Tried and True -
J. Horace McFarland:  Beauty Saved

Patsy Cunningham


 It was a good day for Joe Kolis. The 2005 Yankee District Show had been judged and he was the winner of both the McFarland Award and the AARS Trophy. Why would such an expert grower and seasoned exhibitor be so gratified to win the McFarland Award for the second time?   Well, it consists of five hybrid teas at exhibition stage shown in separate vases.  It requires expert growing and, in the fall, careful timing.  You also need an eye for beauty since the five roses can be arranged in any order or design, and their overall impression counts in the judging.  This award is given yearly, and only on the district and national levels.  It is difficult to win, and a prestigious award.

 So, where did this award come from?  Who is the man on the plaque, J. Horace McFarland?


Joe Kolis
Yankee District 2005 McFarland Award


Early Life

            J. Horace McFarland was born in Pennsylvania in 1859. His father George McFarland returned disabled from the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War.  He started a reform newspaper, “The Temperance Vindicator,” with Horace helping with the type setting and distribution at an early age. Within a few years, “my father’s love for the land pulled us out of the brick-row house we lived in, out to a partially abandoned place of several acres along the river front”16   with an old garden and many fruit trees. It was here that Horace made his first acquaintance with roses. “I remember very well that there was one tremendous plant of Baltimore Belle which I particularly hated because when it bloomed, it as my job to pick off the rose bugs”13  His father bought some newer roses and Horace soon had the job of selling the little potted plants after they had been rooted.  His father developed this into a large nursery and fresh produce business, which had 3000 fruit trees, a dozen types of grapes and produced large quantities of vegetable seedlings.  Young Horace was determined to be a chemist, but on a trip to Philadelphia to the International Exhibition at age 16 he was struck by the epitaph on Benjamin Franklin’s headstone, “Benjamin Franklin, printer”.  That the multi-talented genius Franklin would see printing as his greatest vocation, out of so many other accomplishments, changed McFarland’s life plans: a printer he would be.


Editor McFarland

When the “Temperance Vindicator” went out of business, his father gave him the press and type for his back pay, making him at age 19, the owner of a printing business.  His experience with his father’s nursery, combined with his printer’s perspective, led him to printing catalogs for nurserymen. He had “a new approach to horticultural advertising - attractive catalogs filled with pictures and descriptive narratives”17 rather than just the usual lists of seeds.  He purchased an old school building in 1889 and soon incorporated as the J. Horace Mc Farland Company.  Then, “lured by rumors of a great new process for color printing…I went to New York to put a year into color study and advanced photography” Thereafter, “our Harrisburg print shop…I think put a new note into the catalogue part of horticultural merchandising through its combination of color and the new half tone of those days, to take the place of the old woodcut.” 13 He was the printer of “American Gardening” and “Country Life in America.”  The Macmillan Company had him print their “Encyclopedia of Horticulture.”  His company became the premier horticultural publishing company in the United States, and its success “provided McFarland with wealth and security, and freed him to engage extensively in the philanthropy and civic activism he loved.”8 It was his renown as both a horticultural publisher and as an editor that then brought him into contact with the American Rose Society.


American Rose Society 

“Contrary to common belief, he had no part in the organization of the American Rose Society,”1 which had been existence for at least 20 years.  “I had never heard of a rose society…but it is not difficult fo me to establish the time when the American Rose Society quietly and completely enveloped me.”13 It occurred in Elizabeth Park, Hartford, CT, when Robert Pyle proposed that he put the society into print by publishing its annual report.  McFarland responded by financing, as well as publishing, it.  This was a turning point in his life and certainly the defining moment of the American Rose Society.  This was to become their first American Rose Annual, published in 1916. He went on to publish 28 more, each beautifully printed and illustrated.  He was the editor, carefully choosing the goals and authors of each issue.  “He was …a master of English composition and whipped manuscripts into shape effectively if a bit arbitrarily [with]…somewhat rigorous editing”1  The American Rose Annual was an immediate and terrific success.  The American Rose Society had been almost entirely composed of professional growers of roses under glass for the cut flower trade.  Its amateur membership increased from only 54 in 1916 to 899 the following year.  “Amateur gardeners were attracted to it.  It permeated all phases of the industry and served them all…It became a Society of rose lovers.”1 McFarland had extensive goals for the society, including “encouragement for hybridizers of new roses, for planting of public rose gardens, and for providing information to guide and assist amateurs.”1 


