The roses growing in profusion over the graves are heritage items too.
Many are ‘old roses’, meaning cultivars that were bred before 1900, but still available today. They have gone a bit out of fashion, in favour of modern varieties that have bigger, heavier flowers.
Old roses usually are smaller plants, and can be vigorous ramblers. They have more, smaller, and more open flowers, with more petals.
The rare North American ‘Pasture Rose’ (Rosa Carolina plena) was found here by rose enthusiast Nancy Steen in the 1960s, and she could only guess how it may have arrived here.
“How this rose came to New Zealand from the United States and how the only bush of it we have seen out here should be growing in the cemetery is quite a mystery.”
The rose could have been brought here to mark the grave of an American sailor from one of the many whaling ships that visited the North Island throughout the 1800s.
Steen writes, “This Pasture Rose, its single form, grows from New Brunswick down to Florida and as far west as Texas and Wisconsin; it is also the stat flower of Iowa…”
But rose enthusiasts cannot locate this rose in the cemetery now.
A New Zealand Herald gardening article in 1892 provides a long list of rose varieties available for sale in the city then. For their connections to England, then considered “The Home Country”, these roses would have been favoured as planting around gravesites, to link the deceased – and their families – to their roots.
Some examples of the rose varieties listed:
Abel Carrier, maroon shaded scarlet
Alfred Colomb, bright, fiery red, fragrant
Baroness Rothschild, delicate pink
Captain Christy, very soft flesh colour, deeper centre
Countess of Roseberry, carmine rose, cupped
Earl of Dufferin, rich, brilliant velvety crimson
Her Majesty, rich, delicate satiny rose
La France, beautiful bright lilac, rose centre
Lady Mary Fitzwilliam, bright flesh colour
Merveille de Lyon, beautiful satiny white
Mrs John Laing, soft pink, extra fine
Prince Camile de Rohdu, intensely dark velvety crimson, nearly black
Queen of Queens, pink with blush edges
Mrs Lippiatt, brilliant rich velvety crimson