Cemeteries in southeast Idaho

A couple of weekends ago I escaped from the blistering heat to go on a treasure hunt in the mountains of southeast Idaho. I had heard a rumor that a pioneer cemetery in the area had an old red rose growing in it, and I hoped to investigate and maybe do some rose rustling. (I feel I should note that, when rose rustling, always get permission from the plant’s owner or caretaker if one exists, and never take cutting from a rose in a way that will damage the mother plant.)

My ever-patient husband and children accompanied me as we scoured the little mountain towns for cemeteries. At one, we saw something that looked like a rose from the gates, but on closer inspection turned out to be a peony. I started to pay attention to this, and peonies seem to be common in Idaho cemeteries, though I have never noticed them in a Utah cemetery. They are a fitting flower for memorials since they can easily live for a hundred years once established, and I’m glad the maintenance crews have been tolerant of them.

Idaho cemetery peony

Idaho cemetery peony

We also found this odd grave decoration. My imagination provided lots of explanations for what it was, mostly inspired by scary books and movies:

Unusual grave decoration

Unusual grave decoration

Oh yeah, it opens up:

What the heck?

What the heck?

We couldn’t see anything inside the hole except leaves and lawn clippings, and the tube we pulled out is hollow like a bell. So, maybe it’s a receptacle for ashes. But why make it something that can be opened? I’ve never seen anything like this in a cemetery before. Hopefully we didn’t open a portal to the underworld.

The only roses we found at any of the cemeteries were these growing outside the gates, which I think are Harison’s Yellow:

Harison's Yellow rose bush outside Idaho cemetery

Harison’s Yellow rose bush outside Idaho cemetery

Harison's Yellow rose (I think!)

Harison’s Yellow rose (I think!)

Harison’s Yellow was popular with pioneers for its color and hardiness, and so is found throughout the West, especially in ghost towns and abandoned building sites. In Idaho, I’ve also noticed that the old Austrian Copper rose is very popular, especially as a hedge around farmsteads. Like the peonies in the cemetery, I don’t see them often in Utah; they seem to belong much more to the landscapes of Idaho.

The red cemetery rose eluded me on this trip — if it wasn’t a peony that someone confused with a rose — but I like to imagine it growing in some abandoned cemetery, keeping watch over the graves of the pioneers who planted it there.

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My mutant Botzaris rose

When I first saw Redoute’s illustrations of proliferous roses — rose flowers sprouting directly from other rose flowers in a bizarre, beautiful chain — I thought they were some kind of nineteenth century practical joke, but according to UC Davis, this unusual condition is actually called rose phyllody, and I got to observe it first hand in my garden this year.

Proliferous Botzaris

Proliferous Botzaris

UC Davis’s web site says that rose phyllody can be caused by a virus, but is usually a result of environmental stress. Since the rose bush shows no other signs of disease, this probably occurred because of the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing, from stretches of sub-zero weather in the winter, to a very hot summer punctuated by occasional fierce thunderstorms (note the brown edges of the Botzaris flowers–they’re always sensitive to overhead water, and they don’t seem to like this heat either).

The bud sprouting out of the flower did open, which let Botzaris beat out Chapeau du Napoleon as the last once-blooming rose in my garden this year. It smelled as fabulous as I would expect from Botzaris, but was so crisped by the 100-degree weather it didn’t make for a pretty picture.

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Portlandica, the Duchess of Portland

One of the roses I ordered this year was the Duchess of Portland (which I’ve heard is more properly called Portlandica) and I have to sing her praises now. This rose first appeared in the late 1700s, and many experts once thought it was an early cross between European roses and China roses. Recent genetic testing proved this wrong. The Duchess of Portland is likely a cross between r. gallica officinalis, AKA the Apothecary’s Rose (which it resembles), and the Autumn Damask, one of the few repeating old European roses. The Duchess gave birth to the Portland class of roses, and shows us the direction rose breeding in Europe likely would have gone if not for the introduction of China roses (not to say the China roses were a bad thing, but they did make our modern roses more tender).