After a few issues of the Annual, he decided that there should be basic information published  for those new to growing roses, so that the annuals could be used to deal with more advanced topics.  New members of the ARS would receive a pamphlet called “What Every Rose Grower Should Know.”   He also co-authored with Robert Pyle a book with the same purpose, called “How to Grow Roses” and refused royalties to keep the price affordable.  He was president of the ARS from 1930-1932, in the depths of the Depression, when there was little money to spare for luxuries.  In 1933, he was made President Emeritus and received its Gold Medal.  His ARS accomplishments are not easily quantified.   “He was a spark-plug, a go-getter, a man of action.  He kept the other officers on their toes.”1 He felt strongly that roses and plants in general should be classified, organized and correctly named.  To this purpose, “Modern Roses 1” was born, with all known roses carefully listed by proper name.  Its newest edition, “Modern Roses 11,” remains the standard for official information.  Another of his books, the 1936 “Roses of the World in Color”, was unique in its time.  It listed and described over 500 roses, and had 240 full color illustrations.  This book  “established that the motto of the author and the American Rose Society were identical, ‘A rose for every home, a bush for every garden.’ The desire was to produce a concise dictionary of roses for widespread growing as well as to include roses of dominant historical importance.”6  Delahanty notes in his 2001 article about this book that 396 of the 522 roses mentioned are still in commerce and that 174 are widely available.6  Not a bad percentage when we consider how swiftly varieties can move out of commerce.


His penchant for methodical naming and classification made him averse to the typical situation of plants having many names, with not one commonly accepted as correct since botanists, akin to economists,  “are notably free of general unanimity.”14 This led him also to collaborate on a book of standardized plant names with extensive cross referencing.  He used this work as a basis for “Standardized Rose Names”, published by the ARS in 1923 and containing all the roses then in American commerce in its 52 pages.  When it came to naming a rose, he was perhaps a bit xenophobic, and hoped a central registration process would “at least attempt to deprecate the atrocious names now put upon roses by foreign introducers, as for example the 1919 Dutch rose, ’Jonkheer Mr. G. Ruys de Beerenbrouck”14  He felt that only the name of ‘Madame Gregoire Staechelin’ (one of our favorite climbers) had prevented it “from sweeping the rose-world, in which, indeed, it has established itself as a climber of completely unique value and beauty.”12


Breeze Hill

            In 1909, McFarland and his wife purchased 2.4 acres of land in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and named it Breeze Hill. “It is impossible to separate Dr. McFarland from his beloved Breeze Hill home.  Certainly no other American garden is as widely known.”16 McFarland started out with almost a blank slate, keeping only some of the fine old trees on the property.  He engaged the services of a friend, famous landscape architect Warren H. Manning, in designing the initial plan for Breeze Hill.  They decided that from any part of the property looking toward the house there should be a picturesque view. “To develop the ‘series of pictures’ that the two men wanted, there were few straight rows of anything.  And they developed a ‘planting palette’ in several ‘height-forms,’ … [which included using] white for merging and combining, in bulb and plant and shrub.”17 The design of the garden was never static, he wrote that after 30 years of gardening there, “there has been much removal as well as much planting, so it has never been necessary to buy wood”16 for his fireplace.


Breeze Hill became a test site for the American Rose Society (ARS), but it was never solely a rose garden.  Morrison’s article on McFarland in the 1994 American Rose Annual shows a lily pond and one of its three rock gardens.  Perennials were freely used, as McFarland believed the American gardens should be informal and natural and make use of native plants. “For him a garden was a garden twelve months a year…He felt that observing twig tracery against the winter sky helped to develop a better appreciation of plants.”17 Breeze Hill provided him with plenty of subject material for his photography.  He took over 50,000 photos in his lifetime, a great many of those at Breeze Hill.


Both McFarland’s book, “Memoirs of a Rose Man: Tales of Breeze Hill,” and his article, “Seventy Five Years with Roses” printed in the 1946 American Rose Annual (2 years before his death at age 89),  are well worth reading, each containing vignettes of many well known rosarians and lesser known events.


