Yankee Doodle Roses:
New England Roses and Breeders

Patsy Cunningham

Reprinted from the 2006 American Rose Annual
with the addition of extra photos and the inclusion of Wendy White & Gladys Fisher in June 2007

The people of New England have historically been known for their toughness in the face of nature’s adversities. Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys, New Bedford whalers, Gloucester fisherman and Maine farmers are all icons of this hardy endurance. These sturdy folk were not all born in New England, many were immigrants who through hard work carved out a new home for themselves here. New England’s roses and rosarians are cast in this same Yankee mold. A few of our best rose breeders and our favorite “native” roses are immigrants. The roses are all tough to stand our cold winters and hot summers and the breeders are known for using their Yankee ingenuity and perseverance in their work to create roses for New England gardens.

 In the Beginning:  Species Roses

New England is home to seven native rose species; all are single and once-blooming. Rosa acicularis is the Circumpolar Rose or Prickly Rose.  This medium pink bloom on a 4-foot bush is found in New Hampshire and Vermont, the southern limit of its frigid range. Likewise R. blanda, the Hudson Bay Rose, also reaches the northern parts of New England. Its large, 3-inch, white to light pink blooms, found on nearly thornless canes, have been successfully used in breeding roses hardy even in Canada. Both it and Rosa nitida, the Shining Rose, form the hardy species base that the Explorer rose ‘Quadra’ was bred from. R. nitida has very bright pink blooms and extremely glossy foliage.   Rosa palustris, the Swamp Rose, is pale pink and has an extended bloom time of almost three months. It is also comfortable from Maine to Florida, tolerates wet acid soils and is capable of breeding with rugosas, but unfortunately has been little used in breeding. Along with Rosa virginiana, it was sent to Europe for cultivation in 1738. The native species used most widely for breeding is Rosa setigera, our only native climbing rose.  While it is more common in the mid-west and is called The Prairie Rose, its range includes the Atlantic coast.

Although these are the true native species of New England, it is Rosa rugosa, the beautiful Beach Rose, which has made itself at home along all the sandy stretches of the Atlantic coast in New England. It thrives in this arid and salty environment and forms long thickets that stabilize the dunes and protect wildlife. The large, fragrant blooms are succeeded by enormous, fleshy. orange-red rose hips, sometimes called sea-tomatoes, which are gathered for rose hip preserves and tea. It is native to Japan, Korea and China and was introduced to New England in 1845.  It is a welcome addition to our shores.

"Rosa Rugosa" on Cape Cod


Jackson Dawson


Jackson Dawson of Massachusetts was the first New England hybridizer to make use of R. multiflora.  Dawson was the propagator for the famous Arnold Arboretum near Boston. He wanted to create a race of American hybrids that would be hardy in New England. He is credited with the first American multiflora hybrid, ‘Dawson’, an 1888 cross between Rosa multiflora and the hardy hybrid perpetual ‘Général Jacqueminot’. This once-blooming rambler with its clusters of scented, double pink blooms was introduced years before the much heralded arrival of ‘Crimson Rambler’ to the U.S. It was much admired by J. Horace McFarland, then president of the American Rose Society, 30 years after its introduction. It is described by Quest-Ritson as “impervious to frost or neglect.” While no longer in commerce, it was a first step toward breeding a hardy climber, and was parent to “’Apple Blossom’, a Dawson rambler introduced by Luther Burbank.
Dawson had the opportunity to import many plant species, and actually introduced Rosa wichurana, through the Arboretum, to the United States in 1891. His ‘Lady Duncan’ (R. wichurana X R. rugosa) and ‘William C. Egan’, both introduced in 1900, were among the early wichurana hybrids. It was Dawson’s responsibility to propagate by seed, cuttings or grafting the many new and often exotic plants that were imported from the Far East to the arboretum. He was known for his remarkable “green thumb” when it came to propagating woody plants. The Jackson Dawson Medal is still awarded by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for “demonstrated skill in the science or practice of hybridization or propagation of hardy, woody plants.”

