THE FIRST EIGHTEEN CHINAS
by Brent C. Dickerson
"Who can remain indifferent when confronted with the results of growing Chinas? Who can view without emotion, without admiration, indeed without gratitude, all these varieties coming from the same Type, so varied in growth and foliage, so rich in coloration, so diverse in form? The undiscriminating man would see all with the same eye--or, more to the point, he would see nothing at all; the fact is that every thing that Art might create to enhance his pleasures--well able to speak to his senses--would not be able to speak to *his* imagination. It is rather for those who appreciate its benefits, who can admire its productions, that she gives birth from time to time to the sweetest rewards to our efforts--these interesting varieties."
So writes Vibert about Chinas in 1826, when they were in the midst of a great boom of early varieties, Chinas having--after a slow and quiet start--come to a grand crescendo. Our purpose here is not to look at the incidents attending the introduction of the very first Chinas from their fatherland, but rather to survey the progress and increase of the class in the Occident during the earliest years, obtaining an idea of what it had to offer during those years when the once-blooming European classes were still undisputed aristocracy of the rosarium. (We should perhaps add that that Lilliputian race of Chinas, the Lawrencianas, does not enter into these present considerations.)
Early references one sees here and there to a rose from China named 'Alba' appear to derive from confusion surrounding Plukenet's 1705 *Rosa alba chesuanensis foliorum marginibus et rachi medio spinosis*--to wit, apparently what we call *Rosa laevigata*--which Plukenet based on a dried specimen sent to him from China; this dried specimen is said still to exist in the British Museum. We see an "indica" in Weston in 1770, described there as "*germinibus ovatis pedunculisque glabris, caule subinermi, petiolis aculeatis*"; but, whatever it was, he had dropped it by his 1775 edition. Buc'hoz, in Paris, does not mention it in his 1770 *Dictionnaire Universel*, nor indeed does Fillassier in 1791. But aside with these empty references! Turn we now to what is considered the Occident's first China, one which many would say is still the best.
'Parsons' Pink China' (China/Parsons, 1793). Synonyms: 'Common China', 'Diversifolia', 'Old Blush', 'Rose Semi-Double', 'Rosier a Feuilles Variables', etc. The attribution to Parsons is the traditional one; claims are also made for Peter Osbeck of Sweden, Capt. Ekeberg of the same fine land in 1763, and one diversely-named Mr. Kerr/Keer/Ker of England about 1780 or 1789--but of course always as having taken the rose to Europe from China. It had arrived in France, via England, by 1798, and we find an early description in the 1806 *Bon Jardinier*: "This pretty bush has only been known a short while; but already it is no longer rare as it deserves being grown due to its merit of always being in leaf and in bloom. Its leaves, constructed like those of other roses, vary in the number of leaflets (3 or 5), which are pointed and of a delicate green lightly edged with pink. This bush, which is of a very elegant look, grows to about 3 or 4 feet. From each of its axils comes a branch bearing at its tip between one and four long buds [*contemporaries were used to the globular buds of the Centifolias, etc.*] which subsequently become lightly fragrant blossoms of great freshness, of a shade of pink nearly as intense as that of the Centifolia from Bordeaux [*'Rosier des Dames'*], though less double. To have flowers all year long, all you need to do is to cut them as they fade; they then regrow, even in Winter..." The varying nature of the leaves may be noted in Redoute's plate of it (as "Rosa indica vulgaris") in his and Thory's *Les Roses*.
The dates of import, description, and commercial introduction of many of these early roses vie with each other for citation; they are vague and hard to settle, and sometimes might be called something of a legal fiction. Rosarians call 'Parsons' Pink China' the "first China," even while assigning an earlier date for the "second China" 'Slater's Crimson China', traditionally attributed to the Englishman "Slater, 1790." Andrews, perhaps in a good position to know better, advises "1792." To learn something of how it struck the eye of gardeners in those days, we turn again to the 1806 *Bon Jardinier*: "There is also [*along with 'Parsons' Pink China'*] a variety with blossoms of a deep and velvety crimson, quite like the other, except that the leaves are edged with brown, the blossom is less double, and the bush is generally lower, a disadvantage for which it compensates by the rich color of its flowers." Guerrapain, writing in 1811, adds some interesting notes: "The crimson or purple China is more delicate and not as tall as the pink-flowered ones. Its branches are pendant, and branch out; its leaves are smaller and more delicate, and are edged and touched with an icy brown-pink. The flower is semi-double, and of a superb velvety crimson. It should enchant fanciers with the richness of its color, one always looked for in every sort of flower. Its propagation is not easy, particularly on the Briar, because of the delicacy of its wood and shoots."
