Favorite Utah roses of 1917

For rose growers in the Intermountain West who are fans of Downton Abbey or the WWI era, I found a list of roses recommended for Utah in 1917 from the Logan Republican newspaper (March 6, 1917, “Planting of Roses,” Emil Hansen):

Kaiserin Auguste Viktoria (white hybrid tea)
La France (pink hybrid tea)
Caroline Testout (pink hybrid tea)
Alfred Colomb (crimson hybrid perpetual)
Fisher Holmes (dark red hybrid perpetual)
Frau Karl Druschki (white hybrid tea)
General Jacqueminot (red hybrid perpetual)
Paul Neyron (large pink hybrid perpetual)
Ulrich Brunner (cherry red hybrid perpetual)
Crested moss roses (white and pink)

The last listing apparently includes several varieties. I grow Crested Moss (Chapeau de Napoleon), which is an excellent pink rose, once blooming, but very hardy and fragrant, and with one of the longest bloom seasons of my once-bloomers. All of the rest of the roses are repeat bloomers, which had probably largely replaced the old once-blooming roses in popularity by 1917.

Buds of Crested Moss or Chapeau de Napoleon rose

Buds of Crested Moss or Chapeau de Napoleon rose

All of these roses are still commercially available, though some are more common than others. Some of these might not do well in the coldest parts of Utah (the article recommends mulching with manure from December to April, and I usually mulch mine in November). Crested Moss has little to no winter dieback for me, though, and I also grow Alfred Colomb, which seems to need some winter protection but is a nice rose. Now I’m curious to try some of the others and report back on how they do.

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The Heartbreak of History

About five years ago, I got involved in the preservation effort for the Art Barn at Utah State University. The Art Barn dates to 1919, when it was built as a horse barn to serve the campus (then the Agricultural College of Utah, the state’s land grant college). This was during the time that the campus was doubling as a military base for World War I and growing rapidly. The barn served its agricultural purpose for many years until the animals were moved from campus. Then the Art Department adopted the abandoned building, and it became the Art Barn until recent years when it fell into disrepair. It had a colorful history, which you can read about at the USU Barn Blog.

The last news I heard of the Art Barn was that Utah State University and USU Credit Union were working together to turn the building into offices and a welcome center. A respectable use for a respectable old building, once the plans to turn it into a museum fell through. So when  I drove through campus today and saw construction work going on–the building gutted–I assumed the restoration had begun. Excited, I pulled up and waved over one of the construction workers.

“How much of the exterior are you going to be able to save? Are you going to save the sign?” I pointed to the “Man’s Best Friend” sign over the old front doors of the stable–supposedly an old cavalry motto referring to horses, not dogs.

He scratched under his orange hat. “They made a cast of the sign to display somewhere on campus. It was cracked in three places and couldn’t be moved.”

“You’re not keeping the sign?” My heart fell. That sign was a unique reminder of the confluence of agricultural and military history at USU.

“Nope. The whole thing has to be renovated.”

I thanked him and backed away, making notes to make some phone calls, find out what the plans were for the building. As I stood watching, one of the guys got into the tractor and slammed the excavator into the beautiful gambrel roof, crushing the corner of the building. I stared, my hand over my mouth, as they did it again and again, stripping away the front of the building.

Not renovated, razed.

In its last moments, the building proved the worth of its construction. It did not go gentle into that good night, didn’t buckle under the blows.  Tears slid down my face as I watched the destruction of all that history, all those memories. I felt a small amount of what a person must experience when they go to see a condemned friend stand in front of a firing squad. It was horrible to watch, but I was glad someone was there who understood what the building had been, to capture its final moments and bid it farewell.

There are occupations more heartbreaking than historic preservation, but trying to save the past is an exercise in futility, digging moats around sandcastles as the tide is coming in. That doesn’t stop people who love history from trying, but as I got into my car, Tennyson’s words played over and over in my mind: “All things must die.” Then I remembered that he wrote a more hopeful mirror poem to that despairing one, with the refrain: “All things will change.”

I think everyone who loves history–who loves historic places–can take comfort in the words of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain when he spoke of the great power places have to speak to people, to bridge time despite all the changes on the surface:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.”

