Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Florida roses 'a joy forever'

Part 2 of 2 

"Think of a roof of white roses in February!" So wrote Florida newcomer Julia Daniels Moseley in 1882, in a letter to her friend Eliza in Illinois. Julia and her husband were en route to their new homestead in what is now the Tampa area, and had stopped overnight in Limona. It was south of Crescent City, but no longer exists. Julia wished she could send Eliza "a few yards" of climbing roses after seeing "beautiful old homes and more than one lovely old garden" (18) during a twilight stroll.

Closeup on a Bermuda Spice heirloom rose bloom
This Bermuda Spice, aka Hume's Blush, heirloom rose
grows in my yard with little care. (Gerri Bauer photo)
Rose references are threaded throughout the narrative in Moseley's Come to My Sunland: Letters of Julia Daniels Moseley from the Florida Frontier, 1882-1886. A friend once came to visit with her hands full of crimson roses (144). Another time, roses and oleanders decorated a room (81). 

These weren't the roses you see at the florist's or on Valentine's Day. They were old-fashioned roses, today known as heirloom or antique roses. Their blossoms are smaller, they don't hold their petals long when cut, and most have one or two peak flowering periods a year. They generally have rich rose fragrance. 

They also weren't what pioneers were growing up North. "As yet, they are hardly worth the ground they occupy; and whether they ever will do anything is a matter of doubt," (183) groused author Harriet Beecher Stowe in Palmetto Leaves. She was speaking about the "fine varieties of roses" she'd brought to Florida from her Northern home in the 1870s.

As her transplanted shrubs struggled, Stowe noted that: "Meanwhile we have only to ride a little way into the pine-woods to see around many a rustic cabin a perfect blaze of crimson roses and cluster roses, foaming over the fences in cascades of flowers" (183). "These are Florida roses, born and bred ..." she added. 

Easy-care heirloom roses beautified many a pioneer homestead. On March 2, 1892, a Pasco County correspondent wrote to the Floral Department of the Florida Agriculturist newspaper to praise Marechal Niel as a glorious rose. "Well pruned, watered and fertilized, it will richly repay you with its golden wealth of richly scented flowers; a thing of beauty, a joy forever" (135), said the writer, identified only as P.A.L.M.  (See Part 1 of this post for more on the Marechal Niel.)

Later in the year, on Nov. 30, 1892, another correspondent identified as New Resident wrote of being "encouraged by success rooting rose cuttings, several together, in large-mouthed, low glass bottles on a south window sill in the heat of May, and also in the open ground in summer in the partial shade of an allamanda" (759).

Pioneers were surrounded by roses during shrubs' heavy flushes of blooms in spring and fall. Some people may have made the rose-petal jams, rose-water cakes, and rose-petal sandwiches author Jean Gorden said were popular in Victorian times (Pageant of the Rose, 92). But Florida homes in that pre-air-conditioned era were open to the smells of the farm and homestead. I rather think more people followed the advice of one K.B.S of DeLand, who shared this Rose Jar recipe in the July 13, 1892 issue of the Florida Agriculturist:
"Gather roses, take the petals only; after well dried place them in thin layers in your jar with a light sprinkle of salt between layers. After your jar is full of roses, or petals, you mix an ounce of cinnamon, ounce of allspice and ounce of cloves with the roses; then put on five cents worth of essence of wintergreen from the druggist's, also five cents worth of lavender and another sweet perfume that you like, and you have your sweet jar that will perfume the whole room."
Now, as then, such scents become memories that linger.

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