Though they started out in England (and perhaps Sweden), both of the above were early available to American gardeners as well. We see a 'Champneys' Bengale Rose' credited to "Champneys, 1800," though I suspect that this is simply a synonym for the first Noisette 'Champneys' Pink Cluster'. Even so, obviously Champneys had the China rose available for crossing purposes at that time. Meantime, Bernard M'Mahon of Philadelphia lists them in his 1806 *The American Gardener's Calendar*. In Germany, Rossig had already mentioned the Common China in 1799. However, as for France . . . let us return to Vibert, who was on the scene: "We find that the first specimen was given to the *Jardin des Plantes* [*in Paris*] around the year 1800 by someone who probably got it from England; the name of this person is impossible to determine. Dr. Cartier, who holds a distinguished place among our fanciers, was the second to grow it. In 1804, he grew the double variety [*'Parsons' Pink China' was considered to be semi-double*] from seed . . . [*a page intervenes*] . . . The first seeds were sown by Monsieur Cartier; and with the three which came to bloom, one with double flowers was found . . . we didn't have any further varieties." Cartier's double variety would be 'Bengale Centfeuilles' (Cartier, 1804), syn. 'A Fleurs tres Doubles'. Boitard, in his editorship of the 1824 *Bon Jardinier*, mentions a very double China "with flowers like those of the Centifolia rose," and records it as being at Monsieur Noisette's nursery, and coming originally from Florence, Italy; but Vibert, upon doing some investigation of the matter, found that Monsieur Noisette had no idea of what Boitard was talking about; and so the attribution of 'Bengale Centfeuilles' to Noisette, which has formerly prevailed, appears to be incorrect and based on Boitard's error. We are fortunate not only in having an illustration of it by Redoute, with a description by Thory, but also in that this rose has evidently survived into our own times. As Thory's long description is generally available in editions of *Les Roses*, we give here only the portion concerning the blossom: "*Flowers*, 2-3 at the branch tips, faintly scented, double, but a little less so than in *R. centifolia* . . . *corolla* 35-40 mm in diameter; *petals* many-seriate, cordately notched, those at the center curled and crumpled, scarcely allowing those stamens not converted to petals to be seen; bud bright red before opening; the later blooms, except in very favorable circumstances, rarely open well." Guerrapain, writing several years before Thory, compares it to the Common China and others, stating that it "is not yet [*in 1811*] as widely distributed in commerce as the preceding sorts. Its wood is more vigorous; the leaves are as large in size, as is the flower, which is nearly as double as that of the Centifolia. The petals are not as long, and the color is darker."
Cartier's fellow Parisians in the Cels family were also busy. 'De Cels' (Cels, 1804). This rose picked up several synonyms as the years went on: 'A Fleurs Blanches', 'Alba', 'Blanc', and Redoute and Thory bestowed 'Subalba' on it, telling us that it was raised by Cels from seed in 1804, adding as well some precious details: "It is a weak and delicate plant, and the frosts of January 1820 killed off most in the neighborhood of Paris. Pot plants sheltered in the orangery in Winter fared better; in the open air it should be pruned to within 2.5 cm of the roots. It should be lifted every two years and replanted in a mixture of loam and humus--or, better, kept in a bed of peat; but it is best to use pots which can be brought inside in Winter." Thory and Redoute give further description; but here is Guerrapain's earlier entry: "The white-flowered variety differs from [*'Parsons' Pink China'*] by way of its buds, which are less covered by the calyx-membranes [*i.e., sepals*], and its wood, which is less vigorous. It is, so to speak, very playful, the same specimen giving some pink flowers, others flesh-colored, others veined pink and white, and finally some very white ones. It enjoys the advantage of producing more branchlets than does [*'Parsons' Pink China', etc.*] and, consequently, more flowers; but, on the other hand, it is not so easy to propagate. Grafted into the Briar, it is more easily pruned, formed, and shaped than is the pink one; often one lone bud, which in the latter variety gives only one shoot or branch, grows six or eight, all bearing flowers. This is a variety which merits being cared for and grown." De Pronville (1824) differs in his estimation of the variety: "Mediocre, being inconstant."