Jackson Dawson Medal

 Michael Horvath

Michael H. Horvath, a Hungarian forester, immigrated to the United States and found work at the Newport Nursery in Rhode Island. He received some of Dawson’s original rooted cuttings of R. wichurana and “Struck by its beautiful, lustrous, shiny foliage, I thought it was too bad that [it] should be topped by the meager little flowers it bore.” He is credited with the world’s first wichurana hybrid ramblers in 1893. Some of his early varieties were introduced by W. A. Manda of New Jersey in 1898-1899. Of these, the very double, pale yellow ‘Gardenia’ has a strong green apple scent, “but is not reliably winter-hardy in the North,” according to Dan Russo, a rambler expert and historian.  However, it is still widely available and a recent grower commented that it can grow several feet a week. After Horvath moved to Ohio he continued to experiment with other species roses, especially R. setigera. His large-flowered setigera climbers included 'Thor'. This deep red, damask-scented climber shows some of his creative use of species. It has the setigera, wichurana, xanthina and sempervirens species in its makeup, as well as ‘Château du Clos Vougeot’.  ‘Long John Silver’ is his well-known, 1934, climbing white setigera hybrid. It is both hardy and fragrant.

"Long John Silver" photo by Cass Bernstein

Newport Nursery was also where B.C. Gardner bred ‘Newport Fairy’ in 1908. Little else is known about Gardner, but his wichurana/multiflora hybrid rambler with large pink edged creamy blooms is still rated at 8.5 by the ARS. A Vintage Gardens writer says “I have grown this some fifty feet up an old Douglas Fir, from which it cascades with a veritable Niagara of spring bloom.”

 Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh was born in Bangor, North Wales, in 1848. He came to the United States at age 20, working at several estates in the Boston area. In 1875 he became head gardener on the waterfront estate of Joseph Story Fay, a wealthy summer resident of Woods Hole, and found a patron in Fay's daughter Sarah.  Horvath’s work toward hardy wichurana climbers was taken up by Walsh, who bred some 40 new ramblers between 1899 and 1920.  His ramblers won numerous awards nationally and internationally. He was a gifted rosarian as well as breeder, and was able to bring his ramblers into bloom out of season, to display them at flower shows.  


His best known is the 1908 introduction ‘Excelsa’, sometimes known as Red Dorothy Perkins. This variety quickly replaced the more mildew prone 'Crimson Rambler’. ‘Excelsa’ produces masses of “tyrian rose to bright light crimson” flowers in late June and early July, blooming heavily for at least four weeks. Like most of Walsh’s ramblers, it’s a vigorous and generally healthy grower. It grew untended into a shrub in my mother-in-law’s yard for decades, yearly making a pretty picture of red jewels in the white flowered bush. Ramblers such as this should have all their flowering wood pruned out right after the bIooms fade in the summer, allowing next year’s long pliable canes to quickly grow in. This selective pruning requires long gloves and considerable determination, however. If left unpruned, you’ll get a bigger show for a while but the overcrowding can bring on mildew. Some folks just cut the whole plant to the ground every so often, an easier method that loses a year of blooming when you do it. 

With a few exceptions, these ramblers are once-blooming, an unfortunate impediment to popularity in today's rose world. Their blooming season is long and varies by cultivar, and will produce a far greater show of roses than many of the stingy new reblooming climbers. The largest public collection of Walsh ramblers in this country is in Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut. Dan Russo, the "Rambler Man," has the largest private collection, with nearly 25 different Walsh ramblers in his Rhode Island garden. He has provided a wealth of information regarding these New England-bred roses and some of his collection is pictured in this article.