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First and last blooms

Chapeau de Napoleon (AKA Crested Moss) just finished its bloom, making it the last of my once-blooming roses to complete its show. And what a show it was!

Buds of Crested Moss or Chapeau de Napoleon rose

Buds of Crested Moss or Chapeau de Napoleon rose







Crested Moss unfurling its petals

Crested Moss unfurling its petals







Crested Moss or Chapeau de Napoleon

Crested Moss or Chapeau de Napoleon









Chapeau de Napoleon rose has gorgeous cupped pink flowers, a little lighter on the outside petals than on the center ones, and a scent that wafts across the garden. It also has those interesting “Napoleon’s hat”-shaped buds and a healthy, vigorous bush that stands up to heat and cold and is well-behaved even in a smaller garden with a bit of summer pruning. The petals retain their scent when dry, fading to a nice lavender-pink color. The only downside, really, is that it’s once blooming, but it consistently has one of the longest bloom periods of any of my once-blooming roses.

Chapeau de Napoleon isn’t the first of my roses to bloom. This year I was surprised to find that Marie Bugnet produced the first rose blossom in my garden (neighbors with Austrian Copper got roses before I did, though).

Marie Bugnet bud

Marie Bugnet bud







Marie Bugnet rose

Marie Bugnet rose








Marie Bugnet (boo-nay, not “bug net”) is a rugosa hybrid, not as well-known as her sister Therese Bugnet. I’ve had both in my garden for a year now, and neither are very vigorous for me, but Marie Bugnet seems to be the stronger and hardier of the two. It’s a nice white little rose with a pleasant scent, and it bloomed a couple of days before any of my other roses. The buds aren’t super pretty, but it appears healthy, and it’s a rebloomer, though the summer heat seems to have shut it down this year.

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Heirloom apples in Utah

Apples were among the most important orchard trees grown by Utah’s pioneers, judging by references to them in historic sources and by the number of trees surviving in old lots today. Though Utah’s climate can be harsh–both cold and dry–many apple varieties thrive here. Elizabeth Kane, who visited Utah in the early 1870s, wrote, “Any reasonable people would have given up trying to produce fruit, but the Mormons are quite unreasonable in matters of faith . . . They persevered, and so I know what perfectly delicious apples they now harvest.”

Some heirloom apple varieties mentioned in pioneer sources, including journals, nursery lists, and state fair reports for Utah, include:

American Golden Pippin
Ben Davis*
Canada Rennette [Reinette]
Carolina Stripped June
Clepps Favorite
Dutch Musgrove
Early Harvest*
Easapsus or Esopsus Spitzenburgh*
Fall Golden Pippen
Fall Strawberry
Fall Cheese
Garretson’s Early
German Golden Pippen
German Pippin
Hall Golden Pippen
Keswick Codlin*
Ladys Sweet*
Large Apple from Oregon
Late Wine
Mammoth Pippin
Mountain Chief
Northern Spy*
Pride of the Valley
Pumpkin Vine Baldwin
Red Astrachan*
Red Russet
Rhode Island Greening*
Rome Beauty*
Sassafras Sweet Strawberry
Sharp’s Russet, Neal’s, or Roxbury Russet*
Spice Apple
Sweet Bough*
Twenty Ounce*
Virginia Greening, Green Winter, or Oregon Greening*
White Winter Pearmain
Woods Sweet
Yellow Newton Pippin*

The apples marked with a (*) are varieties I’ve seen in commerce. Others of these heirloom apple varieties may be available from specialty nurseries and growers, perhaps under different names. For example, I couldn’t be sure which, if any, of the golden pippin-type apples available today are identical with one of the golden pippins on this list. Also, just because an heirloom apple variety isn’t on this list, doesn’t mean it didn’t grow in pioneer Utah–I just don’t have a resource mentioning it.

