In Search of Lost Roses: In your back yard with Rose Bible and Beverage

James Delahanty

 Last May, the University of Chicago Press reprinted Thomas Christopher’s ‘In Search of Lost Roses.’  Christopher’s book is one of those seminal works that achieve an effect far beyond any contemplation at the time of publication.  It chronicled the fortunes and practices of persons who searched for ‘lost’ roses—roses that had survived over the years in abandoned farmhouses, overgrown and weedy cemeteries and in sites untended, unwatered, and unfed.  The book highlighted the adventure of the search and celebrated the passion for roses that sparked it.  If the decades of the seventies and eighties in the twentieth century were the golden days of searching and finding roses of the nineteenth  century across America, Christopher was its chronicler and promoter.  Many an Old Garden Rose enthusiasm began as a result of reading his book.  It sparked for many readers a lifelong love affair with roses and the discovery of them in out of the way places.


Today the search for lost roses extends beyond the wonderful creations of the nineteenth century.  At the Descanso International Rosarium, the bed devoted to ‘Vintage Hybrid Teas’ (1867-1940) features a plaque describing them as the roses ‘most in danger of extinction.’  Even more contemporary roses can be placed on the ‘lost’ or endangered list by virtue of marketing needs, the exigencies of maintaining an operating and profitable nursery, or just the devotion to the ‘now’ that overlooks the need to remember tomorrow. 


While the wanderlust and spirit of adventure that undergirds the search for lost roses of the nineteenth century still beat in the hearts of rosarians (if a little less vigorously than before), the loci have changed.  Abandoned farmhouses seem to have become victims to developments and bulldozers, modern cemeteries make short work of those who would plant roses or anything else to interfere with the supremacy of easy care equipment, and sheer residential mobility tends to prevent the kind of long term plant development that would enable roses to acquire sufficient presence to last through long term neglect.


However, it is likely that the last frontier in rescuing roses of the twentieth century may well be the private gardens of unsung individuals.  In a recent article (see www.venturarose.org link to the January, 2003 newsletter Rose of the Month) the rediscovery of Ralph Moore’s l952 introduction ‘Climbing Yellow Sweetheart’ was described.  The place of discovery was a modest home in Glendale which had been occupied by the same people for over forty-five years and before that by the original purchaser from the 1940’s. Thus, it is possible to combine the adventure of the original Rose Rustlers by venturing into one’s own backyard and/or those of your neighbors. 


This possibility links up with the attempt to gather in one place the more than five hundred roses hybridized by Ralph Moore over his seventy year career.  When the project began, it appeared that almost twenty per cent of the total were lost to commerce, the present and posterity.  Examination of public gardens and commercial enterprises reduced the list to the current status of about 85 roses from the ‘master of Miniatures.’  Of the missing 85, thirteen are miniatures introduced in the decade of the l950’s, while four were introduced as late as the nineties. 


Rediscovery of any of these roses would require the happy combination of an observant eye, a garden of sufficient age, and a long time resident.  The age and residence factors are not capable of being manipulated to any great degree: there is or is not a garden with unidentified miniatures and the residents have or have not shovel pruned with vicious regularity.  The observant eye, however, is another matter.


Many of the missing Moore miniatures of the fifties were distinctive in that they were small, even for miniatures by modern standards, being no more than a foot in height.  ‘Cutie,’ for example, grew only ten inches.  A l952 introduction, it had a pointed bud, flowers of clear pink with a white base and only 15 petals.  The foliage was small and glossy.  The outstanding feature, however, was that the pointed petals seemed to form a perfect star.  One commentator in the ‘Proof of the Pudding’ section of the l954 American Rose Annual argued that the rose should be in every miniature collection if only for its startling ‘novelty value.’  Other observers noted this characteristic over the next five years.  While the rose apparently did not excite much admiration for its exhibition qualities, as a garden rose it seemed to bloom well in such disparate places as El Paso, Illinois and Northern New Jersey. 


‘Pink Joy,’ a l953 introduction, grew up to one foot in height.  The flowers were a deep pink, double, with around 30 petals extending only one inch in diameter.  Uncharacteristically for a miniature, there was a sweet violet fragrance.  The l966 American Rose Annual noted that the plant had good disease resistance, freely bloomed, and that the flower shaded to a ‘slight salmon tint’ as it opened.    On the other hand,  ‘Lemon Drop’ and ‘Snowflakes,’ both l954 introductions, grew to only six inches maximum in height.  What distinguished ‘Lemon Drop,’ aside from the light yellow color and plant size, was the presence of a great number of prickles; ‘Snowflakes grew half a foot high with white double flowers. 


To indicate the fragility of the modern rose shelf life, you might consider that of the four missing Moore roses of the l990’s, two (‘Billy Boy’ and ‘Tag-a-long’) disappeared from commerce only five years ago and the other two (‘Isles of Roses’ and ‘Pretty Penny’) were still listed in the Combined Rose List up to the year 2000.  The likelihood that these four roses are still growing in a private garden somewhere has to be considered high given the propinquity in time.    ‘Billy Boy,’ (1990) has pointed buds leading to small medium red blooms with 15 to 18 petals in a cupped form, usually one bloom to a stem.

The prickles are unusual in that they are slender, straight and brownish in color.  It is a low growing, bushy plant with medium green dense foliage.  ‘Tag-a-long’ (l992) is a medium grower, with few prickles, and semi-double blooms with 6 to 14 petals about one and a half to nearly three inches across.  What is most distinguishing, however, is the contrast of reddish lavender against white in the blooms. 