 He describes ‘Debutante’ (Walsh, 1901) a rose that “does repeat rather well and is a gorgeous fragrant, soft lilac-pink with very little powdery mildew problem. While Jackson & Perkins’ ‘Dorothy Perkins’ is probably the best known rambler, Walsh’s ‘Lady Gay’ is very similar in appearance and the two have been often confused. Russo feels it is “much, much better than 'Dorothy Perkins'. Flowers are larger and deeper pink than 'Dorothy Perkins', bloom about a week later, have a slight fragrance, thicker, darker, different shaped leaves, and hardly any powdery mildew.”  Other more easily available beauties include ‘Evangeline’ and ‘Hiawatha’. In one of his American Rose rambler articles from the 30s, R. Marion Hatton writes that ‘Evangeline’ is extra vigorous and that her “haunting fragrance fills the air for yards around.” ‘Hiawatha’ is a deep red with a white eye. It's also a late bloomer; in Rhode Island (Zone 6), often lasting into early August.

"Hiawatha" after heavy downpour in Elizabeth Park

Modern rose gardens are often almost two dimensional. Earlier American public gardens such as Elizabeth Park and Roger Williams Park, however, relied heavily upon ramblers to provide a spectacular and satisfying third dimension to their designs. If you’d like to add arches of Walsh ramblers to your garden, here’s some advice, again thanks to Dan Russo, on Walsh varieties that are still available commercially. 

Healthiest varieties: 'Debutante', 'Lady Gay', 'Hiawatha', 'Minnehaha'

Biggest bloom clusters: 'Excelsa', 'Hiawatha', 'America'

Most fragrant: ‘Evangeline’

Bloom Sequence:     Early (late June): 'America'

                                    Midseason (early-midJuly): most Walsh varieties

Late (later July-early Aug): 'Evangeline', 'Hiawatha'

You can see that careful selection of these ramblers can fill in most of the flowering gap between the typical mid June peak bloom for most roses and September’s re-bloom.



Some of the most important roses ever introduced cannot be credited to a breeder’s patient and careful crosses. Instead, they are chance seedlings or sports, with their uniqueness recognized by an observant eye.

"Max Graaf"

 Such is the case with ‘Max Graf’, called by Peter Beales “one of the most important roses ever sent to Europe from America.” ‘Max Graf’ is a chance cross of R. wichurana and R. rugosa that was discovered in 1919 by Graf, the foreman of the Pomfret Center Nursery owned by James Bowditch of Connecticut. 'Max Graf' is a groundcover, its long thorny canes will spread over a wide area and will root where they touch the ground. Crinkly fragrant bright pink blossoms bloom for an extended time in early summer on this healthy hardy creeper with lustrous foliage. While ‘Max Graf’ is essentially infertile, through the patience of Wilhelm Kordes, it eventually produced Rosa kordesii, the mother of a new family of hardy climbers and considered a new species.

Gladys Fisher

Historically there appears to be a scarcity of women rose hybridizers, however, Woburn Massachusetts was home to Gladys Fisher in the mid 20th century.  Her great contribution to rose breeding was the introduction of her hybrid tea Sterling Silver.  This beautiful and fragrant, but flawed, rose is important as the source of modern lavender roses.

'Sterling Silver', as scanned from 1958 ARA by Enrique Munoz Ramirez

 The Brownells


Dr. Walter & Josephine Brownell with 'Mrs. Arthur Curtis James'

Plant patent for 'Mrs. Arthur Curtis James', courtesy of Dorrie Nichols

Dr. Walter Brownell is known for his sturdy “sub-zero” roses. His interest in rose breeding started after planting a rose garden at his summer home in Little Compton, quite close to the south shores of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. His wife Josephine loved roses, but each winter, their roses would die. They saw the need for someone to breed healthy roses that would be hardy in New England. Though he was initially an amateur, he studied plant genetics quite seriously. Like Walsh and Horvath, he saw R. wichurana as the hardy species basis for his breeding program. According to his granddaughter Dorrie Nichols, his hybridizing goals were 1) winter hardiness, 2) blackspot resistance, 3) repeat blooming in a “pillar” rose, and 4) adding larger size and the color yellow to climbers.Rather than direct species crosses, he started mainly with three of Van Fleets’ wichurana hybrids as his “stud” roses.


