Roses in Cemeteries on the Dia de los Muertos

I got a call from Judy, the friend in the Sierra foothills I wrote about a couple of years ago (Foothills Roses post). She was in Gilroy visiting her father, and wanted to know if I’d like to look at some roses in San Juan Bautista and Hollister with her on Friday, Nov. 2. That’s All Souls Day for Catholics, or Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) to the Hispanic population, an excellent day for visiting cemeteries. My friend Tamara joined us. We met up at the cemetery in San Juan Bautista. I was pleased to see that conditions for the roses hadn’t gotten any worse since the last time I was there (I wrote about San Juan Bautista last year). I know that sounds negative, but some roses were cut back during the spring and summer, and the poor rose we used to think was Devoniensis looks like an 10′ popsicle after a windstorm last spring took off a third of what was left on top. Fortunately, several of us have managed to propagate new plants from it. When we realized it wasn’t Devoniensis, we started calling it “Jesse Hildreth”, for an old nearby headstone. It must either be an ancestor or seedling of Devoniensis, and that makes it much more interesting. There are no known plants of its parent Smith’s Yellow. Unfortunately, there are also no really good descriptions or accurate drawings, so it’s hard to say if it could be that. There are also some seedlings of Devoniensis that seem to be extinct as well, such as Cornelie Koch. I showed Tamara and Judy around all the other roses in the cemetery, with Judy collecting cuttings to propagate. [I should emphasize here, that if your aren’t skilled at propagating from cuttings, please don’t collect cuttings in old cemeteries. You may do more harm than good for the roses there.] One of my favorite roses in this cemetery is “Jose A. Africa”. I’m not sure what class it is in, perhaps Large-flowered Climber. Since it grows without support, it has lovely cascading arches of deep pink blooms in spring, with good rebloom later in the year.

Jose A. Africa

After the cemetery, we drove by some other roses, the “Honeymoon Cottage Purple” and White Maman Cochet. Judy wanted a cutting of that. I have never talked to the home owner, as I never wanted to get cuttings of it, but Judy went to ask permission. The owner, an elderly woman named Mary, said the roses were planted by her mother, so they’ve been there a very long time. I had never noticed there were two other roses up the driveway from the White Maman Cochet. One might be Pink Maman Cochet, not sure about the other. I’ll have to look again in spring. But things got even better- around the corner on the other side of Mary’s house was another driveway, also lined with roses. Most are Hybrid Teas, but one was the Rose of Castile (Autumn Damask). Then Mary asked if we’d like to see the roses on her patio, and invited us to walk  through her house to go out the back door. Again, several Hybrid Teas, but one older pink rose. It’s probably a Hybrid Perpetual. When we left, we thanked her profusely, and promised to visit again in the spring.

After lunch (a table at the restaurant, Jardines, had a nice display of decorative skulls for the Dia de los Muertos) we looked at the roses in the State Park, where Carol still comes weekly to care for the roses and other plants. Since I wrote about the roses there last year, I’ve realized that the roses that pre-date Frances Grate’s plans of about 1990, mainly came from Roses of Yesterday around 1950. (I had been hoping they were from when the Zanettas were still there.) The musk rose on the Castro-Breen Adobe fence has been identified as Rosa brunonii, which was sold as the Musk Rose until the real one was rediscovered- Rosa moschata. Roses of Yesterday was selling that when they was still Roses of Monterey.


Rosa brunonii at Castro-Breen Adobe

Francis E. Lester created many musk hybrids, and after he died, his widow and business partners named their favorite for him. The rose Francis E. Lester grows on a fence behind the stables. In back of the Zanetta House is a rose labeled Rosa multiflora ‘Carnea’, but it’s actually Laure Davoust. It’s not a common rose. The one at the Heritage was found in Fiddletown, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. We only identified it a couple of years ago. Laure Davoust was sold by Roses of Yesterday under the name Marjorie Lester, for Francis’ wife. They had found it on a trip to the foothills, and didn’t know what it was, so they renamed it. Very likely they had found that same plant in Fiddletown. Several other roses found in the park were also sold by Roses of Yesterday, and very few nurseries at that time were selling old and species roses. With this nursery so close, and the clear links for some of the roses, I suspect that after part of the town became a State Park, the nursery made a donation of a number of older and species roses. I discussed that theory with a ranger a couple of months ago, and she plans to look into it when she has time. Apparently they kept good records of that sort of thing. One rose still hasn’t been identified. It’s an early and beautiful Bourbon rose, with a strong Damask scent.


“Zanetta House Bourbon”

Here’s a picture of another rose at the Zanetta House. It’s labeled Mme de Tartas, but Vintage Gardens thinks it’s actually General  Tartas. When I was there a couple of months ago to help Carol, I gave it a good dead-heading. This is how it greeted me the next time I was there a month later:


The rose labeled Mme de Tartas much improved over last year.

I also showed Tamara and Judy the possible Bloomfield Courage in front of the Castro-Breen Adobe, still the tiny struggling plant it was when I got cuttings five years ago. But one of those cuttings produced this plant at the Heritage. This year I collected cuttings from our plant and rooted them. I gave a couple to Carol last month, so one can be planted next to the original, and hopefully cover the fence there again.

bloomfield courage

Bloomfield Courage at the Heritage Rose Garden, grown from a cutting of the one in San Juan Bautista

After seeing all the roses of interest in San Juan Bautista, we headed to Hollister. I love Hollister. The Calaveras fault runs right through many houses in one neighborhood, and I enjoy seeing the effects of fault creep every few years. The sidewalks are warped, the curbs offset, and the old houses are getting more skewed all the time. We noticed one for sale that mentioned “new foundation”. They didn’t mention the fault, but then it didn’t go through that house. It went through the one next door. I’d looked at the fault in the cemetery many years ago, but didn’t realize it was the same cemetery we stopped at until afterwards. The previous time I didn’t notice the roses. This time I didn’t notice the offsets from the fault. What you see is certainly affected by what you are looking for. There are a dozen or so roses in the large cemetery. The first rose we looked at was the bush form of Lady Hillingdon. You rarely see the bush form, while the climbing form is fairly popular. It took me a minute to recognize it, even though the climber grows outside my front door.

Lady Hillingdon

Tamara and Judy with Lady Hillingdon

Another rose we found interesting was a pink Hybrid Perpetual. Paul Neyron comes to mind, complete with the rust-covered foliage, but the only bloom was spent and falling apart.

pink Hybrid Perpetual

Judy examining the pink Hybrid Perpetual

In the back part of the cemetery we found a very interesting plot, although not for roses. It was decorated with mortars and pestles and some shell fossil rocks, and instead of headstones appeared to be round rock concretions with names and dates carved on them.

Fossils, mortars, pestles and concretions

Fossils, mortars, pestles and concretions

There is another cemetery across town, so we drove over there and looked around, but there aren’t very many roses, unless you count the plastic ones, in which case there were a lot. It’s a newer and active cemetery, and there were lots of people visiting the resting places of their loved ones for Dia de los Muertos. We need to visit these places again in the spring to find out what the other roses are. And we’ll stop and visit Mary in San Juan Bautista on the way.


About Jill Perry

Since 2005, I have been the Curator of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, a part of Guadalupe River Parks and Gardens near downtown San Jose. I write about the Heritage Rose Garden, my garden and my travels when I feel inspired and have time. Since I have no regular schedule, if you'd like to know when I write a new article, please subscribe to this blog.
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