In 1804, then, there were evidently four China roses available: 'Parsons' Pink China', 'Slater's Crimson China', 'Bengale Centfeuilles', and 'De Cels'. It would be another five years until the next would appear.
We see in the supplement to the 1809 *Bon Jardinier* the following announcement: "Monsieur Gauche, gardener and garden-decorator, has been so kind as to give me a specimen of this rose. Its flowers, of a quite bright color with paler touches, have some crinkled petals and a pretty look. He called it 'Bichonne'." Redoute, again, illustrates it--but a number of years later; and Guerrapain, again, describes it--but only two years after its introduction: "A variety of the crimson China exists under the name 'Bichonne', having the same characteristics [*as 'Slater's Crimson China'*]; it differs only by the vigor of its shoots and the petals in its blossoms--they are often edged and mixed with white, and are crinkled and frilled, giving it the name 'Bichonne' [*i.e., "something 'dolled up' or 'smarted up'"*]. Several fanciers also call it 'Bengale Panache'. This rose can grow three to four feet high, making a sort of pyramid which is very effective by way of the quantity of flowers it gives; they are the most fragrant of those of this sort. It appears that we owe this rose to the efforts of Madame Gaucher of Paris; she grew it carefully for several years, and successfully--she's the one who has distributed it in commerce." Andrews at some point had it under his eye "for the last eight years, and always considered it as an abortive rose that would return to a more perfect state: but finding the irregular, incurved and unequal expansion of its petals still remain unaltered, no further doubt remains of its being a permanent character . . . It is to be met with in almost every collection."
Now the pace of China introductions began to quicken. 1810 saw the introduction of a China distinguished for its leaves, 'A Feuilles de Pecher'--that is, "peach-leafed"--grown from seed of 'Parsons' Pink China' by Monsieur Bounder of Dijon. The 1817 *Bon Jardinier* lets the name speak for itself about the leaves, but adds that "the blossoms have petals of the same color as that of the Type [*intending 'Parsons' Pink China'*], but very narrow and very long." Redoute and Thory confirm this in their later plate of their "almost identical" 'Longifolia', noting that Bounder's differed through its petals, which were "strap-like, similar to the rays of a sunflower." (The leaves of Redoute's 'Longifolia'--more commonly known as 'Persicifolia' by the nurseries of the time--are illustrated as long and narrow, like those of the peach tree, yes--but even more bamboo-like. This later 'Longifolia' evidently appeared between about 1817 and 1824.)
There were three more circa-1810 China roses. First, a 'Beau Carmin', attributed to Vibert's great predecessor Descemet, and described by Singer in 1885 as "Flower medium sized, full; color, velvety carmine red."
The second one, 'Cruenta', was imported from China by one T. Evans, Thory and Redoute tell us, "and bloomed in England for the first time in Colville's Nursery about 1810. This most beautiful of the purple Chinas blooms in the orangery or a very sheltered frame in early Spring, the flowers being outstanding for their volume and perfection of form. It can be successfully grafted on *canina* or the Common China, but in this case the blossoms will be smaller and appear only at the end of June." The plant itself, the authors tell us, was about two or so feet high. "Beautiful color, which varies," de Pronville tells us in 1824, Calvert indeed calling it "bright crimson" (1821). "Blood red" was Desportes' opinion (1828). A most useful work by LeRouge--still in manuscript though written 1819-1820--gives the following important information on 'Cruenta' (under the heading 'Petite Semidouble Cramoisie Veloutee'): " 'Cruenta', or 'Couleur du Sang', would seem to be the Type of many others of the same sort. It is fairly delicate, its growth only rising indeed to a foot and a half; grafted, it is more robust and can [ . . . *some words illegible, probably to the effect of "overtop"* . . . ] the growth of our hybrids a little when palisaded out in the open. Its leaves are narrow, and its flower--velvety crimson, with ten petals of an inch and a half in diameter. It does much better grafted at two and a half feet, and makes a bush which is always in bloom." We see, comparing the quote from LeRouge with that from Thory/Redoute, that grafting, while it helped the growth, did so at the expense of the flowers.
