Caring for old roses

Living antiques

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.

Mystery travels of an old rose

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.

Lots to choose from

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

  • <p>The flowers of old roses are smaller and more open than the modern varieties.</p>
  • <p>Most roses in the cemetery are named. There is a great variety of heritage roses, esepcially in the Presbyterian section.</p>
  • <p>In winter these roses are pruned to ensure they stay healthy and vigorous. Some of the fast-growing species need to be trimed back strongly.</p>
  • <p>Volunteers from the Friends of the Symonds Street Cemetery and the Heritage Roses Society work together to maintain the roses, and to prepare for fine blooms every summer.</p>
  • <p>Instructions at the start of the volunteer pruning day.</p>