When we moved into our house some 27 years ago, it came with a fair amount of plantings. The former owner was a member of the local garden club but age slowed her down and we were left with overgrown beds as well as some interesting specimens. Azaleas were discovered covered with wild marjoram, magenta garden phlox hid a stone wall and 4 perfectly sited plants laid the foundation for a white garden.
While the row of hostas lining the road was replaced by a picket fence and dahlias, the one old rambling rose was kept. It has a rickety trellis that has since been replaced twice and was underplanted with, of all things, goutweed which took me nearly 20 years to eradicate. I still check for new sprouts – just in case!
Being somewhat enamored with old roses, I set out to discover the name and origin of this rose. I could tell it was a rambler because its shoots were quite long and flexible and the plant grew with surprising vigor. Annual pruning is mandatory to maintain it – either that or give it a hefty pergola or other strong structure to train it onto. Also the compound leaves contain 7 leaflets and it only blooms once in June with clusters of medium pink, 1-inch, barely fragrant blooms.
After leafing through numerous books on roses (this was before the internet) I narrowed it down and had my findings confirmed by a member of the New England Rose Society who introduced me to ‘Dorothy Perkins’.
As it turns out, ‘Dorothy Perkins’ was the first rose named after a person. She was hybridized by Alvin Miller, who in 1884, was hired by Jackson & Perkins in Newark, NY. Charles H. Perkins (1840–1924) and his father-in-law, Albert E. Jackson (1807–1895) started a truck farm in 1872. Soon, their business began wholesaling ornamentals and Mr. Perkins decided that roses should be their main product. Mr. Miller’s first successful introduction in 1901 was named after Mr. Perkins’ granddaughter, Dorothy. The farm is now the site of Perkins Park and Vintage Gardens Bed and Breakfast on High Street.
In 1908 the ‘Dorothy Perkins’ rose won top honors from England’s Royal National Rose Society. It became a popular variety and reputedly grows up the walls of Windsor Castle to this day. Darker red and white cultivars were also developed.
While ‘Dorothy Perkins’ is a hardy and vigorous with abundant, attractive blooms, she has not been sold by Jackson &Perkins for quite a while now and is only available through a few specialty nurseries. The main reason is her susceptibility to powdery mildew which I can attest to. Depending on the weather, sometimes all the foliage and blossoms are affected. She also is sought after by rose slugs and this year I found both Eastern tent caterpillars and gypsy moths grazing on the foliage.
Eastern tent caterpillar, gypsy moth, rose slug damage & powdery mildew
Why do I keep this old lady? I guess it’s because I like her attitude. No matter how cold the winters or how dry the summers, she always comes back. Even if most of her foliage dies back from rose slugs or powdery mildew she cheerfully puts on a new coat of green. There is not a lot in life that one can depend on these days, but good old Dorothy is strong and steadfast and sometimes just the anchor in the garden that one needs.