A COUNTRY PASTOR'S EFFORT TO PERFECT THE HARDY ROSE
By EDWARD HARRINGTON LAWTON
OUT of a financial panic grew roses, red and yellow, and from a very Lousain of smashed hopes and ambitions came greater things than even the wrecked dreams had promised. That is one way of putting the case of the Rev. George Schoener, good priest of the Church of Roses, whose parish includes the little town of Brooks, Oregon.
In the plot of ground surrounding the little white church and the rectory where Father Schoener lives there are more than 28,000 rose seeds springing into life this year, and from some of them will come great crimson-vermilion blossoms, four inches in diameter and clustered in groups of from five to ten. These are the children of the Oregon Sweetbrier and General Jacqueminot, brought into being by the village priest.
Father Schoener is now known up and down the Pacific coast, after only three years of study and experiment, as an authority on rose-culture, and his reputation is moving steadily across the continent. The story of how the priest came to give new roses to the world begins in Rochester, Pennsylvania, a year or so before the panic of 1907.
Father Schoener working on his roses in his country churchyard at Brooks, Ore.; examining a rose to be pollenized.
Some time before that financial cataclysm, Father Schoener was at the head of St. Cecil's Church, in Rochester. He undertook to build a church edifice that should rival any of its size in the country, and that should cost approximately $150,000. He wanted to make his parish all that it could be made.
Having studied architecture during his residence at various European Universities, Father Schoener drew the plans for his church, as well as the details for the elaborate decorations and carvings. He did this while carrying his usual burden of work as pastor.
The priest would probably have been able to bear this double load had it not been for the panic. That blow struck swiftly, and the first effect was to make money scarce. Men thought twice before they put their hands in their pockets to give for the building of churches, or for anything. Nevertheless, the work in Rochester went on.
But when the church was finally finished and dedicated, the hitherto indomitable priest found himself a nervous and physical wreck. He went to a hospital for brief recuperation, he supposed, but it was three years before the physicians let him go, his health only partially restored, and with the warning that he must go from the noise and turmoil and swift labor of cities.
Then it was, perhaps, that the Oregon sweetbrier lifted her perfumed head and cried: "Come over and help us, for we have need of one with the heart to understand and the knowledge to do!" Anyhow, it happened that Father Schoener heard of the Oregon climate, and was soon assigned to the little country parish that includes the town of Brooks, in Marion County.
"It was at first sight, along in the latter part of October, that I was impressed by the prodigality of nature in Oregon," said the priest, in describing his arrival at Portland, whence he was to go to his field. "It was new to me to see roses at that time of the year, yet they were in perfection and profusion, along every street and walk in the city."
Perhaps it is not too much to think that the roses of Portland nodded and waved a friendly recognition of their future benefactor, as Father Schoener, contemplative, resigned to giving up what he supposed was his chance for large work, walked between blossom-dotted hedges.
It was only a brief day or two before he went to Brooks, "to take care of the farmers there around," as he expresses it in his sometimes quaint English. Then began his intimacy with wild-growing roses, that has resulted so well for the flowers, and that promises so fruitfully for the world of flower lovers.
"As I came for my health, I took at once strolls through the woods for miles and miles, and on all sides I saw wild roses to greet me," he says, unconsciously telling in the last four words the secret of his wizardy in rose culture. "And not only roses greeted me so eagerly as a welcome friend. I found many other representatives of a rich vegetation.
"But the next spring I opened my eyes still wider, and stood amazed and astonished when I saw the wealth of nature budding out in such lavish profusion. One day 1 saw a wild rose creeping through the monster branches of a gigantic first generation oak tree about thirty-five feet high. I began to look closer into the many species of roses, and soon 1 found fourteen of them."
Father Schoener says the wild sweetbrier entreated him, although not in words, and said: "Make something out of me: I will respond willingly to the touch of human hand and genius!"
This Sweetbrier is a vigorous, hardy plant. It sends up shoots from five to fifteen feet long in a single season, and revels in the poorest soil; flourishes during the driest weather. Yet it never shows the least sign of disease, such as mildew, black spot, or red rust. The protracted spring rains of Oregon do not seem to affect it.
The priest got out his books on botany and plant biology and began to remember some of the things he had heard learned professors say in their lectures. He remembered, too, that as a twelve-year-old boy he had loved and cultivated roses. It did not take long to renew the old friendship, for these roses of Oregon, if not the same, were at least cousins to the flowers of other times and places.
Father Schoener began to dream of roses that should combine the beauty and delicacy of the cultivated varieties with the rich perfume and hardiness of the sweetbrier. The annual rose festival of Portland came, and he told his hopes to rose enthusiasts of the city. They gave him of their best with which to try his proposed experiments. And then began the work that is rapidly gaining a national reputation for the priest, and that promises to spread his fame internationally.
Working without the elaborate equipment that some rose-hybridizers demand, Father Schoener has produced results that have astonished the Pacific Coast rose-culturists, and that promise other results; possibly taking rank with the achievements of Pernet Ducher of France, Alexander Dickson of England, and Lambert of Germany. He had no corps of caretakers, no temperature-regulated hothouses, and no expensive soil-preparation.
Healthy ripe hybridized seed-hips in clusters of fourteen on a single branch
Father Schoener early became convinced that many of the European hybridizers' roses failed for out-of-door culture because they had been bred under artificial conditions, and because they had been crossed and recrossed so many times that inbreeding had exhausted them. Therefore he carried on his experiments in the open air, and in some cases with an infusion of sturdy wild-rose "blood."
After demonstrating that the most successful hybridization can be carried on in the open, Father Schoener entered upon his great work—that of producing a new rose family. From this effort came the 28,000 seeds that he has planted in his churchyard. Besides successfully crossing the sweetbrier with the General Jacqueminot, he has produced a beautifully brilliant rose of shrimp-pink, yellow, and fawn. This is a child of a Mrs. Aaron Ward and a Lady Hillingdon. There is a deep scarlet-maroon that comes from the American Beauty and the Barbou Job, and still another, a climbing rose, from the Reine Marie Henriette and the Melanie Soupert.
To plunge deeply into rose-culture means a clutter of technicalities, and the point here is the meaning and nature of Father Schoener's achievement, not the details of it. Out of his own words may come an understanding of the man, and so of his work.
"It is my full conviction that flower-culture refines the character of man," says the priest. "Love of flowers is very strongly the hallmark of innocence for young people. It creates a home-loving spirit. Civilization does not mean only the exploitation of nature, but far more the using of human intelligence for the betterment of life, social and religious.
"The refreshing charm of roses is surely, then, a fair factor in
civilization, in the building up of communities, as well as of loving
character. Yes, this fond hobby of rose-culture ennobles, and it breaks down
Indeed, could there be a nobler occupation for our pastime than rambling among roses, pruning them, cultivating them, watering them, and even speaking to them and being captured by their charms? Rival ambitions, conflicting interests, rancorous clamor of wrong done and vengeance unfulfilled—these foul specters of the battling day are not in the circle of rose-lovers."
In the center of the picture is a hybrid between Rosa rubiginosa (Oregon Sweetbrier) and
Rosa pisocarpa. The plant is four years old. In Its third year it made a shoot feet long.
There is little or nothing that can be added to Father Schoener's exposition of why and what a rose is. The story of how physical illness drove him from one field of work to far greater success in another has been told, but it may not be amiss to add, in one of his rich sentences, a sort of Adios:
"Having made two roses grow where but one grew before, we shall have humbly imitated Him who doubled the blades of grass and watered them with the dew of love,"
A Marie Van Houtte rose bush at the church door with over 200 hybridized rose-hips on it.