Of the all the roses named for explorers and plant hunters, the Stud Chinas deserve a special section of their own.
China's Door opened
When China opened her door to the west – the hunters, the explorers, the adventurers – in all their different forms- poured in. Amongst them were the plant hunters funded by rich men and organisations looking for something new and exciting, unknown in the west.
Prior to these expeditions, old garden roses were once flowering and in shades of pinks and purples and of course white.
The Plant Hunters
The roses found by hunting teams, and named in honour of Parks, Hume, Slater and Parson had two important elements to add to the gene pool of old roses – the repeat flowering gene and the colour red. These china plants were pure gold and would revolutionise the breeding of roses into the future. Without them we would not have the modern hybrid tea with its myriad of colours enhancing our gardens over the many months of spring, summer and autumn. It was these exotic bushes which, with a wave of a wand, transformed our roses and our gardens. The Fa Tee Nurseries near Canton in 1808 was probably the most important of all the sources for new plant material.
The term Stud China was first recorded in 1941 by Dr C C Hurst(1870-1947), a scientist working in the field of botanical and cytological evolution of the genus rosa at Cambridge University.
Slater’s Crimson China
The first of the four was imported in1792 by Gilbert Slater (1753-1783), a prominent wealthy collector of plants. His family had a long association with the East India Company; his father was a captain on one of their ships. Slater trained as an ironmonger from the age of 14 until he too had a direct involvement with the East India Company. He lived in a Georgian house, Knot’s Green in Leyton with a garden large enough to put his new found plants. He is credited with importing many more plants than the eponymous Slater’s Crimson China. He was wealthy enough to own 2 Indiamen which were used to bring his plants back.
The rose was originally called Yue Yue Hong or Monthly Crimson by the Chinese and it was seen blooming merrily in Slater’s garden by a rose enthusiast. It was only then that he realised what a treasure he had. Slater, a gourmand, died at aged 40, it is thought from complications of overeating.
His rose is a slight little thing flowering profusely over a long period. Officially it is known as Rosa chinensis semperflorens but commonly caller Slater’s Crimson China it has semi-
double crimson blooms set off nicely by dark small leaves. It was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in Bermuda in 1956.
Parson’s Pink China
John Parson (1723-1798) was the son of a wealthy brewer who was also twice Lord Mayor of London. The family lived in Paris following the death of his father. There he married an Italian dancer and eventually returned to Hertfordshire. There is only supposition on how he acquired the rose thought to have been bought back to England by Sit George Staunton for Sir Joseph Banks, at that time Director of Kew but it was named as a tribute to him after it was found in his garden and confirmed as a new cultivar. It was first seen in his garden at Rickmansworth in 1793. Hurst determined through his research that this early form of Rosa chinensis was a result of multiple crossings by early Chinese hybridists. The Chinese called it Yue Yue Fen or monthly pink.
His rose is an absolute delight. Also called Old Blush or Old China Monthly, giving a clue to how long it flowers for. For all its heady ancestry and importance in breeding it is one of the most worthy roses to grow in a garden. Practically thornless, flowering for most of the year, highly scented it is a soft pink with touches of silver in its hue. It is a serious rose for both the connesiour and those who just love a repeat flowering rose with fragrance and charm unmatched by more modern varieties. It is a perfect bedding plant, requires little or no pruning and thrives in most places. Its scent is said to resemble the smell of sweet peas and as with all china roses its colour darkens as it ages.
The next two Stud Chinas were different in style and heritage than Slater’s and Parson’s roses They were more delicate looking tea scented roses which also caused a flurry amongst rosarians and breeders. They were larger in habit and bloom, 2 different forms of rosa indica odorata grown in the sunny valleys of southern China.
Hume’s Blush Tea-Scented China
Sir Abraham Hume (1749 – 1838) was the recipient of this wonderful rose and he received it in 1809. It was originally known as R. indica odorata – later R.indica fragrans. Sir Abraham Hume was a long standing Tory politician and floriculturist. Together with his wife were active as rosarians, and collectors of plants, rocks and paintings. They developed several rose cultivars at their estate in Hertfordshire. The couple had contacts in China and with the East India Company: he was a director which enabled him to use their services to bring plants back from China. He and his wife were the recipients of many new cultivars reaching England at this time facilitated by his cousin Alexander who was in charge of the English Trading Post at Canton.
He was a patron of botany and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in December 1775, and was one of the founding members of the Geological Society and the British Institution. It is said that this delightful addition to the roses’ gene pool survived the trip home on the open deck of the ship and the English blockade of the French ports during the Napoléonic Wars. It seems in this rapprochement between the warring nations that
flowers were a universal currency and that those destined for the Empress Josephine transcended everything.
His rose is the first tea rose introduced to the West and was thought to be lost but again Bermunda came to the rescue with the discovery of some plants there growing under the name ‘Spice’. Deemed to be the true Hume’s Tea-Scented China it is still scarce in commerce. It has pale creamy blooms tinged with flesh pink, full, double and fragrant. They pale to white in the full sun. It is likely that this rose is lost in the west and that the rose sold today is different with descriptions at variance with Hurst’s early descriptions. For example Hurst has a description of Hume’s Tea-Scented China as being a weak grower, probably to about 3 feet. Yet modern descriptions have it as a vigorous plant which could be a small climber. It is intolerant of cold and does much better in warmer climates.
Parks’ Yellow Tea Scented China
John Damper Parks 91797-1866) was a young gardener for the Earl of Arran at Bognor. Described as a good botanist and gardener he was sent to China in 1823 for the Royal Horticultural Society to collect new and exciting plants, amongst them Camellias, chrysanthemums, orchids and of course roses. His trip for the cash strapped society was hugely successful.
His rose was originally called r. oderata ochroleuca, by Lindley of the society to reflect its soft yellowish white colour and probably of similar heritage to Hume’s Blush.
Vigorous grower, tender to the cold, but will produce wonderful scented blooms on long canes given warm weather. The blooms are large double and cupped and it is likely to be unavailable in colder places but available in New Zealand.