Some pioneer apple trees may still be growing in old Utah orchards. I’ve met individuals dedicated to finding dying apple trees in abandoned lots and homesteads and grafting the trees to preserve these old cultivars. In some cases, the apples’ names have been forgotten, but they may represent some of the lost cultivars on the list above. Mountain Chief was a popular pioneer apple–perhaps one bred exclusively here in Utah–that I can’t find in commerce, but it could still exist as a half-dead old tree in someone’s backyard, waiting to be rediscovered. If you do have old apple or other fruit trees on your property, I strongly encourage you to contact your county extension agents for tips on grafting and preserving these trees. And if anyone stumbles across the Sassafras Sweet Strawberry apple, please let me know! Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Heirloom apples are popular in farmer’s markets and at roadside stands. If you already have some in your orchard, this can be a nice way to introduce people to the rich, complex taste of heirloom apples and help provide for the costs of upkeep. There are some other good reasons to add heirloom apples to your yard. Apple trees are attractive as ornamental or shade trees, especially if you’re going to use the fruit so it doesn’t become messy. Heirloom apples tend to have stronger, more interesting flavors than their supermarket cousins, and their history and uniqueness also makes them more attractive.

Growing heirloom apples comes with a few caveats too. They often don’t bear regularly (perhaps only every other year), and they’re not as “pretty” as supermarket apples–sometimes downright lumpy and ugly. Some were meant more for cider production than fresh eating. Many are susceptible to diseases that have severely limited their potential in home and commercial orchards. For this reason, it’s important to research varieties you’re interested in growing to make sure they’re suitable for your growing conditions and intended uses.

Heirloom apple growing can also be addictive. I’ve added a couple of varieties (on dwarfing rootstock) to my very small yard, and am already searching for ways to squeeze in a couple more, in addition to everything else I want to grow. You’ve been warned!

Source for quote: Elizabeth Wood Kane. Twelve Mormon homes visited in succession on a journey through Utah to Arizona. Utah, The Mormons, and the West 4. Salt Lake City, UT: Tanner Trust Fund, Univ. of Utah Library, 1974.

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Pioneer Thanksgiving (and a honey cranberry sauce recipe)

As I stood watching my cranberries cook, waiting for them to pop in the pot, I thought what a shame it is that cranberries (and blueberries and bayberries!) are so hard to grow in our alkaline soil. My mind wandered to the pioneers, who couldn’t just buy cranberries at the store, and I wondered what they had for their Thanksgiving dinners. I’ve read a lot of pioneer accounts and journals, scouring them for mentions of plants and food, and I don’t remember ever seeing any mention of Thanksgiving. The official date for Thanksgiving was set by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War (in 1863–so fourth Thursday Thanksgiving is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year!), but even by that time Thanksgiving was a well-established tradition that pioneers with American or Canadian roots must have brought to Utah with them. I decided to do a little digging.

I still don’t have any direct accounts of a pioneer Thanksgiving harvest celebration, but I picked up a few hints. By the late 1800s, the Desert News reported that most church denominations in the Salt Lake Valley held special Thanksgiving services. At the same time, the newspaper ran ads that echo our modern Black Friday frenzies, admonishing housewives to get to the store and buy everything they need for their house at special Thanksgiving prices (apparently Irish satin table damask was a must-have, starting at 73 cents for a table cloth).

A Deseret News article from November 22, 1927 tells us that traveling to visit family and watching football games were already entrenched holiday traditions in Utah, though the article claims that in bygone days, men would go out at dawn to hunt for quail, duck, or grouse to supplement the feast, while women prepared domestic fowl for the Thanksgiving table, and that the holiday was once more of a remembrance of the bounties of the soil necessary for survival during Utah’s pioneer period.

These comments made me realize how strongly tradition reigns over some holidays (my family even has an early morning target shoot each Thanksgiving), but didn’t tell me much about how the early Utah pioneers celebrated. We know they held feasts and parades on Pioneer Day (in July) from an early date as a type of Thanksgiving celebration. I found an account from Elizabeth Kane, who visited Utah in the winter of 1870 with her husband Thomas Kane. She didn’t mention Thanksgiving, but describes some of the foods typical of a wintertime feast: apple fritters; jellies made from wild plums, cranberries, and currants; winter vegetables (perhaps carrots and potatoes); mince pies; smoking plum puddings; preserves; tarts; pears, peaches, apples, and grapes; and homemade wine. I would love to know how the pioneers got peaches to last into the winter! But unless Kane was mistaken, at least some of the pioneers managed to have cranberries.

