The Syphilitic William LobbMonday, June 02, 2014
Rosa ‘Louise Odier’ is a beautiful intense pink rose with a heavenly scent. Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pré’ is lovely and white and somehow seems musical. The naming of plants has a way of adding romance and interest. We have a clematis that I would consider ordinary. It is plainly maroon but Rosemary loves it because it's Clematis ‘Rebecca’. There is a hosta which I have never had the opportunity to buy, Hosta ‘Emily Dickinson’ even though my Hosta ‘Robert Frost’ is pretty nice.
So what can anybody say about Rosa ‘William Lobb’?
The venerable Royal Horticulural Society weighs in:
Other common names Rose 'William Lobb'
Synonyms Rosa old velvet moss
Rosa can be deciduous or semi-evergreen shrubs or scrambling climbers, with usually thorny stems bearing pinnate leaves and solitary or clustered, 5-petalled flowers followed by showy red or purple fruits
Family Rosaceae / Rosaceae
Species 'William Lobb' is a strong-growing medium-sized shrub, open in habit, with arching shoots. Moderately scented, double, deep magenta-purple flowers 9cm in width fade to greyish-purple. Heavily mossed buds
Centifolia Moss roses are lax, thorny shrubs with small clusters of often fragrant, semi-double or double flowers in midsummer, the flower stalks and sepals with an aromatic, moss-like growth.
My bible, Peter Beales – Classic Roses says:
‘William Lobb’, ‘Duchesse d’Istrie’, ‘Old Velvet Moss’
Laffay France 1855
When I show William Lobb to visitors to my garden I ask them to rub the unopened buds with their hands. The are rewarded with an intense pine resin scent. And that’s that. They lose interest and I take them to see other plants.
For a while I have wondered who William Lobb was. I found my answer yesterday in (yes!) Wikipedia. Lobb was a Cornish plantsman, (1809 – 3 May 1864) who worked for the most prosperous English plant sellers, Veitch of Exeter. James Veitch instantly caught on that Lobb, in spite of not having had a formal training in botany had the potential of being a very good plant hunter. At the time Victorians were madly pursuing the competition of who could have the rarest and strangest plant.
Lobb went to South America and up as far as Panama and from there to California. He introduced to England many plants and trees but there were three standouts, the Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana), the Sequoiadendron giganteum and a beautiful California shrub with yellow flowers (which I have in my garden, Fremontodendron californicum. Plant hunter David Douglas (why we call the Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, somehow overlooked the discovery of Thuja plicata so it was Lobb who introduced the Western Red Cedar to his homeland.
Most interesting is that Lobb went to San Francisco during the Gold Rush and disappeared in 1860. His family thought he had caught the gold fever. But that was not the case.
On 3 May 1864, Lobb died forgotten and alone at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco. The cause of death was recorded as “paralysis”, but was probably the result of syphilis. He had no mourners at his burial on 5 May in a public plot in Lone Mountain Cemetery. In 1927, his headstone was moved to South Ridge Lawn and in 1940 to a crypt at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park under the care of the California Academy of Sciences. A small memorial plaque can be found in Devoran Church Cornwall where his brother Thomas Lobb (also a plant hunter) was buried in 1894.
|Rosa 'William Lobb' June 2 2014|
It was interesting for me to read that Lobb obtained seeds of the giant Sequoia by shooting the cones with a rifle and having assistants scour the ground for seeds.
I find it coincidentally funny that I love Rosa 'William Lobb' in decline as my scans here of the flowers. It is perhaps my paean to Lobb's syphilis. You might note that the rose has another name, perhaps because the hybridizer, Jean Laffay was French and he might have wanted to please his French countrymen. The Duchesse d’Istrie was a beautiful woman married to a French hero in the Napoleonic wars. He was Jean-Baptiste Bessières, duc d’ Istrie, maréchal d’ empire.
On 27 October 1801, he had married in the castle of Carrussel (at Ferussac, Lot-et-Garonne) Marie-Jeanne-Magdelaine Lapeyrière (1781-1840). A most delightful portrait in miniature of La Maréchale Bessières, duchesse d’ Istrie, has been executed by Jacques Delaplace; the piece is preserved at Rueil-Malmaison in the musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau. The piece – tabatière– was aquired in 1953; inventory number M.M.40.47.8633; ancient collection of baron Rabusson-Corvisart.
So far I have not been able to locate a portrait of William Lobb.