Mary Gee's Lady Banks White Rose
Here in the South, azaleas, tulip trees, and other early bloomers are already smiling upon us, but none so pleasing to the eye than the old roses here in the historic district where I live.
So when I saw the single rose photograph by one of my favorite photographers, Chi Kin Lai — it’s beauty brought my mind back the story of another single rose — the one that a young Scottish bride planted in Tombstone, Arizona in 1885. As a rose species, it too is a native of Western China, from the Banksiae roses family, although I doubt that Mary Gee knew that.
In 1807, William Kerr originally re-discovered the rose in a Canton, China garden and brought it back to England. There the rose was named “Lady Banks” after the wife of then then Director of Kew Gardens, Sir Joseph Banks.
It’s Chinese name translates loosely to: “Woody Perfume Flower.”
While Mary Gee’s rose has it’s own unique specialness and it’s own story, the species in itself is extremely unique. Among them are:
- This species has the double white or yellow clusters of rose flowers
- The white variety (the kind Mary Gee planted, are strongly violet-scented)
- This rose species is thorn less
- It is quite tropical
- It is evergreen
- It is a vigorous climber
- It thrives in poor soil
- It is easily propagated from cuttings (this is true because it is a species rose which means the seeds will actually produce true specimens, unlike many roses).
- It is among the longest living rose bushes known
- It can grow to be a massive rose bush
- It is virtually disease free wherever it thrives
- Insects aren’t crazy about this rose
For those of you who don’t know the back story of Mary Gee’s particular Lady Banks White Rose, you are in for a treat.
Back when Mary Gee first arrived in Tombstone, Arizona it’s reported that she received a wooden crate from her family back in Scotland with a number of garden plants. That’s astounding, because even in the early 1900s when my own grandmother first arrived there by stage coach, this was and always will be the last place most people would be planting a garden.
From a rooted cutting of the white rose, Mary and her friend, Amelia Adamson, planted the rose in the patio of the Cochise House (now known as the Rose Tree Inn Museum) where they were boarders. No one expected the rose to live in that hostile climate and poor soil. Yet, against what they thought was all odds, it did.
It’s claimed by some to be the world’s largest rose bush. It’s also reported to be the oldest known rose bush in America. It’s said to cover over eighty-five hundred square feet and to have a trunk of twelve feet in circumference. The white variety that Mary Gee planted is much more fragrant than those of the same species that come in various shades of yellow.
There is a little controversy among older folks in Texas, where you will see many yellow varieties of this same Rosa banksiae species — a few still believe this to be the same kind of rose that inspired the folk love song, the Yellow Rose of Texas (true author unknown). Of course, the song had nothing to do with roses, and that’s a misinterpretation of the lyrics.
If you are ever in Tombstone, Arizona in April when the town has it’s annual Rose Festival, be sure not to miss Mary Gee’s gift to all of us.
P.S. This is a great rose to grow if you have a sunny spot and want a spectacular display of roses. It does not tolerate cold weather well.
“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.” ~ Emma Goldman
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