The tree lives on, and by pure luck, so do I! 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Heartland New Zealand by any other name....

Heartland New Zealand. Strange name, that. Stranger still, it's not even a place you can set your GPS to lead you to. To Aucklanders, I suppose, it means anywhere south of the Bombay Hills or north of Albany. And to be fair, the name could only have been dreamed up by an Aucklander. As far as I can make out, Heartland NZ refers to rural New Zealand, including towns and cities smaller than Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and perhaps Hamilton, Tauranga and Dunedin.

If that's the case, I grew up in Heartland NZ, although I didn't know it at the time. I was 50 before I first heard the term, no doubt the brainchild not only of an Aucklander but of an Auckland advertising executive. It is supposed to evoke thoughts of small town New Zealand and its culture, which some believe to be unique but I suspect is not too much different from the culture of small town Australia, United States or other western countries. Except, perhaps, for the influence of rugby union football and sheep in this country.

In the long past days of my youth, every young rural man worth his salt played rugby in winter and cricket in summer (well, a few played tennis but they were a bit different), and every young woman played field hockey (on a muddy field) in winter. The local cricket pitch was a 22 yard long strip of concrete in a farmer's paddock. The first players to arrive on a Saturday got the job of chasing the sheep into the next paddock, sweeping their artwork off the concrete and rolling out the coconut fibre mat ready for play to start.

That's where my memory wandered to recently when I came upon the scene in the photo. The local rugby field being "mowed" by the ubiquitous ovine species, confined by a movable electric fence which would, I suppose, be moved across periodically by a dedicated community volunteer. Call it Heartland if you must, but the spirit of small town New Zealand lives on.

For the record, this 'Heartland' town is Owaka, South Otago.  

Saturday, 28 September 2013

A Thorn Amongst the Roses

How I admire bloggers who have something interesting to share most days. The frequent long gaps between posts on this blog are testament to my lack of such inspiration. Recently I undertook to contribute a regular column to the monthly newsletter of my local rose society. I find it more difficult than I had imagined, much as I enjoy it. Once again, lack of inspiration is my Achilles heal. Posting my monthly efforts here is not, I'm sure, going to greatly increase the readership of my column, but I thought I would share them anyway. Here's the first one, from about three months ago, with others to follow from time to time.

Given my family history, editor Dave is taking a huge risk in allowing me to contribute a column to this newsletter. Throughout my father’s long life, he told us many times that he first played what is now called premiership grade rugby in the season after his club won a premiership title. The rugby club in question won its next title 76 years later, ending the drought which my self-deprecating dad claimed to have started.  Let us all hope my debut as a contributor doesn’t mark the beginning of a similar hiatus for ORS in the “Best Small Newsletter” stakes!
The purpose of this column is to entertain. If it informs, that will be a bonus. If it does neither, the writer will be unemployed and hungry. It is assumed that while readers are rose enthusiasts, they have an interest in gardening generally. Let’s get started then.
The naming of roses is a fascinating topic. Many names, most even, have an interesting story behind them. It really is regrettable that there is not a system in place which records those stories, perhaps in the registration process. For example, naming a rose in memory of a loved and respected person may be effective in perpetuating the person’s name, but unless the individual is particularly well known for some other reason, e.g. ‘Sir Edmund Hillary’, ‘Hayley Westenra’ or ‘Kate Sheppard’, nobody knows anything about the person behind the name and the opportunity to celebrate their life and achievements is lost.
Many roses are named with sales in mind (‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Many Happy Returns’, ‘Loving Memory’, etc) and while the practice is understandable, it does nothing for the intrigue of rose names. Much more exciting are the likes of ‘Squatter’s Dream’, ‘Earth Song’ and ‘Rambling Rector’, but even then the story is usually left to the imagination.
Not so with David Austin’s English Rose Collection. The names of his roses are as fascinating as England itself and in almost every case, if the name is not easily recognizable in British culture, history or literature, it will be explained in Austin’s books or on his company website. For example, ‘Lady of Megginch’ was named for the late Baroness Strange, whose family home is Megginch Castle in Perth, Scotland; ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ was the mistress of Lord Nelson and ‘Brother Cadfael’ is the main character in a series of mediaeval whodunnits written by English author Edith Pargeter under the nom-de-plume ‘Ellis Peters’.
Even potential names Austin has not used inspire curiosity. While he has named many roses for Shakespearean characters and those of other notable English writers, I can find no rose with a name from any of Charles Dickens’ works. As other breeders have used some such names in the past, one must assume it is not because of copyright issues, so does Austin have an aversion to Dickens? If that is so, he has no such aversion to Thomas Hardy, the titles of at least three of whose Wessex novels are honoured with the names of roses: “The Mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and……
'Jude the Obscure'