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Welcome to the January 2004 edition of my web site! The roses I write about are the Old Garden Roses and select shrub and miniature roses of the 20th century. For tips on rose culture, pruning, propagation and history, see the "Site Resources Guide" box in the navigation panel at left. To return to this page, click on the "thorn icon" in the margin at left. Articles from the previous months are archived and can be viewed by clicking on the listings in the left margin. Oh, and please don't write to me for a catalog or pricelist.....this is an information site only, not a commercial nursery. If you wish to buy roses, see my sponsor, The Uncommon Rose.

How roses came to California
By Barbara Oliva

All over the west, roses survive where they were planted: some for much more than a century. How did they come to such a hard-scrabble place? How did the homesteads and cemeteries come to be graced with plants that had no value beyond the aesthetic?

'Reine des Violettes''Reine des Violettes'

The earliest way they came was in the wagons and ships along with families uprooted from home, friends and family - carefully nurtured across forests, plains, mountains, deserts and oceans. Kim Rupert put it so well: “ You always took pieces of your garden with you when you moved, particularly those “remembrance” plants; as evidenced by R.Foetida and ‘Harison’s Yellow’ following both the Oregon and Mormon Trails across this country.” The Spanish and Russian settlers as well as settlers from our east cpast did this. Likely Chinese immigrants did, too.

Roses came not only from the east coast of the continent; but by ships over both oceans. Chinese roses were undoubtedly brought from the orient both by sea captains to friends or relatives; and by Chinese nationals settling here in the west. European introductions were featured in the catalogs of local nurseries within months of the original introducton date.

As interesting as these subjects might be: the resources avalilable to me make the history of the Sacramento area the subject of the rest of this essay.

As early as 1849 there was a rush of entrepreneurs to match the gold rush, and by 1850 a nurseryman named Anthony Preston Smith had already established himself to the east of Sacramento. Originally from upstate New York, he joined a group of 30 men who pooled their resources to buy a boat and sail for the gold fields via Cape Horn. He was a gambler, and by the time the boat arrived in Sacramento, he had won a sixth of the total resources in the pool, arriving a wealthy man. He purchased 50 acres of land from Sutter, paying $100 am acre; north of where Sacramento State University is now.


The soil was rich, and by 1852 his gardens were producing seed, flowers, shrubs, and trees for sale. By 1855 fresh fruit, from the orchards and vineyards produced a substantial profit. The first California raisins were introduced there. His home was built among the orchards and greenhouses. By 1858 the gardens, were much larger, and included 11,000 young fruit trees as well as nut trees, ornamental and timber trees.

Smith’s Pleasure Gardens became a destination for Sunday excursions.Paths were paved with broken shells from middens on the coast; flowers and trees made strolling pleasurable.

He had thirty employees, includingThomas O’Brian from Philadelphia who was his rose/flower specialist; he laid out the walks, and planted flowers, There were 15000 roses, 2000 camelias, and flower and vegetable plants raised for seed.

O’Brian remained with Smith from 1850 to 1854 then moved out on his own establishing The Rosedale Nursery. By then, several other nurseries and florests had established in the area, and others were moving into other towns in California. Wagons from Sacramento went out weekly to surrounding communities; delivering goods and plants.

Smith’s catalog for 1856-7 listed 31 Hybrid Perpetuals, 11 Bourbons, 7 China or Bengal, 9 Noisettes, 10 Tea Scented, 7 Moss roses, and 8 Climbing roses for sale.

'Mons Tillier''Mons. Tillier'

By 1855, he was offered $75000 for his Gardens, which he refused; estimating the property was worth fully $100,000. BUT! The best laid plans - - -

Hydraulic mining in the mountains speeded the drainage of rain and melt water to the rivers; and deposits of hydrolic debris raised the Sacramento River bottom, subsequently the water level. The flood of 1861, followed by the still greater flood of 1862 burst the levee to the north of his land, sweeping away the labor of years, the beautiful gardens, the popular pleasure resort, his house and out buildings. Six feet of silt covered the gardens. Smith attempted to rebuild, but in 1871 another great flood swept over the remains of the Gardens.

Smith died in 1877 - but the heritage of his vision remains. Sacramento, the ‘City of Trees’ remains; as do plantings in other cities in Northern California. The numerous roses that have been found in cemeteries, pastures, old home sites; and added to the Historic Rose Garden in the Historic Sacramento Cemetery flourish in his memory.

Copyright © Barbara Oliva, 2004

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