Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lady Banks Rose - Owning a Piece of History

About a year and a half ago, in a Christmas exchange, I received a rose cutting from a friend that lived in Arizona at the time. It wasn't just any rose cutting. It was from the world's largest rose tree (according to The Guinness Book of World Records) in Tombstone, Arizona - a Lady Banks (Rosa banksiae 'Alba Plena').

In 1885, Henry and Mary Gee, a young newlywed couple from Scotland lived in Tombstone, Arizona. When the Gees built a new home, Mary received a box of plant cuttings from her native country. In that box was a white 'Lady Banks' rose, which Mary shared with her friend, Amelia, who was a caretaker at the local boarding house where the Gees had lived prior to building their home.

Image from

Amelia planted the rose cutting behind the boarding house where it thrived and grew. Today, more than 100 years later, the rose tree is still doing well and covers its 8000 square feet support arbor. Its trunk has a 12-foot circumference. Cuttings are sometimes sold and ours is one of them!

I researched this special rose and found out that it has its origin in China. It is nearly thornless, virtually disease-free, and has tiny white double blooms, usually in April. It blooms on two-to-three-year-old wood, so perhaps I'll have some blooms this year! No signs of any yet though.

When I received the cutting, I knew I'd have to keep it inside in the winters, because it's only hardy to zone 7 and we live in zone 5. I planted it in a rose pot and the first winter, it stayed in a cool bedroom. When it was warm enough, I put it on our front porch, where it got a little south sun and a lot of west.

This winter, it stayed in the conservatory. It will live its entire life there, because yesterday, I planted it in the ground! Before the conservatory was constructed, the south end of the pool house once had an espaliered Pyracantha. But somehow, I managed to kill it after a few years, in spite of them being notoriously invasive and tough.

Now, the 'Lady Banks' will be trained on the side of the building - inside!

A note about the tools you see here: Clarington Forge provided me with the
Strapped and Treaded Garden Spade (left) and the Planting Spear (right).
Our native soil is heavy clay, but it was no match for these heavy-duty tools!

Later, after painting the wall, we'll reattach the wires for the rose to climb on.


Kate @ Gardening and Gardens said...

How fun to have such a story behind your plant! I sure hope it blooms well for you. Can't imagine seeing the original trunk with it's 12ft circumference. Wow!

Terra said...

Your rose and its history are SO EXCITING. Thanks for telling us and showing us the "mama rose."

Anonymous said...

kylee, your lady banks rose is going to look amazing... INSIDE! how cool is that?! -andrea

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I have read about this rose before Kylee. Lucky you to have piece of it. It will be beautiful growing on the wall in your conservatory.

Shady Gardener said...

Another treasure in your gardening experiences. :-)

Queen Ladybug said...

This makes me smile! I'm very glad Jay thought of it as a present for you that year. I love seeing a friend with part of something that is special, both historically and to us personally now. (For your readers, my husband and I got married under the original in Tombstone last April because we loved it, as well as the area so much.)

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