American Rose Annual 58:129-132 (1922)

E. G. Hill's Lifetime with Roses


READERS of the 1921 Annual will remember Mr. Hill's delightful paper "English Roses through American Eyes,'' and they will also remember the genial face of that fine man as reproduced near the article. On December 6, 1921, Mr. Hill talked to the Philadelphia Florists' Club of his lifetime's rose observation and work. From his delightful address some extracts are here presented:

I have found in my travels that the men who love roses and grow roses are the finest men in the world. My association with these men has been fraught with many blessings to me. For example, Dr. Edmund M. Mills, of Syracuse, surely loves the rose, and I may tell you a story to indicate how rose-love breaks down the difference between Methodism and Catholicism.

Dr. Mills lives in Syracuse, where he has charge, as district superintendent, of a number of churches in the vicinity. Our friend Quinlan, of Syracuse, is not only a good Catholic but a good rose-grower. Notwithstanding the former he went to hear Dr. Mills preach, and liking what he heard he kept on going to hear him every Sunday evening. One of his friends who observed this action intimated that he was entirely too attentive to the Methodist church. Mr. Quinlan's reply was: "Well, anybody who loves roses like Dr. Mills can't harm me and I expect to continue to go to hear him."

I like to work with flowers and plants, and study them. Really few people know, and a great many of the florists do not understand, that the sexual relation exists in plants just the same as in the animal kingdom. When we keep that thing in mind, and remember it is God's plan and purpose to benefit the world, to make things more beautiful, we can work with Him.

I despise the man who says he creates anything. I tell you, God alone creates the flowers and beautiful things in life; but we can be co-workers with Him in the fertilization, in the production of new plants and new flowers.

In the sixteenth chapter of Proverbs we read, "Jehovah hath made everything for its own end." And how true that is; the man that dares to believe that he creates anything without the Divine assistance is a man on unsafe ground and he is not right in his thought and mind. In Westminster Abbey, last year, I noticed two tablets not more than ten feet apart. One was to Charles Darwin, the revelator of God's laws concerning plants and animals in the material world; the other was to John Wesley, the interpreter of the spiritual life as revealed by God through Jesus Christ. I thought how broad a platform that is and how sincerely the thought should be that the same God, the same Jehovah who made man and created him after his own image, also made the plants and the fishes, the fowls, the birds and the animals.

To be a successful hybridist, or to attain success in fertilization, we have to have idealism, we must have vision of the thing we want to aim at. Young men must get this thoroughly grounded into their minds and into their thoughts. Dream! Dreams! some may say. If it were not for the dreamers there would not be much accomplished in this world. Have a vision of the things you want to do, and then have the purpose of mind, the stability to stick at it and work it out and you will get results.

When you come to the men who have accomplished something in the rose line, you have Pernet. Just think what he did! He took the Persian Yellow and the Austrian Copper and worked for fifteen to twenty years trying to introduce a pure yellow trend in the everblooming roses. What is the result? His effort has been crowned with success; the greatest advance that has been made in the rose family in the last twenty-five years is in the variety that he has named for his son, Souvenir de Claudius Pernet. It is one of the most wonderful roses I have ever beheld. It is not only of good size, but the coloring is simply superb—a clear, shining, golden yellow. It has health, vigor, and all the characteristics that are necessary for an excellent garden rose.

I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Montgomery; he has done great things for the rose. And then John Cook—just see what he has done. He has given us a lot of most excellent roses. Dr. Van Fleet's climbers are the best in the world. There is Mr. Walsh; he has given us fine climbers.

I cannot forget that going down the Thames River, in looking over the back-yard fences along the railway, I think in five out of every ten back yards there were roses blooming, hanging over the garden fences, Dorothy Perkins, and American Pillar among them. Those two roses are planted in England everywhere and on every hand, a tribute to the American rosarian.