As soon as I opened Portlandica’s box I fell in love with the rich old rose scent wafting through the house. I realized that a lot of the smell was coming from the dried petals in the box; like the Apothecary’s Rose, the scent seems to get stronger when the petals dry, which will make it great for potpourri. The flowers are beautiful too, especially with the promise they’ll repeat later in the summer once the plant is established. If she’s as tough as her parents, I may have a new favorite rose.

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The Duchess of Portland, or Portlandica

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Rose buds

The roses just started blooming in my garden over the last week, but while waiting for my favorite spring show, I’ve been watching the buds, which are sometimes as interesting as the flowers.

Crested Moss, or Chapeau de Napoleon (Napoleon’s Hat) is a sweet-smelling bright pink centifolia type rose named for its elaborate buds.

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Crested Moss or Chapeau de Napoleon

Experts disagree over whether Crested Moss is a true moss rose, an old rose class distinguished by the soft, “mossy,” pine-scented growth around their buds. Mme. Louis Leveque is definitely a moss. These fat buds open slowly to reveal pretty pink flowers.

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Mme Louis Leveque

To me, some non-moss roses have a more “piney” scent in the tiny, soft, sticky prickles around their buds. Botzaris is classified as a Damask, but it has lovely buds that release a strong pine scent when you handle them. It is often the first rose to bloom in my garden, and, along with its strong, old rose scent, that makes it one of my favorites.

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Botzaris

Another rose with beautiful, pine-scented buds is alba foliacea. There may be more than one version of this rose is commerce, but I got mine from Vintage Gardens before they closed their doors. Its name comes from its leafy buds.

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Alba Foliacea

Finally, I think the rose in my garden with the wildest buds is Vick’s Caprice. It’s a nice rose with subtle pink striping and a decent scent–unfortunately not terribly cold hardy–but these buds are something else.

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Vick’s Caprice

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Lilacs in Mendon, Utah’s historic cemetery

I’m fascinated and moved by historic cemeteries because they’re such concise, visual records of so many human stories. Especially in pioneer cemeteries, you see unique headstones telling stories of lives far too short or so long and full of heartache it’s hard for me to comprehend.

The plot of the Baker family in the Mendon, Utah cemetery is a good example. The parents’ gravestone carries the inscriptions “Pioneer 1847” and “Pioneer 1851.” Next to this large stone are a series of smaller ones marking the short lives of some of their children with poems or quotes that are still moving today, though now all the family members rest together, we can hope in the next world as well as in this one.

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Baker pioneer headstone, Mendon, Utah cemetery

Many pioneer cemeteries in Utah have been updated for modern maintenance techniques, which means they consist mostly of lawn-mower friendly grass and trees. Historically, cemeteries and grave yards were not irrigated and manicured. Many would have looked more like the cemetery at Grafton ghost town in southern Utah.

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Grafton ghost town cemetery

Tall, old evergreens are appropriate, symbolic sentinels, but I always hope to find other historical plants in cemeteries, particularly roses. Lawn and trees are cheaper to maintain, though the sprinkler systems used for the grass can be hard on old grave markers. Still, the lilacs at the historic Mendon cemetery serve as an example of the pros and cons of keeping some of the older styles of graveyard decoration.

The lilacs bloom here in Utah in time for Memorial Day, and they make Mendon’s pioneer cemetery a beautiful and fragrant contrast to other cemeteries in the area. The plants are very old, though not as old as some of the headstones. Most of them are huge and well -maintained, but the one in the Baker plot has overgrown its bounds and damaged some of the children’s grave markers.

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Lilac in the Baker family plot in the Mendon, Utah cemetery

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Elizabeth Baker’s damaged headstone, Mendon, Utah cemetery

The old irises planted next to a nearby WWI veteran’s headstone are also beautiful, and less likely to do any damage.

