​​The Tacoma Rose Society


This is the first of what we see as a series of articles dealing with the history of rose growing in Tacoma.  Nationwide we are celebrating “Year of the Rose 2002,” and this is great. Tacoma residents have been celebrating roses and the beauty and joy they bring to us for more than 100 years.  It is regularly mentioned that the Tacoma Rose Society, having been in continuous existence since 1911, is the oldest rose society in Washington State.  By 1911 Tacoma had been featuring rose activities for almost 20 years.  So you can see, roses have been a big part of Tacoma activities since the city’s very early days.

An article printed in the Tacoma News Tribune on June 12, 1955 gives a brief summary of some of the early history of roses in Tacoma.  Believe it or not, Tacoma staged rose carnivals and rose parades in the period from 1896 – 1905.  The Queen of the Tacoma Rose Carnival of 1897 was Anna Griggs, daughter of the first president of the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Company (she was a Princess at the first carnival in 1896).  Using a combination of news stories of the day and an interview with Queen Anna, some of the features of this early Rose Carnival were recounted.

The harbor was full of ships (including four Navy vessels), there was a concert and a ball, a rose show, and of course there was a parade with many (more than 30) “coaches and four” carrying prominent citizens.  The parade also featured a considerable number of floats.  The date was July 1, 1897 and it is not really surprising that it rained on their parade.  It is very clear from the article that the rain really did little to dampen their enthusiasm for the Tacoma Rose Carnival!

Roses in Point Defiance Park date back to the very founding of the park.  A September 15, 1890 story in the Tacoma Daily Ledger discusses both the progress being made in clearing land and the plans for the future Pt. Defiance Park.  (At this time much of the land in the current park was the property of the Federal Government, and this was not finally straightened out until about 1905.)

In 1895 Pt. Defiance garden supervisor E. R. Roberts (a man born in North Wales who had trained at many European sites, including Kew Gardens) asked for donations of rose cuttings and seeds.  In the words of an 1898 Ledger article, “the school children of Tacoma have reared for themselves a memorial rosary of 100,000 plants, all grown from cuttings propagated entirely without irrigation, and furnishing flowers enough every summer to conduct a whole rose carnival.”  In response I can only say “Imagine pruning that garden!  And thank goodness for our dependable rain.”

A rose garden has always been a central feature of Pt. Defiance Park.  The original park layout by the nationally famous landscape architect Sidney J. Hare was formulated in 1902 and updated by him in 1911.  In a Ledger story about the update it states that there will be no changes to “the famous and attractive rose arbor which during this summer excited the pleased wonder of thousands of visitors.”

We can attest to the fact that more than 90 years later each summer thousands of visitors continue to wander the Pt. Defiance rose garden in “pleased wonder.”  The current rose garden site on the hill and its circular shape with the distinct quadrants dates to the days of Superintendent of Parks E. A. Hill.  In an April 1913 article in the Ledger, Hill’s vision for the garden and its importance to the citizens of Tacoma is brought forward.  A complete list of the 73 varieties of roses, which had not yet bloomed, is given.  We will have more to say on this in a future article.

Rose shows were held in Tacoma as early as 1895 and have been held continuously since 1910 (the year before the official founding of the Tacoma Rose Society).  The rose show in 1897 featured “a magnificent vase of La France roses” from a bush planted by Mrs. Samuel Wilkeson in 1878.  Recall that La France is the first hybrid tea and was created by Guillot et fils in France in 1867.

As you can see, Tacoma had “rosenuts” importing roses from Europe even in her earliest days.  Also mentioned in the article about the 1897 show is a large display of roses contributed by the hospital at Ft. Steilacoom from bushes on their grounds “planted by early settlers thirty years ago.”

A search for our “Roots” is something many of us engage in.  It doesn’t seem possible that the Alex Haley series first aired twenty-five years ago, but that is a fact.  Time passes, things change, people and gardens change as well.  No matter, Tacoma continues her love affair with roses!  After all, it is in her roots.  We plan to keep digging to expose more of those roots to the current generation of Tacoma “rosenuts.”

Growing our Roots

Did you know that an article in the August 7, 1898 issue of the Tacoma Daily Ledger referred to Tacoma as the “City of Roses”?  Tacoma was not always known as the “City of Destiny”!

