Today: A guest post by Marybeth Shea. An avid gardener (born 1960), Marybeth’s two homes over the last 27 years were built in 1945 and 1946: first, a tiny, frame gable-front cape sold even before it was complete to a returning vet, and now a modest center hall colonial, also sold originally to a vet. In this story — the first of several we plan to queue up — she tells us all about hybrid tea roses — iconic flowers from mid-century America.
1996, Somewhere in Suburban Maryland: During the home inspection before we settled on the old brick, center-hall colonial house on a street named for a tree, I stood before three raggedy roses: These sorry but earnest plants grew in the front bed under the right hand window. “Will have to call gran-paw and ask about helping these sad roses.” The roses were inter-planted between what I later determined were forsythia bushes. So squared-off by an electric pruning sheers these forsythia were that they did not bloom until two years later after I let them grow. The electric sheers were left in the garage, an oversight or parting gift? I do not know. I still sometimes mutter, Clue-style, “Professor M. In the front yard. With the electric sheers.”
The previous owners did take the three roses — roots and all — early in the morning before we moved in. A new neighbor, with a perfectly coiffed yard, tasteful foundation plantings, and a perfectly placed climbing rose over her side porch said that the roses were sentimental to the family. Should I be miffed? I thought. Nah. The bushes looked straggly and squeezed at the front of the house. Besides, the deep red and dark pink tones did not show up against the red brick.
A few weeks later, in the soil I found two metal tags: one read ‘Tropicana’ with the other tag sporting ‘Chrysler Imperial.’ I now knew the names of two of the rose bushes. “Hybrid tea roses, from the fifties,” replied my grandfather when I asked him. “Nice enough blooms, but no scent. Wouldn’t grow them again if I were you. Fussy roses, need fumigation to fight black spot; both cultivars are from the 50s, I think.” Black spot sounds icky; Fumigation, worse, I though.
Tasteful-foundation-plantings neighbor later told me that Professor M and his wife could not bear to leave the roses because they honored the births of their three children. I still wonder what that third rose was named. And, I watch for the missing metal tag more than ten years later. Roses are tagged at the grower, with the quarter-sized disc placed between the main stem and the roots. Look for them at the base of existing roses. Tags are increasingly made of plastic, though, sad to say. But if you find a metal tag while puttering in the yard, you may have clues to the rose choices of previous owners.
No flower — other than the classic potted pelargonium (geranium is the common name)– is more mid century than the hybrid tea rose. Peace, a pale cream tinged pink flower, exemplifies this class of roses, the variety debuting just at the end of World War II. The story of Peace is truly a mid century tale of risk and adventure.The famed French nursery House of Meilland sent a batch of rooted rose cuttings across the Atlantic for safe keeping shortly before the Germans occupied France. In Philadelphia, horticulturalists at the Conrad Pyle Company, noticed the sunset-cloud hues of this rose. In 1945, after international agreements settled the war in both the European and Pacific Theaters, Peace was released for sale in the US; later, the same rose stock was sold in Europe as Gloria Dei; both names reflected relief at the War’s end. Peace may well be the most popular hybrid tea of all time; the variety is widely available still. (Peace rose image from wikicommons)
Meanwhile, veterans returned home to don company suits or college sweaters, marry sweethearts, and buy houses. By 1950, the lawn and garden culture of these house-proud families was in full sway. Nowhere was this Saturday-intensive labor on display to greater effect than in the suburbs. Roses were installed as “focus” foundation plants but most often set apart in rose beds. In the brisk and busy family culture of the post war boom, women tended to work inside the home while men mowed lawns and gardened. Some of the names of hybrid tea varieties of that time reflect in part marketing of specific flower colors to men: Chrysler Imperial (1952) for one (Image above from The Antique Rose Emporium). Audie Murphy for another (1957 Lammerts) (image, right, from vintagegardens.com) and later, Casanova (1964 by McGredy).
Full disclaimer: women were not excluded from the gardens. Women continued to tend gardens, including rose beds. But, men from the post War decade seemed particularly drawn to the demands of rose gardening. Demands is right: hybrid tea roses are notoriously high maintenance. The bad news about hybrid tea roses is that — as a class — the flowers are fussy, requiring a full gardenng arsenal. The better-living-through-chemistry culture of that day offered fungicides (black spot and mildew) and pesticides (for evil aphids, thrips, and later Japanese beetles). Remember the scene in GodFather I when Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) moves among his beloved tomatoes with a green metal fumigation canister? The suburbs were rife with men wielding such gear, at their lawns, shrubs, and roses. My grandfather — although a WWI vet — was one of them.