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Irises by grave marker

I think lilacs and other historic plants should be allowed to remain in pioneer cemeteries, and I give Mendon kudos for the balance they have achieved, but in any historic cemetery, descendants or other volunteers need to keep a close eye on damage that could be caused by old plants, as well as by modern maintenance practices such as sprinklers and lawn mowers.

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Mendon, Utah cemetery on Memorial Day

If you are interested in learning about historic cemetery preservation, there are a lot of great state and federal guides available, such as these from the National Park Service and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. As in all areas of historic preservation, the struggle is to strike a balance between disturbing as little as possible while ensuring that the historic item will endure for future generations to learn from and enjoy. If in doubt, document an historic artifact with pictures and leave it alone, and of course always get permission from the land owner before doing anything.

If you are a land owner with a pioneer cemetery or other artifact on your property and you want advice, contact an expert like a historical landscape architect or a preservation specialist with the state or federal government. In Utah, you can also check out Snow College’s Traditional Building Skills Institute, which is dedicated to passing on the knowledge and skills necessary for historic preservation. Remember, except in a few rare cases, having a historic building or artifact on your property does NOT take away any of your property rights and might give you tax benefits!

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Spring rose report

We had a rough winter here in northern Utah, getting down to nearly 20 below 0 (Fahrenheit). I thought I’d report on how the roses held up to it so you can get an idea of how cold hardy (or not cold hardy) some of these roses are. I mulched around the most sensitive plants, and we had a couple of feet of snow cover during he worst part of the cold. The pictures on the page are from previous summers; we don’t get roses until June here.

  • Alba Foliacea, which is over 8 feet tall in my garden, didn’t even have any tip die back.

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    Alba foliacea

  • Alfred Colomb died back a little, despite the mulch, but it’s recovering well and has some buds that should open soon.
  • Archduke Charles, a China, was not supposed to spend the winter outside, but the cold and snow hit over Christmas and it ended up buried so I left it. It did survive, at least right around the base, but the spring freeze seems to have finished it off, despite being mulched.
  • Arizona totally surprised me. I thought it was dead, especially since it wasn’t well protected, but it’s putting up strong new shoots this spring.
  • Botzaris, one of my favorites, hardly even noticed the cold, and has tons of buds this spring.
  • Camaieux lost its tallest and oldest branch, but this short gallica rose (and its many suckers!) stayed safe under the snow.
  • Chapeau de Napoleon, or Crested Moss, is a pretty tough old rose, but it did suffer some die back and doesn’t have a lot of buds this spring.
  • Eden died back to the snow line, then suffered from the late frost this spring, despite being mulched, but it’s growing back from the roots very vigorously. This isn’t the first time growing own-root roses has paid off for me!
  • Great Maiden’s Blush was a little slow waking up this spring, after being moved last fall from a spot that was too shady (people tout it for its shade tolerance, but on the north side of a wooden fence it only produced about one flower a year for me, and was growing very slowly). It did have some tip die back, but I’m impressed it even survived after its transplant, since it wasn’t the smoothest move.
  • Greenmantle is a monster. It’s very vigorous and I don’t think it even noticed the cold.
  • Mme. Louis Leveque worried me because it went dormant really early in the fall, but it was under the snow all winter, and now it’s bushing out and make some mossy little buds.