Last month’s article really featured the early history of the rose in Tacoma and Pt. Defiance Park rather than the history of the Tacoma Rose Society.  The garden in Pt. Defiance we enjoy today was created for first bloom 1913.  It has, of course, been redone in the intervening years, but the basic “bones” of the 1913 garden remain in place.  Later in this piece I will mention some of the roses planted for the “grand opening” of George C. Hill’s masterpiece, but now let us spend some time on the early history of the Tacoma Rose Society.
A newspaper article announcing the 1940 rose show claims that rose shows have actually been sponsored annually by the Tacoma Rose Society since 1910; but the Tacoma Rose Society was officially organized on March 14, 1911 in a meeting at the Tacoma Commercial Club on C Street.  The Society was incorporated under the laws of The State of Washington on May 3, 1913 and “its affairs were put into thorough business order.”  The first president of TRS was Carl Morissee.  He was succeeded by Herbert Hunt in 1913, and the society maintains a continuous list of Past Presidents to this day.

The “City of Roses” had shows much earlier than 1910 – at least back to 1895 – but there were years when no group sponsored a rose show.  The first “official” TRS show was held in the State Armory Building on Friday and Saturday, June 23-24, 1911 with an attendance of about 5000.  Early rose shows featured additional entertainment, often in the form of concerts by the Temple Orchestra under the direction of Anton Aasgard (undoubtedly a great Norwegian!).  The Armory was the venue for the first four TRS shows, but then (this should sound familiar) the society had to seek a new location for its show.  The fifth show was held at “The Glide Rink” on June 11-12, 1915.  The cause for the change was a threatened loss of federal funding for the State Armory if TRS had been allowed to have the show in the Armory in 1915. 

All in all 1915 was a tough year for roses as well as rose shows.  Bad weather forced postponement of the show by one week.  Growers who forced their blooms were upset, but “approximately 700 entries were filed and a most beautiful show resulted.… The Metropolitan Park Board’s beautiful display under the direction of Supt. Hill, received unlimited praise from all.  The only blighting condition during the show was the extremely cool weather, but withal, the show was a distinct success, all things considered.”  Perhaps this praise is a bit faint, but I am sure the organizers were left with a sense of pride at being able to triumph over the elements.  As you will note, cooperation between TRS and Metro Parks goes back nearly 90 years, and the ability to rise to a challenge in the face of adversity is part of our earliest heritage.  Fitting then that in this YOTR 2002 the Tacoma Rose Society and the Metropolitan Park District had such a marvelous event on March 9, 2002 in Superintendent Hill’s Rose Garden.

I am in the process of tracing the rose varieties listed as being planted in that 1913 garden.  Virtually all of them are found in Modern Roses Eleven.  I am checking to see which varieties are still in commerce (my Combined Rose List for 2002 has not arrived as yet).  By the April meeting I should be able to have a list for those who are interested in this topic.  Of course, some of the varieties planted remain readily available and are grown by many Old Rose enthusiasts.  La France, General MacArthur, General Jacqueminot, Mme. Caroline Testout, Frau Karl Drushki, Gruss An Teplitz, and Kaiserin Augusta Victoria all make their way to the show table each year in our District.  Many of the other varieties appear to be beautiful (based on pictures in older rose writings).  I plan to continue to work to produce documentation that is as complete as possible for these roses that play an historic role here in Tacoma.

Much of my source material is from the files of the Tacoma Public Library.  Mary Gorden Beil of Bellevue (who, along with her husband Kenneth Beil, enters our rose show virtually every year) has also shared information with me.  Mary Beil’s father, Joseph Gordon, was president of TRS in 1927, was winning trophies in TRS shows as early as 1919, and won Queen of the TRS show with a Peace rose in 1949.  It has been great to have her support.  In response to the article of last month I received a note from John and June Frost, longtime TRS supporters from Seattle.  It was great to hear that they are doing well in the 80’s and still have a garden of over 1000 roses. John sent me some TRS show schedules dating from the mid 1940’s to the early 1960’s.  You can bet you will be reading information from those in future articles.  As you can probably tell, I am enjoying this digging for TRS “Roots.”  You can help me by sharing information you have or by pointing me to people or sources I should be interviewing or investigating.  Let’s see where, together, we can follow our TRS family history. 
Learn more about  our work at Pt. Defiance here . .

Spreading Roots

Did you know that in 1935 the Rev. S. S, Sulliger of Tacoma was President of the American Rose Society?  I learned this fact from the March, 1935 issue of “Success with Roses: The Magazine for Rose Lovers Everywhere.”  This magazine was a publication of the Conard-Pyle Company.

In 1939 (perhaps not coincidentally) Tacoma was visited by ARS President, Dr. T. Allen Kirk of Roanoke, VA, and  ARS Secretary, Marion Hatten of Harrisburg, PA.  They were among the judges for the 1939 Tacoma Rose Society Show held at Wells Hall, North 3rd and K streets.  The June 20, 1939 issue of the Tacoma News Tribune reported on the show and the visit by these “two nationally-known rose experts.”