‘Isle of Roses’ (l993) produces clusters of yellow blooms one and half inches to three inches across; it has few prickles on a plant that grows nearly two feet in height, clothed in medium green semi-glossy foliage.  ‘Pretty Penny’ (l994) produces copper colored semi-double blooms of 6 to 14 petals one and a half to three inches across mostly singly, but occasionally in clusters.  There are no prickles at all.   Medium green matte foliage grows on a spreading but compact bush.  (The ‘spreading, compact’ bush was taken directly from MR11; it adds to the intrigue of locating lost roses.)


For a complete list of the missing Moore roses, you can go to the Sequoia Nursery website and click on the link to the list (www.sequoianursery.biz) Armed with the rose bible of Modern Roses 11, the age of the garden, the length of the residence, you are ready to start rustling at home, or at least close enough for a quick retreat should the forces dedicated to sound thinking and rational decision making make their presence known.  In honor of the old ‘master of Miniatures,’ the beverage of choice should be Dr. Pepper.  If the forces arrayed against romance and adventure are particularly noisome, something stronger can be added.


Findings or sightings or inspired guesses should be reported to Lyn Griffith (RoseBlush@aol.com) who is coordinating part of the search and discovery process.


                                                                        James Delahanty 21Mar03

This article first appeared in the Ventura County Rose Society newsletter in April, 2003


  1. Even as this article was being written, ‘Isle of Roses’ was confirmed as present in the garden of Colonel Phil Ash of San Diego; it had been a 1994 San Diego convention rose.  Three other rose ‘finds’ have reduced the number of lost roses to 80 or slightly more.
  2. A list of the missing Moore roses organized by year can be found under ‘Links and Articles’ at www.venturarose.org
  3. A debt of gratitude is owed to Paul Barden and Lyn Griffith for assistance and encouragement in writing this essay; they are, of course, in no way responsible for any errors of fact or judgment.



This article may be forwarded or reprinted freely without the need for the written permission of the author.




Table Of  Ralph Moore Lost Roses By Year of Introduction



Variety Name              Class    Color   Date

Cutie                        Min       MP     1952

Pink Joy                     Min       DP      1953

Lemon Drop                Min       LY      1954

Snowflakes                  Min       W       1954

Fairy Princess               Clmin    LP      1955

Lilac Time                  Min       MB     1955

Polka Dot                   Min       W       1956

Baby Jayne                 Clmin    MP     1957

Sparkie                      Min       MR     1957

Perky                        Min       DP      1958

Bobolink                    Min       DP      1959

Lollipop Per Mr 11         Min       MR     1959

Orange Elf                  Clmin    OB     1959

Lady Ann                   Min       MP     1961

Little Flirt                   Min       RB      1961

Scarlet Ribbon             Clmin    DR      1961

Silver Tips                  Min       PB      1961

White King                  Min       WB     1961

Little Showoff              Clmin    YB      1962

Red Arrow                   Min       MR     1962

Tiny Jack                    Min       MR     1962

Tiny Jill                     Min       MP     1962

Nova Red                   Min       MR     1964

Peachy                      Min       AB      1964

Red Wave                   F          MR     1964

Yellow Necklace           Min       MY     1965

Pink Ribbon                Min       LP      1966

Baby Pinocchio            Min       PB      1967

Little Mike                  Min       DR      1967

Purple Elf                   Min       M       1967

Orange Sunshine          Min       OB     1968

Pink Frostfire                Min       LP      1968

Whipped Cream            Min       W       1968

Candy Pink                 Min       LP      1969

Josephine                   Min       WB     1969

Persian Princess            Min       OR     1970

Little Curt                   Min       DR      1971

Desert Charm               Min       DR      1973

Sleepy Time               Min       OP     1973

Tweetie                     Min       LP      1973

Very Busy                   Min       PB      1973

White Madonna            Min       WB     1973

Brightside                   Min       OR     1974

Happy Time                Clmin    RB      1974

Honeycomb                 Min       WB     1974

Orange Fire                 Min       OP     1974

Sunny Morning             Min       MY     1974

Wee Lass                    Min       MR     1974

Gidget                       Min       OP     1975

Gypsy Jewel                Min       DP      1975

Small World                Min       OR     1975

Christine Weinert           Min       OR     1976

Fashion Flame             Min       OP     1977

Pinwheel                    Min       PB      1977

Rosetone                    Min       MP     1977

Sundust                     Min       AB      1977

Cream Gold                Min       MY     1978

Happy Thought            Min       OP     1978

Orange Pixie               Min       OR     1978

Red Button                 Min       DR      1978

Rose Hills Red    X         Min       DR      1978

Star Twinkle                Min       PB      1978

Orange Cascade           Clmin    OB     1979

Shakespeare Festival      Min       MY     1979

Carmela                     Min       OB     1980

Crazy Quilt                  Min       RB      1980

White Feather              Min       W       1980

Gypsy Fire                  Min       OR     1981

Sweet Sunshine            Min       MY     1981

Holiday Cheer              Min       DR      1982

Autumn Fire                Min       OR     1983

Sun Honey                  Min       MY     1983

Country Joy (1985) X      Min       PB      1984

Cindy Marie                Min                1985

Coral Cameo (1982)       Min       DP      1986

Spanish Dancer (1980)    Min       OR     1986

Billy Boy                    Min       MR     1990

Tag-A-Long (1993)        Min       RB      1992

Pretty Penny (1995)       Min       OB     1994


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