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    Mme Louis Leveque

  • Marie Bugnet was buried under the snow, but it was the first rose to leaf out this spring.
  • Mountain Music, a Buck rose, didn’t get good protection, but it looks unfazed by the cold.
  • Old Blush shouldn’t be hardy here, and it did lose some tips, but it was under mulch and snow, and it looks like it will be the first rose to bloom this spring.
  • Rosa Mundi was under the snow and slept through the winter quite happily.
  • Shropshire Lass, an old once-blooming Austin rose, had some tip die back, but everything under the snow is in good shape, and a few branches above the snow survived.
  • Tuscany Superb, a gallica, might have lost a couple of tips, but otherwise it seems happy.
  • I see a lot of complaints about Variegata di Bologna, but it does well for me. I did mulch it before the snow, and it’s looking healthy and happy this spring, with lots of fat little buds.
  • Vick’s Caprice has me on edge, because I really like this rose. It was in a pretty exposed location without a lot of snow cover, and died back almost to the roots. It has put out some new leaves, but then a slug was munching those away. I moved it to a better spot and am holding my breath that it will recover. I doubt it will bloom this year even if it pulls through.

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    Vick’s Caprice

  • Woods rose is native to this area, and it didn’t seem to mind the cold.

I don’t think I lost any other plants to the cold (lavender, irises, lots of native flowers, and fruits and berries), though the peach buds were all dead, either because of the cold winter or the spring frost. Now, we’ll see how many of the roses survive the move to our new house this summer.

In anticipation of having a bigger yard I also put in several rose orders this year, and I’m looking forward to being able to report on Aimee Vibert, Duchess of Portland, Easy Does It, Mme. Blanche Lafitte, Perpetual White Moss, Quietness, Sharifa Asma, the ever-elusive Souvenir d’Alphonse Lavallee, Souvenir du Dr. Jamain, Therese Bugnet, and York and Lancaster.

High Country Roses and Rogue Valley Roses were great to work with as always, and I was impressed by Heirloom Roses and Angel Gardens, after doing my first orders from them this year. I’m especially grateful that Angels Gardens had Mme. Blanche Lafitte, a Bourbon rose that was grown in pioneer Utah and is now very difficult to find.

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Box elder maple syrup

Last month my husband and I decided to experiment with making maple syrup out of sap we collected from box elders at the American West Heritage Center. Box elders aren’t the most sought-after tree–they’re sort of the gawky cousin of the maple family–but they do produce maple sap.

Sugar was an important commodity for Utah’s pioneers. Before Utah’s sugar beet industry took off, pioneers often had to make do with types of molasses, but they realized that native canyon maples, bigtooth maples, and box elders could be tapped for their sweet sap.

We opted to use modern equipment for our first syrup making experiment: plastic buckets with lids, plastic spiles, and rubber tubes. We got our instructions from this Ohio State Extension web site. The process of collecting the sap went pretty smoothly, once we identified a couple of box elders in their winter nudity (you have to collect it before the buds start to swell or it tastes bad). We got about a gallon of maple sap per tree per day when the weather was warm enough for the sap to flow. The sap is clear and watery and has an odd, woody taste, I imagine rather like chewing on a twig.

Collecting box elder sap

Collecting box elder sap

The next step of the syrup-making process wasn’t difficult either. We put the maple sap in a large pot and let it boil on medium-low heat all day. The first day I made the mistake of not watching it closely until I smelled burnt sugar. After my good, patient husband scrubbed out the pot, we tried again the next day, watching it more closely.

Sap from the box elders

Sap from the box elders

This time, we ended up with a thin, light amber colored syrup. It didn’t look much like store bought maple syrup, but it was sweet and had a definite maple taste. It worked just fine on our pancake breakfast. We might have been able to get it thicker if we hadn’t been worried about burning it again. Next year we’ll try evaporating it further to make maple sugar out of it. Yum! We may also try a more old-fashioned approach to gathering the sap, and see if we can get sap from bigtooth and/or canyon maples for comparison.

Reducing the sap to a thin maple syrup

Reducing the sap to a thin maple syrup

Making maple syrup was probably a pretty practical way for the pioneers to get sugar in late winter and early spring. The whole process is easy and interesting, but it takes a lot of sap to make your syrup: about a 40-to-1 ratio! This fall we’ll try making some molasses and see which process we like better.

Disclaimer: Don’t eat stuff you find outside unless you’re certain of what it is and that it’s safe for human consumption.

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