After completion of judging Kirk and Hatten were taken on a tour of the city and visited several of the finest local rose gardens.  Dr. Kirk indicated he was deeply impressed with the number of roses seen in almost every yard in the entire Puget Sound region. “England is the only other place he has visited," he stated, "where roses can be seen in virtually every yard as they are in this district.”

Top rose in the 1939 rose was a McGredy’s Yellow exhibited by Dr. Frank R. Maddison.  In addition to exhibits by individuals, two fire stations exhibited roses (Number 3 located at N. 13th and J streets and Number 8 located at S. 43rd and L) and won ribbons.  In addition, the Metropolitan Park District had two special exhibits; one a table of roses and the other a colorful variety of potted shrubs and flowers “which completely fills the stage.”

A February 26, 1939 Tacoma Ledger article shows that the ARS dignitaries may have been set up.  The Tacoma Rose Society had a special program encouraging Tacoma residents to make plantings of yellow roses to honor the State of Washington’s Golden Jubilee Celebration.  TRS offered access to a list of “new roses in beautiful shades of yellow” from the Society secretary Mrs. Stacy Myers.

The article says there is plenty of time to plant roses which will provide fine blooms in the summer of 1939.  Society members also declared that Tacoma’s climate is the best in the world for the growing of roses.  It seems that the ARS visitors agreed with that assessment.

Planting directions said “A hole should be dug large enough to spread out the roots and deep enough to set the rose about one inch above the bud.  The  hole should be filled with light soil which should be packed firmly about the spread-out roots.  Broken root ends should be carefully pruned.  No fertilizer should be used.  Pruning of existing roses should be done in the last two weeks of March, the heavier the pruning the larger will be the buds, but for the average garden the bushes should be pruned back to 6 to 9 inches about the ground to produce a greater number of blooms.”   This planting advice sounds very much like that we give today, but the pruning advice is definitely more severe than we usually suggest today.

The  article goes on to say that “fertilizing should not begin before April 15 when about a quart of fresh cow manure should be put in a circle about each bush, away from the stem, with a handful of super phosphate and a tablespoon full of sulfate of potash spread on the manure.  This should be washed into the soil with a hose, not using the nozzle.”  This is still good advice today, but we usually skip the cow and just put the alfalfa pellets directly on the ground.

Some of those special yellow roses can still be purchased today, including McGredy’s Yellow, McGredy’s Sunset, Countess Vandall, and Paul’s Lemon Pillar.  In their day each of these was an excellent rose in the garden and on the show bench.

June is Rose Show Month in Tacoma!  The Tacoma Rose Society was founded in 1911 and has been involved in hosting a rose show in each year since its inception. In some years the sponsorship was shared by the Pacific Northwest District of the ARS, and in a year when we “lost our lease” our sister society, The Valley Rose Society, generously invited us to co-host a show with them.   With very few exceptions the TRS Shows have been held in the month of June, but the location of the show, and the activities associated with the show have been much more varied.

The first TRS Rose Shows were very elaborate affairs.  They were staged in huge venues and were accompanied by concerts and other very formal social events.  Undoubtedly this “grand format” was influenced by the earlier Rose Festivals held in Tacoma.  A partial list of locations for TRS shows includes the Washington State Armory (first several shows), the Glide Rink, the South Park Community Center, the Pt. Defiance Park Pagoda, the City-County Building, the First Baptist Church of Tacoma, the Tacoma Mall, the Lakewood Mall, the Olympic Hotel, the Doric Motor Inn, the Tacoma Sheraton Hotel, and now in 2002 we will be at Jackson Hall.  This list surely shows that a rose show can be held in any location.

From the earliest shows which also included “see and be seen” events to the present day, a principal thread running through all rose shows is the celebration of the glory and variety of genus Rosa.  An associated thread is the strong desire to educate anyone willing (and those who can be drafted) in all aspects of rose culture (after all, how else can we perpetuate the species “rosa nuttis”?).  Once hooked, the rose show provides the main location at which we can count on meeting rose friends from across our region and catching up on a year of events with them.

True members of the species mentioned above are the nicest people!  In reaction to the first article in this series two valued rose friends, June and John Frost of the Seattle Rose Society, sent me some of their treasures.  These treasures are a collection of TRS Rose Show schedules from various years in the 1940’s to 1960’s.  By studying those schedules we can get a glimpse of the form of TRS Rose Shows (and by extrapolation other shows as well) during the middle years of TRS history.  Gone were the grand balls, but the shows were still far more formally run and, surprisingly, much like the shows we feel are held “back East” (that we view with a certain amount of skepticism).  Let me tell you just a few of the facts and impressions I gleaned.