A good many people think, when we send out a new rose and ask the price that we do, that it is exorbitant, and that we are profiteering on the trade; but let me just put the thing to you. From the time I introduced Richmond until I got Columbia, I spent thousands and thousands of dollars in wasted space and in time. The nurserymen do not plunge on a new rose that is valuable for garden purposes. I think, however, a better day is dawning, and that there will be a better appreciation of a good garden rose. When that day comes we will see a revolution in our garden roses. There is lots of blood that needs breeding out, and new blood that should be bred in, before we will get satisfactory varieties that will grow and flower outdoors as they ought, as they do over the water and out upon the Pacific Coast.

Now I am going to reminisce a little. I remember in my quest for a new rose, I went over to Luxembourg. I saw a rose there and said to myself, "That rose will force; that is just the finest thing." I put $400 or $500 in it, and it nearly broke me, then! I thought surely I had gotten a jewel, and I tried it out. What was the result? I burnt the rose!

Then there was a fellow down in southern France wrote me that he had a mighty fine rose, a red that he thought would suit the American market and would be desirable for forcing purposes, and as I had never known a man over there to have more than a couple of hundred of a new rose, I, fool-like, sent him a cablegram that I would take "all he had." How many do you suppose I received? I got 9,400! It took some hustling around to dispose of those roses. I was pretty nearly bankrupt one year when a party, who dealt in hybrids mostly, sent me a list that just captivated me. My wife said, "I think we need things in the house more than we need new roses." But, anyhow, I sent for them, and he sent them C. O. D.!

When I was at Lyons, with M. Pernet, and he was showing me his roses and dilating upon them, I caught sight of a couple of yellow roses that were sticking up, and kept looking at them. Pernet said to me, "What are you looking at?" I said, "I am looking at that yellow rose. Let's go over there, and then we can come back here." But he said, "Come right along; we will get there." We got over there after a while, and I was captivated by that rose. I said to M. Pernet, "I would like to buy that rose." "Well," he said, "what will you give?" I looked them over, and I said, "I will risk $500 on that." ''Well," he said, "I will not take that much money for it; I would not feel right to take $500 for that rose. When we go in to dinner I will make you a price." So when we got to the dinner, and the old gentleman said, "Mr. Hill, if you will give me 1500 francs ($292.50) for that Rose that would be about right." I said, 'That is not enough." He said, "Yes, I do not want more." I replied, "I want you to reserve the European rights. I will exploit it in America, and the information will get back to England, and I am sure you will sell a good lot of them." It worked that way, and M. Pernet got more money out of Sunburst over there than I got out of it in the sale over here.

He sent me Mme. Edouard Herriot, the rose that the Daily Mail people offered a $500 prize for at the great International Show. He thought it would bring far more money than Sunburst. It would not bloom in the winter.

When you see a rose growing over on the other side, and you try to size it up, in nine cases out of ten, I might say in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, if you have in view a forcing variety, you are doomed to disappointment, for outside of Catherine Mermet and Mme. Ferdinand Jamin, Killarney, Ophelia, and one or two others, how many of those foreign importations have ever proved amenable to our winter forcing conditions? Our people are critical when it comes to a winter-flowering rose; there are so many essentials that enter into a winter forcing rose, so different from a garden rose. In the first place, it has to be vigorous; it has to be everblooming; it has to have good foliage, a good stem; it should have color and fragrance, and good petalage.

I buy everything they offer over there; they think I am an "easy mark," I guess, but that's all right; I may drop on to something as good as Ophelia. Charles H. Totty and I went over there to see Mr. Paul, and I said to him, "How many have you got of that?" "Well," he said, "I have sold a good many of it." I asked, "How many can you let me have?" He said, "Well, I am not going to let you have all I have. I have to keep some for my own trade." I said, "How many? Let's get down to business." He said, "About 300." I was the happiest fellow in the world when I got those 300 over; but somebody put Mr. Eisele on it, and the Dreers had it in their catalogues, so I had to put Ophelia on the market a year too soon. However, I have no cause to complain, because Ophelia has been the mother of nearly all the good roses I have raised.