In honor of their cranberry jellies, and in gratitude for the convenience of grocery stores, here’s a yummy, quick, and easy cranberry sauce recipe made with honey instead of sugar (though you could use sugar, and this year I used agave nectar). Unfortunately I don’t remember where I found the original or how I’ve modified it over the years, but here it is:

Honey Cranberry Sauce

2 cups cranberries, rinsed and checked for stems
1 cup apple, orange, or pineapple juice
1/2 c honey or other sweetener
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger

Mix all the ingredients in a pot and cook on the stove over low heat until the cranberries pop–about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature–the sauce should gel. Some years it sets better than others for me, and I think one of the keys is to disturb it as little as possible while it’s cooling. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Honey Cranberry Sauce–maybe not too far from what the pioneers made, after all.

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Farewell to the Fall Flowers

We had a long, pleasant fall here in northern Utah, but it finally got cold enough to kill all the flowers. Along with some of the tough southwest natives like guara and agastache, my roses were among the last things blooming in the garden. Old Blush, or Parson’s Pink China, was still producing flowers and buds even with a few freezing November nights. Technically it’s not hardy this far north in Utah, and it does experience some winter dieback, but I mulch it heavily when the night time temperatures get below 20, and so far it has come back strong in the spring–something to look forward to when our winters start to feel like they’re never going to end!


Old Blush Rose blooming in November in northern Utah

Even the once-blooming roses contribute to my fall garden. A few of them–like Marie Bugnet (okay, she’s a rebloomer) and some of the Albas–put on reds or yellows for fall, and the ones that make hips add splashes of red to the show, such as Tuscany Superb.


Tuscany Superb hips, with guara still blooming in the background.

Those hips hang on through the winter and peek out of the snow when it piles up high enough to cover most of the plant (great insulation!), adding some much-needed color to the winter landscape.

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Pioneer apricots

We’re just enjoying the last of our apricots, so I thought I’d celebrate with a post about apricots in pioneer Utah.

Early Utah nurseryman Joseph Ellis Johnson listed several types of apricots in his garden journals, circa 1870: Blenheim, Kashia, Mosha, Peach, Pineapple, and Royal. Of these, I have only seen Blenheim and Royal still available in nurseries, but I would love to try a Peach or Pineapple apricot!

Missing from this list is the Moorpark apricot. Capitol Reef National Park, which preserves Mormon pioneer orchard plants in central Utah (and sells the produce to the public at a very reasonable cost!), lists the introduction/discovery date for the Moorpark apricot as 1860, but Jane Austen mentions this variety in chapter six of Mansfield Park, which was published in 1814. Possibly there was more than one variety by this name, but either way, it’s possible the early pioneers grew it.

Also missing is the Mormon, or Chinese, apricot: the type growing in my yard. The name implies that it was probably brought to Utah by the Chinese immigrants who worked on the western side of the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869 (a date which arguably ends the pioneer period in Utah). These workers don’t get much attention for the amazing building feats they accomplished, or the impact they had on the landscape and foodstuffs of Utah. In addition to the Mormon/Chinese apricot, I’ve been told they also may have brought the first carp to Utah, which have since wreaked havoc on our riparian ecosystems.

The Mormon/Chinese apricot is a sweet pit apricot, meaning the pits of these apricots can be roasted and eaten like almonds. Or so people say. This year we decided to try it ourselves, and found very little reliable information about how to roast the apricots. Most apricots produce bitter pits, which are poisonous. This made us wary of eating even the sweet pit ones. The chemicals which produce cyanide in apricots are supposedly inactivated by cooking, so we tried roasting them in their shells at 350 degrees (F) for 10 minutes. We popped open the shells and ate the kernels, and they were quite good, like almonds with a fruity hint of apricot. We haven’t suffered any negative effects from eating the roasted kernels from our sweet pit apricots, but we aren’t eating very many at a time, just to be sure, and if we were to come across one that tasted bitter or off in any way we’d throw it out.

As a disclaimer, I’m not advocating eating apricot pits, just sharing our experiment with it. Always be cautious eating foods you’re not familiar with, and don’t eat things unless you’re positive of what they are.

Also, I don’t know if Mormon pioneers tried the pits from apricots. In times of famine they could be adventurous eaters, and some pioneers died from eating poisonous plants they gathered from nature.

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