As president of the ARS, he decided to send hundreds of American bred rose bushes to Ethiopia for the coronation of Haile Selassie in 1931 when he found that his capital city Addis Abbaba meant “the new flower”.  The roses flourished.  Among his favorite rose “amateurs” was “Admiral Aaron Ward, of whom it was said that his flagship always had something wrong with it when he came near the shores of France and was within possible reach of the great French rosemasters”.13 Then there was Captain George C. Thomas, “who was as nearly rose crazy as any man ever could be. “  And of course, “any discussion of rose men that did not tell of Dr. W. Van Fleet would be like setting up a new edition of the Pentateuch with Moses left out.”



Growing Roses

“It is not difficult to have good roses anywhere in America if a square yard of land exposed to the sunshine half the day has soil that will grow one husky weed”12  To achieve this goal “How to Grow Roses” was comprehensive in its instruction to rose growers, including practical advice for labeling, long-lasting posts for climbers, illustrations for pruning and a well described method for double digging a bed. 


“There’s no such thing as too much manure’” could have been McFarland’s rose growing motto.  Initially he was wary of artificial/chemical fertilizers and recommended manure alone.  He would raid local pastures at night for their “precious loot…[as]the need for cow-manure transcends ethics.”15 He felt horse-manure was far less valuable but that “any animal manure, properly rotted, is much better than artificial products.”15 Manure tea was also recommended “when blooming time is close and the splitting sepals show streaks of color”15 At Breeze Hill, he started out with a poor clay shale foundation and had enormous quantities of manure plowed into it to a depth of a foot.  He also stopped burning his leaves early on, and made “a great muck-pile on which all leaves and waste were and are deposited, to be wet and turned and made into lovely the leaf–mould that makes gardening easier and better.” 16


For planting dormant roses, he recommended  planting when the forsythia bloom, and stated that if it couldn’t be done before the apple trees bloomed, potted roses would have to be used.  When discussing the pros and cons of autumn versus spring planting, he generally recommended the fall for more southern growers and spring for us northerners.  If dormant plants are received too late to safely plant, he suggested burying them completely in a dry section of garden till spring.15  George Doorakian, a long time Massachusetts consulting rosarian and hybridizer, can attest to the need for “light and very well-drained” ground for this.  He tells of the time he received a long awaited package of bareroot roses from overseas, too late to plant.  He buried them in his new yard till spring, not realizing that his new home had less than perfect drainage.  His reaction upon digging them up in the spring was quite a story.


City Planning & National Parks

            As with the two previous rosarians in this series (S. Reynolds Hole and Graham Thomas), McFarland’s passion was not confined to roses.  Dean Hole had a genius for effective sermons and Graham Thomas was a talented artist and musician.  In the case of Horace McFarland, saving pristine land for the sake of its beauty and cleaning up the squalor of cities was his passion long before he became involved with the American Rose Society.  ”Like the title of Ernest Morrison's biography, `J. Horace McFarland: A Thorn for Beauty,’ McFarland the man was a paradox. He was a gentleman, cultivator of roses, photographer and compassionate employer, but he could be a thorn in the side of politicians and citizen activists when he vigorously tried to sway them to his way of thinking through carefully crafted, fact-filled speeches and letters.”3

He was president of the powerful American Civic Association for 20 years and traveled tirelessly to hundreds of cities in a “crusade against ugliness”  for the cause of clean and beautiful cities through proper planning.  Paved roads, water-purification plants and public parks were pieces of his plan for civic improvement.  “McFarland didn’t believe in passing laws that made people change things, but rather in persuading them through education that they wanted the changes. He encouraged citizens to write letters to their congressmen about environmental issues.”7  While he believed strongly in promoting change through education, he wrote that  “…years of work in the heart of things civic... have not shown me that educators are educating beyond the narrow lines of generations past. It is the layman, the `crank,’ the unsatisfied one, the golden-hearted woman seeking to see a bit of the heavenly city in advance, who move communities.”11

He is better known for his part in establishing the National Park system, a goal that took years and a need to argue with political powers including the President. “After working so hard for the creation of the National Park Service that he suffered a nervous breakdown [in 1913], he saw legislation that he'd helped write signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.”2  “He also actively worked toward the preservation of Niagara Falls”5 when hydro-electric companies wanted to divert the water away from Horse shoe Falls for increased power.  “If approved, McFarland bitterly concluded, the project would stand as ‘The monument of America’s shame and greed.”8 He helped take control of Niagara Falls away from the state and province governments and transfer it to a joint Canadian-American board.