His first hardy yellow climber was introduced in 1933: ‘Mrs. Arthur Curtiss James’. He and Josephine were so excited with this first fruit of their labors that they followed a European custom and held a christening party for it. The picture for the plant patent (see photo) for this and subsequent introductions was painted by Brownell. The large hybrid tea-like blooms are borne on long stems, ideal for cutting.  It was not a re-blooming breakthrough yet though.  ‘Elegance', their aptly named soft yellow climber introduced in 1937, did have some occasional rebloom, but was not yet everblooming.

In 1938, when Walter retired from his law practice, he and Josephine devoted themselves to their roses full time. By the 1950s, Walter Brownell had bred many dozens of roses, from new, sturdier hybrid teas, to hardy large-flowered climbers and "creepers," to his final accomplishment: the wonderful "Everblooming Pillar" series. Number 3 in that series was one of my favorites; it was named ‘White Cap’, after a special type of Indian corn used for Rhode Island “Johnny Cakes.”  It is a many-petaled, creamy white rose shading toward gold in the center. The bloom often has a quartered appearance. ‘Golden Arctic’ is everblooming pillar #84, a rich yellow hardy re-blooming climber. Grow it on a pillar, or as a large self-supported shrub such as we have at Roger Williams Victorian Rose Garden in Providence. ‘Rhode Island Red’ is fine vigorous climber, with deep red roses. I find it tolerates the partial shade provided by our neighbors’ trees and still blooms well.

'Golden Arctic'

The Brownell “subzero” hybrid tea that I find most unique is 'Curly Pink’. This 1948 introduction has plenty of wichurana background crossed with the damask scented ‘Crimson Glory’. The strongly reflexed petals in the large heavily doubled bloom give it a richly different face. It has never noticed the winter in our garden. When it comes to color, the 1951 hybrid tea ‘Orange Ruffels’ is unmatched. It’s a soft creamy orange sherbet color and is a constant bloomer.

'Orange Ruffels'

'Curly Pink'

'Nearly Wild'

 The only Brownell rose that is almost universally available is the floribunda ‘Nearly Wild’. Introduced in 1941, it is one tough little rose. It looks wild, having only five petals, but it is continuous blooming. It tolerates seaside planting: one of our local rose society members had an entire row thrown out of their bed by the waves of a nor’easter. These were able to be replanted without damage from the salty experience!


Harmon Saville

Here we finally leave R. wichurana behind and go on to a modern day breeder of miniature roses from coastal Massachusetts. Harmon ”Harm” Saville started out like most of us, growing roses as a backyard hobby. It was the Christmas gift of some Ralph Moore minis by his son Mike that steered him toward miniature roses. He had already been growing roses under lights in the cellar and found minis more suited to that treatment. He told Kathy DeRoo in a 1993 interview for Rose Ecstasy that in 1971 he decided to "start a little business, to have something to putter around in, in my old age," and he became the ”Nor'East” distributor for Ralph Moore's roses. While he began by marketing other breeders’ miniature roses, he soon began breeding his own.

'Harm Saville' , photo courtesy of Wendy White

'Ralph Moore', a Saville introduction

In his 25 years in the business, he bred over 100 roses, including 17 Award of Excellence (AOE) miniature roses. His first AOE winner, ‘Party Girl’ in 1981, is a fabulous breeder, producing many dozens of quality introductions. He had the singular honor of having his 1993 introduction, ‘Child’s Play’, win both the AOE and the AARS designation, the first rose to do so. In 1983 he gave us the unique bicolor ‘Rainbows End’, considered by long-time exhibitor and rosarian Luis Desamaro to be “the most beautiful miniature rose ever created.” This healthy, free-flowering rose was one of Harm’s favorites. His son John, who took over Nor’East operations as Harm retired, shares that feeling, saying that ” ‘Rainbows End’ is a classic in every way but fragrance.”
In the early 90s, Harm began producing miniatures with a strong fragrance, and made that a focus in his breeding program. Nor’East liked to call itself “the little company with big fragrance.”  First was ‘Scentsational’, then ‘Seattle Scentsation’.  ‘Overnight Scentsation’ was actually brought into space in the shuttle for a fragrance experiment, an interesting marriage of technology and beauty.  Harm did not live to see this happen, but doubtless would have been pleased. He made Nor’East one of the first two rose nurseries to use the technology of the World Wide Web and the very first to actually sell online.