At least in some years, the shows had a closed format; only those living in the local congressional district were eligible to enter.  Judges from Seattle, Portland, Chehalis, Bellingham, Aberdeen, Eugene, and Sardis, B.C. were invited to judge (but not to show roses!).  These judges were the “visiting dignitaries,” and were taken to fancy and formal luncheons at the finest local restaurants.  In 1946, about half way to our present day, there were 62 trophies offered (eight novice classes, but no junior or arrangements sections).  In 1948 two design sections found their way into the “Vases and Bowls” section (these were listed as for Garden Clubs only!).  In 1949 the schedule lists seven sections for individual designers and two for garden clubs.  We can almost surely tell when the design section of the TRS show, for which we are so well known, came into being.

Strengthening our Roots

1949 was a year of innovation for TRS and a year of success for one of its longtime members.  The 1949 show schedule has a Division “T” (following divisions I, J, K!?) titled “Miniature Roses.”  Let me quote: “This new and experimental division is designed for very small roses which have the form of their larger sisters.  Such roses must be of varieties in which the petals are ordinarily less than one and one-half inches, like Pinkie, Cecile Bruenner, China Doll, or even very tiny ones, such as Pixie, Rosa Rouletti, Sweet Fairy, or Tom Thumb.  Number of flowers unlimited, but not to  be exhibited in heads.”  Can you imagine a time when one could (virtually) list all miniature roses in a show schedule?  In 1950 miniatures became part of a Division for “Specialties and Curiosities,” part of a larger scheme that included Moss Roses, Species Roses, Very Old Roses, and Rose Curiosities (the Green Rose was listed as an example, along with Grey Pearl).  In  1956 miniatures were in the miscellaneous section and a Junior Section had been born.  Most of our current classes were now in place.

Also in 1949, Joseph H. Gordon, Sr. won “Queen of the Show” with a specimen of Peace.  Mr. Gordon had been a main stay of TRS (President in 1927) and a successful exhibitor of roses since 1919.  His story shows that a good rosarian is persistent!  Mr. Gordon’s daughter, Mary Gordon Beil of Bellevue, generously provided much of the information that got me started on the TRS Roots project.  We hope to see Mary and Ken Beil at our show again this year.  They exhibit in our show in most years.

In 1952 Ralph Taylor joined the Tacoma Rose Society.  I very much want to interview Ralph before I delve into the most recent half of TRS History.  Look for more on our “heritage” in the fall.

For TRS the historic year of 2011 seems like a good time to resurrect the Rose “Roots” series of articles.  Appropriately, articles this year will focus more specifically on the history of the Tacoma Rose Society and those individuals who were early members and leaders of our Society.  The earlier “Roots” articles that appeared in 2002 issues of the QH stimulated contributions of information and some documents from readers from Tacoma and Seattle.  There is also a wealth of information in the collection housed in “The Northwest Room” of the Tacoma Public Library.  Mining the nuggets on microfilm and microfiche images of documents from early Tacoma is both time consuming and eye straining.  It is, however, a good thing to work on.  Volunteers?

By being a good person and a helpful neighbor TRS member Blaise Feeny (Board Member in 2009-2010) recently struck the “Mother Lode” of TRS History gold.  A neighbor he helped with a rose problem gave Blaise a scrapbook devoted to the history of the Tacoma Rose Society for the period of 1911 – 1939.  Blaise has donated this book to the TRS history collection. The scrapbook was compiled by Mr. A. V. Harrod, an artist, who lived in Tacoma from 1889 to his death in 1939.  Harrod was a charter member of the rose society, a long-time treasurer of the society and an avid grower and exhibitor of roses.  His rose “Mme. Edouard Herriot” won Queen-of-Show in 1925.  We will be extracting information from Mr. Harrod’s scrapbook during this centennial year and for many years (we hope!)  into the future.

We all know (or at least suspect) that there may be similar and maybe complementary collections of artifacts in the families of descendents of other TRS pioneers.  In a Tacoma News Tribune article from 1961 there is a picture of the first TRS president, Carl Morisse, sharing information from his scrapbook documenting the first 50 years of TRS history. It would be wonderful to have access to the information in that book.  Maybe if we all continue to do as Blaise Feeny did, help others and share our love for and knowledge of roses and rose growing, we will find some additional TRS history “nuggets.”  When you find something please let us all know. It would be great!

The 'Roots' article that follows is the first of three written for 2002 editions of the Queen's Herald newsletter, the official newsletter of the Tacoma Rose Society, by Bruce Lind, Master Rosarian, Rose Judge, and TRS Past President.

History of the Tacoma Rose Society