STYLE

Father Hugo rose has a sunny, tough disposition and earns its keep all season

06/09/2015 08:58 EDT | Updated 06/09/2016 05:59 EDT
After showing his sunny face, Father Hugo has once again left for the season. Father Hugo the rose, that is.

Distinctive foliage, however, earns the plant its keep throughout the summer.

Father Hugo is among the earliest roses to bloom, a floral hors d'oeuvre to the full-blown show that follows from hybrid tea, rambling and climbing roses.

Each of Father Hugo's blossoms opens with a single row of canary-yellow petals, the petals spreading to create a golden cup. Each bloom is a couple of inches across, and so charming that you can't really fault them for their lack of strong fragrance.

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BEAUTY BEYOND JUST FLOWERS

Early blooms with a sunny disposition are not the only qualities of this rose. Although the blossoms appear but once a season, the compound leaves, made up of a dozen or so leaflets, each only about a half-inch long, lend the whole bush a delicate, ferny appearance. In some years and in some gardens, the leaves put on a decent autumn show as they turn red, yellow or purplish brown.

These leaves and flowers are borne on gracefully arching stems that form a clump 6 feet high and wide. The stem's mahogany-brown bark provides a pleasing foil for the light green colour of the leaves. Thorns are thankfully few.

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A WORTHY WILDING

Father Hugo's rose is a "species" rose, a wild plant grown in gardens without any further improvement. Contrast this, for example, with "high bred" hybrid tea roses, which not only represent a melding of various species but then are selected and given individual names, like Peace, Mr. Lincoln or Chrysler Imperial. These named roses are multiplied by cuttings or grafting. As a species rose, Father Hugo can be propagated by just planting a seed, taking a cutting or even digging up a rooted shoot from the outside edge of the clump.

(An attempt was made to give Father Hugo some "culture" when a variety named Dr. E.M. Mills was selected from the species. Its claim to fame was double blossoms — that is, more than just a single row of petals. Despite all those extra petals, Dr. E.M. Mills was considered inferior to the species and has been little heard of since its introduction in 1926.)

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LOW MAINTENANCE

As a species rose, Father Hugo has other qualities. You don't have to worry about a shoot from the rootstock growing and then overgrowing your plant. Most hybrid tea roses are grafted on special rootstocks. But any shoot springing up from near or at ground level of a Father Hugo's rose is the same as the rest of the plant. That's how the plant grows; new shoots rise up to eventually replace old shoots.

Like many other species roses — rugose rose and prairie rose, as examples — Father Hugo is also tough and cosmopolitan. Give it full sun and it will be happy in most soils. No need to worry about black spot, mildew, and other pests that commonly plague hybrid tea and other "high bred" roses.

And cold? This rose tolerates temperatures down to minus 25 Fahrenheit.

You may, at this point, wonder just who this Father Hugo was, for whom the rose was named. He found this rose in the wilds of China, introducing it in 1899. The gentleman's real name was actually Hugh: the Reverend Hugh Scallan. "Hugh" became "hugonis" in the botanical name of the rose (Rosa hugonis), which became "Hugo" for the plant's common name when it entered the nursery trade.

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