Do you know that the first rose I got that gave me any encouragement was General MacArthur? Let me tell you about General MacArthur. I was over in some London gardens last year, and the man who had charge of the roses— they have beds of roses, with twenty-five to fifty and sometimes 100 varieties in a bed—was commenting on the merits of the different varieties. He came to a red rose and said, "I think this is the best red rose we have over here. If you haven't got this rose you ought to get it." I asked him, "What's the name?" (I had recognized it at once.) He said, "General MacArthur," and I said, "Rather an old friend; I originated that rose." He replied, "You did!"

I met a man from South Africa at a flower show in London. I think he was one of those diamond merchants. He was looking around the show and somebody told him that Mr. Hill was there from America. He said, "I want to see that man," and so he was brought over and introduced to me. "Mr. Hill," he said, "I want to shake your hand and thank you." I asked him, "What for?" He said, "I am from South Africa, and do you know the finest rose we have in South Africa is your General MacArthur? It grows with exuberance and there is a charm about it." I felt that was a compensation for some failures!

To the inquiry which has been made about how to go about rose-breeding, I am glad to reply. Of course, with the rose the two sexes are in one flower. There are some varieties that are sterile; they cannot be fertilized. When we want to use a variety for the mother plant, we take a small scissors and cut out the pollen-bearing stamens of a flower and let it stand until the pistil or stigma is ready. I could not tell anybody just when to apply the pollen, or when conception would take place in the rose. It comes only by actual experience; I can tell in most cases when the organs of the plant are in a receptive mood, and I can tell when it has been fertilized and impregnated. We will begin to cross-fertilize in a very short time, and it will take until next August or September before the seed properly ripens. In the meantime you have got to keep your plants in fairly good health—not too moist. Sometimes moist atmosphere, a continuous rainy season for some weeks, will cause your rose seed-pod to blacken in spite of all you can do.

We have no secrets. I know some of the European people have pretended to have great secrets, but there is not anything to this secret business.

We sow the seed along in October and do not let it kick around and dry up and get hard. Put it in a cool place and then exercise patience; as St. Paul says, "Let patience have her perfect work." You will find out what the apostle meant when you get into sowing seedling roses.


Our new rose, America, comes from American Beauty and Premier; that is its real parentage, and if you will look at the wood it resembles American Beauty, except that it will produce a dozen flowers where American Beauty will produce one. I think it gets its long growth from American Beauty. It is between Columbia and Ophelia in color. See Plate XVII, facing page 153.

There are strange things in nature. You never can tell what you are going to get. Take in the human family—you do not get a Gladstone or a Lincoln or a Roosevelt, or even a Harding or Woodrow Wilson only once in a good long while.

Of course, sports have contributed to the rose family; they have given us many desirable varieties. Bride and Bridesmaid and White Killarney and the two or three other Killarneys are sports of that nature. It is a strange law governing the production of valuable things. Nearly every variety of rose that has been forced has produced a climbing sport. We had, last year, a sport of Columbia that ran up eight to ten feet. Who can explain that? What is the law that governs those sports? The plantsman and the scientist cannot explain it. I have never heard any explanation that is satisfactory.

I think it is Jehovah's purpose and plan to supplement or to make good our ignorance and our overlooking these facts concerning His laws in plant production. I believe if the orchardist had been on to his job right, we would have had finer apples than we have through this same law that has brought these sports in our plants.

Naming a rose is a great thing, and it is beset with difficulties. I think I have had a hundred applications to name America for some dear lady or some nice young miss, but I do not have any authority at Richmond. My sister runs the naming of the roses, and she gets away from Miss this and Miss that and gives them suggestive and good names, so she picked out Premier and Butterfly and Richmond and America.

I do not know that I can say anything more, except that in connection with the seedling roses, great grandmothers and great grandfathers away back have an influence on all seeds, and that a seedling rose will reassert the character of a past generation or parentage. Now America, as I have said, is the result of crossing American Beauty with Premier. I wish that I could transport you to our houses and you could see America grow. Let me tell you something: We had only sixteen plants of America a year ago at this time, and now we have 4,500, I believe. You will say, "Perhaps we weaken the plant by over-propagation." We do nothing of the kind. I took a bunch of Columbia and budded America on the top growth of Columbia; we got a stronger growth from those buds than the original sixteen plants produced. We try to keep strength and vigor and health in a new rose.