photo courtesy of  Nor'East Miniature Roses

Harmon Saville was a tireless promoter of miniature roses, and is largely responsible for their popularity today. He had a number of articles published in the American Rose Annual that served this purpose. Included were detailed instructions on growing miniatures indoors, exhibiting minis and container growing.

 When culling roses from his seedling beds, Harm Saville was forced by marketing considerations to discard roses he felt were beautiful. These included single roses and also those that were too large to be sold as minis. While about one-third of his seedlings were singles, he spent little time evaluating them because, as he said in DeRoo’s interview, “the market is limited even when you do find a good one; only the most sophisticated rose growers like them."  While many of the larger seedlings had beautiful blooms, a company selling miniature roses could not divert attention away from their primary product. John Saville tells me that a yellow floribunda bred by Harm will be introduced next year by Nor’East through their new owners, Greenheart. Others, like a beautiful lavender floribunda are “in the pipeline.”

 New England Today

Now that Nor’East has its new home in California, New England no longer has a company that breeds and distributes its own roses. However, we still do have Wendy White, who was promoted to chief hybridizer for Nor'East after Harm Saville's  death.  So far, Wendy has two Award of Excellence miniature roses: 'Salute' and 'Iced Raspberry'.  Roses from Wendy's breeding work continue to be introduced by Nor'East Roses today, though she chose not to follow them to California to continue as their hybridizer. Her two 2007 introductions,  'Mother Lode' and 'Happy Thoughts', were bred before the sale of the company. 

photo needed of Salute or Iced Raspberry

The Yankee District also continues to produce fine new roses through the efforts of a few amateur hybridizers. The three that follow are all active members of our district, and all three have won the district’s highest honors: the Silver Honor Medal, Outstanding Judge and Outstanding Consulting Rosarian.

 New Hampshire is home to Malcolm “Mike” Lowe and his wife Irene, who grow thousands of old garden roses (OGRs) on their property in Nashua. Mike has bred a number of roses in quite diverse classes. One of his favorites is ‘Friends Forever’, a many-petaled fragrant rich pink rose on a healthy shrub. When I saw it growing in his front yard, I thought it was another beautiful OGR.  Mike says that ‘Friends Forever’ is almost always in bloom. Lee Sherman, a New Mexico grower of more than 500 roses, says “this rose recycles faster than any other...it's in full rebloom after 28 days...and I haven't fed it yet.”  ‘Lowe’s Eglantine’, his hybrid rubiginosa (or eglanteria) was blooming in a shady spot in his garden and still produced large glowing pink blooms that drew the eye.  It can produce long, 20-foot canes and works well as a groundcover. He recommends his ‘New Hampshire Statehouse’ for a vigorous, hardy, orange-pink climber. 

'Friends Forever'

'Autumn Sunset'

Mike’s best known introduction is ‘Autumn Sunset’ (Lowe, 1986), a yellow sport of the shrub ‘Westerland’. Mike says he found this sport after propagating cuttings of ‘Westerland’ from the great rose gardens of Karl P. Jones of Barrington, RI.  Its yellow to apricot blend blooms are an attractive color, and combine in the garden more easily than the orange of ‘Westerland’.  Both cultivars are listed as shrubs, but can be grown as climbers.  ‘Autumn Sunset’ is rated 8.1 by the ARS and fills a niche as a hardy yellow climber.

Mike sells his introductions through Ashdown Roses in South Carolina and his own company, Lowe’s Roses. 