            In 1942, J. Horace McFarland received what is arguably the highest honor in the world for a rosarian, the Dean Hole Memorial Award from the Royal National Rose Society.  “This unique and important award was instituted in 1909 and then presented to Rev. J. H. Pemberton.  Since that date the medal has been granted twenty two times, but only once before to an American rosarian prior to the present instance.”20  In more modern times, this award has been given to only two more Americans, legendary hybridizer Ralph Moore and just recently, past president of the ARS Tommy Cairns.


The J. Horace McFarland Award was first given at a national show in 1952.  A large plaque with his likeness was made for a national trophy, and smaller ones for the district trophies.  “Winning [it] is one of the highest honors in America to which any amateur rose gardener may aspire “19          


There were two roses named for him: Editor McFarland and Horace McFarland. Unfortunately, while they can still be obtained from Roses Unlimited, they apparently have not stood the test of time.  His town of Harrisburg dedicated a Municipal garden in his name in 1938, with community organizations donating the rose bushes.4 “A deeply religious man, Horace conducted a special rose service once a year at his church and presented a rose to everyone in attendance.”9  


            He ended his recollections on 75 years of rose growing with his hopes for the American Rose Society and his desire to see more municipal rose gardens, “all open to all the people all the time, for a rose garden is a thing quite worth seeing on a day like the one on which these words are written, when the thermometer is at 10 degrees above zero, and crystals are frozen along the rose vines.”13

“A contemporary probably delighted McFarland by calling him ‘the most useful man in America’. Indeed three years before his death, he wrote to a Sierra Club friend, ‘I am glad to have been of any use at all…Trying to save for posterity some of the beautiful world in which we are living right now.”2

reprinted from the RI Rose Review, November 2005, ed. Angelina P. Chute


1-Allen, Pyle, Massey and Truex.  “J. Horace McFarland LHD.”  American Rose Annual, 1949.

2-Batz Jr,  Bob.  “Beautiful Dreamer preservationist McFarland Fought for His Rosy vision of What Cities Could Be”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 31, 1996.

3-Bradley, Mary O. “He Set the Scene for Beauty” Harrisburg Sunday Patriot-News, February 25, 1996.

4-Bradley, Mary O. “Roses Bloomed in the Past”. Harrisburg Patriot News, June 24, 1997

5-Culpin, Mary Shivers.  J. Horace McFarland, 1859-1948.

6-Delahanty, James. “McFarland Revisited”, April 2001.

7-“Horace McFarland”. http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/PA_Env-Her/mcfarland_bio.htm(no longer online)

8-“Horace McFarland”. http://www.rpts.tamu.edu/pugsley/McFarland.htm

9-Jones, Steve. “Horace McFarland”, Rose Ecstasy, 1994.

10-“LIFE CHRONOLOGY - J. HORACE McFARLAND” http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/PA_Env-Her/chronology.htm(no longer online)

11-McFarland, J. Horace. “The Growth of City Planning in America”, http://www.library.cornell.edu/Reps/DOCS/mcfar_08.htm

12-McFarland, J. Horace. Roses of the World in Color.  Houghton Miflin Company, Boston, 1937.

13-McFarland, J. Horace. “Seventy Five Years with Roses”. American Rose Annual, 1946.

14-McFarland, J. Horace. “Standardized Rose names”, American Rose Annual, 1924

15-McFarland, J. Horace and Robert Pyle.  How to Grow Roses.  The MacMillan Company, New York, 1937. 

16-McFarland, J. Horace. Memoirs of a Rose Man. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pemnnsylvania,1949

17-Morrison, Ernest. “J. Horace McFarland, the Renaisssance Man of Roses”.  American Rose Annual, 1994.

18-Review of “A Thorn for Beauty”

19- “The J. Horace McFarland Memorial Award.”  American Rose Annual, 1952.

20-Truex, A. F. “Dr. McFarland’s Retirement”.  American Rose Annual, 1943.


  ©Copyright 2009, all rights reserved. Yankee District of the American Rose Society & Patham