The third is known under the interesting name of the 'Blue Rose' (China/Milford, circa 1810), syn. 'Indica Purpurea', 'Pourpre', 'Purple'. Andrews obliges us with the following information: "Rose with numerous purple flowers: seed-buds, leaves and stems the same as in the Variegated Indica [*see below under 'Marbree'*]. The purple variety is said to have been first imported from China about the year 1810, to the gardens of Lord Milford, under the appellation of the Blue Rose; and as such many of them were sold at a guinea each, although the plant had not then flowered: such is the fascinating force of novelty, which even in embryo has the power to charm. This rose of expectation, when its blooms unfolded, no heavenly blue disclosed, but a red purple, which as it faded off became much paler, less brilliant, but of a bluer or colder purple, which gives to the fresh opened blossoms a very different appearance contrasted with those retiring; and although the blue's celestial tint is wanting, it is nevertheless a graceful and very abundant flowering rose." Prevost fils adds to our knowledge of the 'Blue Rose' with: "*Canes*, slender. *Ovary*, glabrous, obconical, sometimes having a circular expansion at the base. *Bud*, globular. *Flower*, medium-size, full, bluish purple. *Styles*, 70-90." A double form of the 'Blue Rose' was at length raised by Monsieur Barrier at the Trianon by 1828. Alas, they both are evidently extinct, though perhaps we may cherish hopes that the Chinese homeland has preserved the original somewhere.
Next came the most basic of all: 'Simple' (Breeder unknown, pre-1811). As Guerrapain writes, "this would seem to be the original Type of the species. It has the same characteristics as ['Parsons' Pink China']; it only differs by way of the number of petals in the flower--five--longer than those of ['Parsons' Pink China']. Though single, it is not without its charms." (Andrews records another single raised by the nurseryman Knight from "seed received by him from France in 1816," though its introduction evidently did not occur until the mid-1820s--at least, in 1828 Andrews refers to its "recent introduction.") While 'Parsons' Pink China' and 'Slater's Crimson China' were semi-double and easily bred with where the climate was benevolent, the introduction of singles would have facilitated and varied breeding yet more; and we indeed perhaps see the upshot of this first about 1815 in the debut of that new class which proved important later to mainstream rose progress, the Hybrid Chinas--those once-blooming crosses between the Chinas and the old European roses, so poorly understood today--and then about 1818, when there was an explosion of pure Chinas being introduced. But meantime there were a few more of these pure Chinas being eked out in the several years before that explosion.
'A Bouquets' (Trianon, pre-1812), syn. 'Sertulata', 'Clustered China Rose'. Our stalwarts Redoute and Thory give picture and text on this: "*Bush*, 30-38 cm high; *prickles* not numerous, hooked, fairly stout, a little wider at the base, lacking in the inflorescences. *Leaflets* 3 or 5, medium-sized, dark green above, glaucous beneath and more or less purple-flushed even on the margins; petioles reddish, glabrous, prickly; stipules acute, gland-edged. *Flowers* 5-6 at the tips of the laterals, clustered; *receptacles* quite glabrous, subglobose; pedicels long, glandular hispid, especially towards the top; *sepals* entire, acute or spatulate, glabrous outside, tomentose within; petals 5-6-seriate, concave, irregularly notched, of a very delicate pink whitening towards the base . . . It was apparently raised from seed many years ago in the royal nursery at the Trianon. Long rare, it is found today in some collections. It is propagated from cuttings rather than by grafts, raised in peaty soil in a pot to facilitate bringing in for the Winter, since it is the most tender of all the Chinas." For his part, de Pronville found it "very noteworthy."
