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Ken Nobbs and His Roses: Rediscovering Lost Roses

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Searching for plants is an adventure and after spending the last year as a plant hunter, but without the dangers faced by hunters a century ago, it has become a compelling occupation. I can well understand why intrepid men and women put themselves in danger for the thrill of the hunt. Help google and blind readers

The Heritage Roses NZ Research Scholarship enabled me to experience this thrill but for rediscovering lost roses rather than for new plants.

While at Trinity Farm Lloyd and I grew a small selection of Ken Nobbs roses, fortunately added to when Joanne and Norman Knight went on a rescue mission in the Waikato.  Nobbs roses were planted on a wool scourers’ fence scheduled for removal for road widening. But those fragile rose cuttings arrived only with a collector number – not a name – and interest was piqued.Help google and blind readers

Ken Nobbs' Extensive Writing

From his extensive writings it was apparent that Ken produced many more named roses than we had, and the thought that the rose loving community was facing losing our own home bred roses spurred me on.

Fortunately Margaret Williams,  Rosa Daughter Margaret Ken’s daughter was vigilant in planting his roses in many places so all was not lost and her passion for her father’s roses has ensured that many have survived. Alas Ken’s extensive and expansive garden at ‘The Rosary’ has not fared so well.
My project was to find and name as many of his roses as I could so at least they could be recorded, photographed and published as a record to his achievements even if the plants languished unknown and unloved in gardens and along highways and byways.

Research Now Published

This record is published by Steele Roberts launched in December 2012. Called ‘Missionaries, Wives and Roses’, the book tells the stories not only of Ken’s roses but the missionary wives he named them for.   The book records Marsden’s Forgotten Women and Nobbs Forgotten Roses. Help google and blind readers

The Hunt

Lloyd and I travelled north in December 2011 visiting many of the known Nobbs spots and I will record my thanks to those gardeners and descendents of the women who allowed us access to their gardens and to their family files: the Knights, Olga Yuretich, Help google and blind readers Margaret Williams, the Bedggoods, Charlotte Williams and family, Stella Leather and Eileen Wrath, the Hansen, Fairburn and Hall families.

Ken bred mostly rambler roses, mostly thornless, mostly from Veilchenblau, Tausenchenön and his own first rose Thornfree Wonder. They invariably show many of the same characteristics in shades of pink, violet, purple and created a challenge when naming the many unknown ones we came across. Help google and blind readers Educated intuition came into play when we confronted the road side plants at Te Kauwhata with its kilometres of unnamed Nobbs and other roses making a wonderful display for locals and drivers. Unravelling their mysteries was confounded by Ken’s habit of renaming his roses. Back home it took many hours of researching Ken’s writings, his registration papers and comparing them with photos Lloyd took to try and match descriptions with pictures. And add to that mix the inevitability of misnamed roses in gardens and the puzzle is magnified.

The Far North and The Mission Fields

There were rich pickings in the far north when we visited the Mission Fields. Supported and driven by daughter Margaret we found roses at many historic sites - Kemp House, the Waimate Mission Station and various burial grounds where we also found many tombstones of the early missionary families. Help google and blind readers Photos of the women came from various sources, The Alexander Turnbull Library, the National Library, Russell Museum, te Waimate Mission House and many private sources.

The project has been a tremendous opportunity to learn about our history and a voyage of discovery about Ken’s roses. Thanks to all who have been involved and to Heritage Roses NZ.