David Berg of Connecticut has hybridized some outstanding roses. Like Harm Saville, with whom he used to fish, Dave is a breeder of miniature roses. One of his first, ‘Wintonbury Parish’, was chosen and named by a local First Congregational Church to honor their 250th anniversary. Dave donated it as a fundraiser for a memorial garden at the church. This 14-petaled miniature has cream white petals with red edging and a high center. Its breeding is ‘Lady X’ crossed with ’Poker Chip’. Tommy Cairns transported some from Los Angeles to St. Albans, England for the First All Miniature National Rose Show in 1993, and won Princess of show.  

The city of Norwich in Connecticut wanted a rose to honor their city, as they call themselves “the rose city of Connecticut.” They chose a richly scented, well-shaped, deep pink mini out of the seedlings that Dave presented for their consideration. After a naming contest in the town, it was called ‘Norwich Sweetheart’. When the first 250 were sold in a small storefront in Norwich, they were sold out in just a few hours. ‘Norwich Sweetheart’ is a cross between ‘Jilly Jewel’ and ‘Radiant’. I’ve found it to be vigorous and hardy here in zone 6, and think its fragrance is unmatched in minis. Nor’East Roses introduced it for Dave and is looking at introducing more of his seedlings.

"Norwich Sweetheart", photo courtesy of Nor'East Miniature Roses

"Elizabeth Park Centennial", photo by John Mattia

John Mattia is the latest of our New England hybridizers. He is a nationally recognized rose exhibitor, and known for his beautiful rose photography and remarkable Adobe Photoshop rose art.  He introduced ‘Autograph’, a pink blend sport of ‘Signature’ in 2000. He was all set to introduce a beautiful pink edged exhibition hybrid tea in 2004, bred from ‘Signature’ by ‘Pretoria’. It was to be timed to honor the Elizabeth Park Rose gardens 100th anniversary. A mishap by the propagator prevented this… the wrong rose was budded! Fortunately, John saw by the foliage that it was not his rose, so it was not distributed at the anniversary. Now, after sending budwood to a different propagator, ‘Elizabeth Park Centennial’ will be introduced in spring 2007. Knowing John, it will quickly find its way to the title of Queen of Show.

 He has bred a number of fine pink hybrid teas but is uncertain if he will try to introduce them.  “Amateur hybridizers really don’t stand much of a chance of getting introduced unless their rose is really unique. A major introducer of roses told me, ‘John, I have acres of [our own] pink roses.’”  John has also bred a non-fading yellow floribunda from ‘Helmut Schmidt’ crossed with ‘Golden Quill’, but felt it didn’t produce adequate sprays.  A fellow rosarian looked at it and said, “John, it’s a Mini-Flora”.  And so it is.


Concluding Trivia

The song “Yankee Doodle” was originally written by a British surgeon after the French and Indian War and was meant to insult the colonists for their rag-tag army and lack of European finesse, (in fact doodle means a simpleton). In the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army, not wanting to emulate the courts and armies of Europe, proudly took it up as their marching song, added hundreds of verses and ended with:

Yankee Doodle is the tune
That we all delight in,
It suits for feasts, it suits for fun,
And just as well for fightin'

Clarence Rhodes at Lobster Fest

Yankee District at Lobster Fest in Cape Cod, photo by John Mattia


For “feasts and fun.” we in Yankee District have had a lobster and clam boil on a beach in Cape Cod the last few falls, thanks to the Lower Cape Rose Society. For “fightin,” there’s the fight against the unpredictable winters with their alternating severe freezes and mid-winter thaws followed by the oppressive humidity of the summers and the never ending battle with black-spot.  We rosarians who are “hardy New Englanders” can be perversely proud of growing and showing roses that can survive our weather.  I’m not really sure if we’re scornful of, or secretly jealous of, those who grow fine roses in milder climes. Like rose lovers everywhere though, we can find our way to beautiful roses

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