'Marbree' (Breeder unknown, pre-1812). This, skimpily recorded for 1812, would appear *perhaps* to be Andrews' 'Variegata', also recorded for 1812. Other than the varieties imported from the Orient, Chinas throughout the century tended--with few exceptions--to originate in France or Italy rather than in England, owing to the unfavorability of the English climate to ripening seed. Here is Andrews' prose, grandiloquent as always: "Rose with roundish seed-buds, and smooth footstalks: flowers variegated, and scented: leaves smooth and shining: petioles prickly: leaflets oblong, with sawed margins: stem green, smooth, with red spines at the base. There is a singular mutability of character attached to the Indica variegata, which is to be found as we have represented it, only in the spring of the year. Towards the height of summer, it begins to lose its variegated character, and in the autumnal season can hardly be distinguished either in form or colour from the common old China Rose. This retrograde movement, we are inclined to think, might be counteracted by careful management, and its fugitive stripes eventually retained... [Andrews' plate of the] Variegated Indica was taken from the only plants we have seen of it, at the Cape Nursery of Mr. Middlemist, in 1812." Whatever the case with Andrews and his 'Variegata', Calvert does let a not-very-illuminating word fall on the subject of 'Marbree' (as 'Marbre'): "Marbled." (It is worth noting that Calvert, listing 'Marbre', indeed does not also list any 'Variegata'. Usefully, Calvert had offices in both France and England, and so can be expected to have had a certain perspective on the rose doings of both lands.)
'Ternaux' (Ternaux, 1812). Ternaux was a nurseryman located at Auteuil, near Paris, and proves memorable to us not because of his several extinct releases--of which this was one--but rather because his nursery was where the great breeder Laffay worked before he set up shop for himself, evidently on land adjoining that of Ternaux; and, indeed, he eventually added Ternaux' acreage to his own. As far as the China 'Ternaux' goes, this is yet another which was commemorated for posterity by Thory and Redoute, who again exercised their foible of spontaneously renaming roses. Here is some of what they had to say about 'Ternaux' (as both 'Indica Subviolacea' and 'A Fleurs presque Violettes'!): "...*Corolla* almost full, of a beautiful crimson shading towards violet--a unique feature distinguishing this from all others. A derivative of the crimson China rose . . . , this was raised from seed in Ternaux' garden and is distributed under the name he gave it [*to wit, 'Ternaux'*]. Today, it is available from many nurseries. Collectors of China roses will be eager to have it, not only for the fine color of the petals, but also because it blooms continuously--in Summer in beds in the garden, in Winter in frames where it is sheltered." Prevost fils (1829) gives a good, full description: "*Leaflets* very variable in size: those of the first growth are sometimes 4-5 times larger than the others. *Ovary* gibbose, oval-pyriform, or ovoid-turbinate. *Flower*, medium-sized, very multiplex, bright purple red or light purple (sometimes deep pink when it is cold). *Petals* many, narrow, waved. *Styles* red, filiform, slightly salient; varying in number from 25-75. This variety's branches are fairly consistently bestrewn with glands." To finish up 'Ternaux', Pirolle, in 1826, called it a "beautiful bright red."
'Fleur de Venus' (Descemet, -1813) syn. 'Simple Pourpre'. This is another in which the literature is skimpy. If it is Vibert's 'Pourpre Simple', Prevost fils advises: "*Ovary* ovoid, with a narrow collar, and elongate, glabrous at the tip. *Sepals* entire. *Flower* single, small or medium-sized, purple-crimson. *Petals* obovate, spatulate, with a narrow nub [*i.e., "claw"*]. *Disk*, large, thick. *Styles* 6-15."
'Jacintheaflora' (Breeder unknown, 1816) syn. 'Hyacinth-Scented'. "Blush," says our laconic friend Calvert in 1821 of this intriguing rarity; and indeed we should blush for having lost it to rosedom.
