(An earlier version of this post first appeared May 22, 2018)
It’s Memorial Day Weekend, which in Hartford, Connecticut means the first rose to bloom is at its peak (maybe even slightly past). Rosa hugonis, common name ‘Father Hugo’s Rose,’ heralds the unofficial start of rose season here at Elizabeth Park when it opens its delicate blooms in early- to mid-May. Located on the north fence of the Heritage Rose Garden, Father Hugo’s yellow blossoms perfectly compliment shades of purple from the lilacs, myrtle, and violets that surround and creep along the antique rose beds. In May, Hugo’s large, bushy frame bursts in a flush of scented blooms about 2 inches in diameter, each bearing 4-8 pale yellow petals.
Father Hugo, of the Pimpinellifoliae class, is a “species” rose, meaning the specimen in our garden is unchanged from its original form in the wild (as opposed to most garden rose cultivars, which are the result of hybridizing and generations of breeding). The rose gets its name from Father Hugh Scallan, a Catholic missionary from Wales. During the 19th century, as the Qing Dynasty waned and the British East India Company came to dominate China’s ports, Christian missionaries were among the first westerners to penetrate inland China. Many of them, including Father Scallan, were also amateur botanists who collected local flora in their travels. Scallan first observed R. Hugonis in north-central China and sent seeds back to London’s Kew Gardens in 1899. The Conard-Pyle company introduced Father Hugo to the U.S. in 1917 as the “Golden Rose of China.”
Outside the park’s cultivated areas, about 100 yards north of the main rose garden and behind our new bandstand, grows a close relative of Father Hugo–certainly within the same Pimpinellifoliae class–that has established itself among a thicket, draping the undergrowth in plentiful, anemone-like blossoms.
Brenner, D., & Scanniello, S. (2009). A rose by any name: the little-known lore and deep-rooted history of rose names. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books.
Father Hugo’s Rose. Retrieved from http://www.helpmefind.com/gardening/l.php?l=2.16807.1
Krussmann, G. (1981) The complete book of roses. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.
Missionaries in China. Retrieved from http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/History/Projects/Missions/Intro.htm