What is a Hybrid Tea Rose?
Hybrid tea tea roses derived from an 19th century cross of older rose types: Circa 1867. Jean-Baptiste Guillot, a French nurseryman raised La France from hybridising a tea rose with a hybrid perpetual type. Hybrid tea roses bloomed through the season and on long stalks, with more bud-like early blooms with full blossoms in what is now the classic rose look. The problem with these roses , however, are legion: susceptible to black spot and other fungal woes, requiring hard and constant pruning to achieve class buds, fussy about temperature, soil, siting, etc. Why are they grown? Beauty and challenge, making hybrid tea culture a bit like Mount Everest.
Mid Century Uses of Hybrid Tea Roses: Bed more than Foundation
Some foundation plantings included roses as a “dot” or accent plant. The climber often situated near a porch or trained around a window is not likely to be a shrub hybrid tea. (Article on Climbers and Ramblers Forthcoming) Two types of rose beds are classic in post war suburban settings: long rectangle of a bed with three or more roses in a row or a cluster plot (square or circle) of an odd number of roses.
Suggestions for Modern mid Century Gardeners
Honor the era by carefully selecting one hybrid tea rose developed in the 50s or 60s. You could match the decade of your house with a rose of the same decade. Check with a local nursery and the friendly neighborhood garden society. You need to select a rose that does well in your climate. The big box stores are not helpful in this regard. General recommendations of plants that are suitable broadly and STILL widely available are:
- ruby velvet red Chrysler Imperial (Lammerts 1952)
- day-glow neon screamer Tropicana (Tantau 1960)
- orange-aid sunset Mojave (Swim 1954)
- and the hot pink and tall Queen Elizabeth (1954 Lammerts and classed as a floribunda)
Be prepared to care for your adopted darling. Buy a rose from a local nursery, asking about care for your climate. Note. the staff will likely NOT know the date of rose introduction. You can arrive with a list early in the spring to consult.
Heed the advice of the departed yet dear garden writer Henry Mitchell. He mentioned several hybrid tea roses in his books.These varieties may work in many climate zones but here is the bonus: Mitchell selected them for fragrance and reasonableness. Mitchell gardened in the central South and mid Atlantic for more than 60 years.
- ducat-yellow Sutter’s Gold (Swim 1950)
- peachy-pie Helen Traubel (Swim 1951)
- deep blue-toned pink Charlotte Armstrong (Lammerts 1940)
- medium ballerina pink Tiffany (Lindquist 1954) For a perfect cultural reference, paint a small lattice trellis in Tiffany blue , placing this rose in front. Or, paint a brick in this iconic color and you have the gift box.
If you love roses but have limited time and patience for fussiness and want to incorporate them into a pure or plausible or mixed mid century garden, stay tuned to read about other rose options for the mid century yard. You CAN have your rose without the fumigator.
Resources for Thinking about Roses
- Helpmefindroses This fabulous website allows you to search by year. This is one way to find a particular mid century hybrid tea rose. Be aware that rare roses will cost more because the demand is low. You will need to work with a specialty grower. You can also use the site to develop a list of hybrid tea roses to use for local shopping.
Several online nurseries are very helpful with finding the perfect rose. Start regionally, although some of the best “rosary houses” are in Californian, Oregon,and Texas, and Canada. I have dealt with
- Rogue Valley Roses (Oregon:195 hybrid ea rose varieties listed, some with years)
- Hortico Roses (Canada: HUGE hybrid tea roses list with years) See ruddy Christian Dior, hardy to zone 5 (Meilland 1958)
Big box retailers deal in impulse buying of roses. Care for these plants is spotty, depending on the retailier. However, if you become rose-mad, then watch these places and you might rescue a perfect rose for your mid century manse.
Thank you, Marybeth! I love this — what a great addition to the blog. I am told another good source is Antique Rose Emporium.
Watch for more articles to come from Marybeth on mid-century garden culture, roses and plantings. 🙂