'Animating' (China/England, pre-1817) syn. 'Dichotoma'. LeRouge writes of this, as 'Belle Animee du Tonquin': "Pinkish red China, with a tea scent . . . , newly imported by the English in 1817 . . . Its wood is vigorous, with leaf and flower like those of the Common China, less delicate than its sisters [*i.e., 'Belle Cytheree'--alias 'Hume's Blush' (the first Tea rose)--and 'La Specieuse' (introduced circa 1819)*], it is a true riddle we have handed the botanist who finds it in commerce as, as with those fair others [*the "sisters" above*], there aren't any fanciers who can make it bloom all year." "Pale rose," says Calvert. "Pink," says Pirolle. Desportes refines that to "Deep pink." Prevost fils looks at the whole plant: "*Canes*, often elongate, and then bearing several leaves with 7 leaflets. *Peduncle* hispid-glandulose. *Ovary* glabrous, oval or ovoid-pyriform, often narrow, swollen at the base and extenuating to the tip into a narrow collar. *Flower* medium-sized, full, fragrant, purplish pink or pale lilac, often poorly formed." We turn to Redoute and Thory for useful complementary information: "0.6 m high or more if kept in a temperate house; *branches* diffuse, bifurcating; *prickles* sparse, unequal, hooked. *Leaflets* 5(-7), acute or ovate, serrulate, green and glossy above, paler beneath; petioles slightly tomentose, with small prickles extending up the midribs of the leaflets; stipules narrow, denticulate, acute. *Flowers* scented, clustered at the branch tips on branching, glabrous peduncles; pedicels glandular hispid; *receptacles* globose, glabrous; *sepals* entire or pinnatifid, glandular outside; *petals* many-seriate, deep pink, notched, never expanding well [*except, it would seem, in Redoute's illustration!*]. *Hips* pale red. This rose comes from England . . . and was introduced [*into France*] by Boursault some years ago. The perfume recalls that of *R. indica fragrans* [*alias the Tea rose 'Hume's Blush'*]. It only flourishes and develops its forking peduncles well under the protection of a temperate house, with free root-run, and is consequently rarely seen outdoors. It is easily propagated by cuttings."
"Pompon du Bengale' (Godefroy, pre-1817) syn. 'Pumila' (but not to be confused with any of Redoute and Thory's pink Pumilas). We have first notice of this in the 1817 *Bon Jardinier*, where, the variety evidently quite new, we are mysteriously told, "Someone has raised one [*i.e., a China*] from seed with very small flowers, and called it *little Pompon du Bengale*." De Pronville tells us "the flowers are small, double, purple; the leaflets are small, oval, pointed, and dentate. I lost this rose through not putting it back into the orangery during Winter." (Redoute and Thory's double 'Pompon' or 'Pumila' was a double pink, "introduced by Noisette from Colville, who raised it from seed a dozen years ago"; it appears to be of the Lawrenciana race--could it be what later became known as 'Pompon de Paris'?)
We have reached 1817 and end our survey of early varieties with 'San Epines' (Noisette, 1817) syn. 'Inermis'--that is, "thornless." A year after its introduction, de Pronville writes the following: " . . . [A] variety of Monsieur Noisette's without thorns, and which bears corymbs of two to three purple flowers."
Thus, the China situation through 1817. By the end of 1818, a great surge in China introductions had taken place; we count 15 new ones for 1818, 13 for 1819, 24 for 1820, with no fewer than 53 new Chinas for 1826! We spare both reader and writer an account of these--for now. But it may be useful to glance back at what we have seen.
By the end of 1817, we can tote up the following Chinas, chronologically:
'Parsons' Pink China' (China/Parsons, 1793). Though introduced to commerce
in 1793--supposedly--it was evidently "around" in the Occident much
Pinks, reds, whites, purples, variegateds--even a blue! The reader will perhaps be surprised at the number of "originals" from China--five--modern works having only cited "four stud Chinas," with two of *those* four being Teas. We see, then, that, contrary to this supposition, breeders and growers of the first decades of the 1800s had greater resources available to them than heretofore thought. Well indeed might the appreciative man Vibert refers to have been able to celebrate the early diversity of the Chinas; well indeed might they have spoken to his imagination, his hopes!