Alister Clark: Australian Rose Breeder

Alister Clark was one of Australia’s most famous and prolific rose breeders, producing many very well-known and popular roses, well-suited to Australia’s hot dry climate, so I am devoting three posts to him this week: his life (today), Alister Clark Memorial Garden at Bulla (Wednesday), and a few notes about the specific roses he bred (Thursday). Below is a photograph of one of his most famous and popular roses, Lorraine Lee 1924.BlogAlisterClarkReszd2014-10-19 14.56.10Alister Clark was born in 1864 to Walter and Annie Clark of Glenara, Bulla. Walter Clark (1803-1873) was a Scottish immigrant from Argyllshire, who arrived in Australia in 1838, started in the Riverine area of NSW, where he made money out of stock during the gold rush, overlanded stock to Melbourne and then in 1857, he bought 485 acres at Deep Creek, Bulla, where he built a large single storey Italianate house of brick and rendered stone (granite and bluestone), with a hipped slate roof and encircling verandah with open work timber posts and lintels, on an elevated site above Deep Creek Gorge, which he called  ‘Glenara’. See the bottom of this post for more about ‘Glenara’.

The Melbourne architects, Albert Purchas and Charles Swyer, also designed the garden around the house, including a terrace with stone steps, urns and a sundial to the west and an extensive network of paths cut into the rocky outcrops to the south. In 1872, Walter built a rustic wooden bridge across the creek to a romantic stone folly, a bluestone lookout tower, on the opposite hill. He also established a vineyard, being one of the first landowners to grow grapes in the Sunbury region and gradually expanded the property to 4079 acres by his death in 1873 . He was President of the Shire of Bulla, now part of the City of Hume, from 1866 to 1871. Below is Nancy Hayward 1937, an equally famous Alister Clark rose, which is never out of flower.bloghxroses20reszd2014-10-19-13-17-23Alister’s mother, Annie, died when Alister was 1 year old and his father 8 years later, so Alister and his older siblings, brother Walter and 3 sisters, Annie, Jessie and Aggie, were raised by relatives. Alister was educated in Hobart, at Sydney Grammar School (1877-1878) and at the Loretto School in Scotland. He studied Law at Cambridge University (1883-1885), but never practiced, though he was a Justice of Peace. On the boat home to Australia after his graduation, he met Edith (Edie) Rhodes, daughter of wealthy New Zealander, Robert Heaton Rhodes, and married her in Christchurch, New Zealand, on the 7 July 1888. Alister bought the Glenara homestead block (830 acres) from his father’s estate in 1892 and by his death, the property was 1035 acres.

Alsiter and Edie never had any children and lived most of their life at Glenara, where Alister bred roses, daffodils and nerines and pursued his other passions like playing polo, billiards and golf, being a founding member of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. He frequently visited his good friend, Albert Nash, to play golf on his private golf course in Cranbourne. He added a billiard room to the eastern end of the homestead in 1895. Alister also loved his horses, keeping steeplechasers, draughthorses and ponies at Glenara. He was Master of the local Oaklands Hunt Club and Founding Chairman of the Moonee Pond Racing Club in 1917. The Alister Clark Stakes, named in his honour, are still run at the Autumn race meet at Moonee Ponds every year. Like his father, he was President of the Shire of Bulla in 1896, 1902 and 1908. The rose below is Squatter’s Dream 1923 , named after a racehorse.BlogAlisterClarkReszd2014-10-19 15.13.21Alister was involved in the breeding of a number of new species of daffodils, his best known being Mabel Taylor, which is still grown and used in breeding today and which Alister believed was the first pink daffodil in Australia.  In 1948, he was awarded the Peter Burr Memorial Cup from the Royal Horticultural Society in England, but it was roses for which he became famous!BlogTeasReszd2014-10-19 13.24.37blogadelaidebgreszd20img_9334Alister Clark was one of Australia’s most famous and prolific rose breeders. He bred over 122 (some sources say 138) varieties from 1912 to 1949, using a huge species rose from Burma and the Himalayas, Rosa gigantea (photos above), to create roses specifically suited to Australia’s hot dry climate, one of the first rose breeders to do so on both counts (ie the use of R. gigantea in breeding, as it does not thrive in the cooler climates of Europe, where many of the rose breeders hailed from at that time; and the breeding of roses ideally suited for Australian conditions). They were the most widely planted roses in Australia in the period between the two world wars. See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Alister_Clark_roses for a list of Alister Clark roses. Another useful site with photographs is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alister_Clark_Memorial_Rose_Garden.

He bred his roses with a number of specific aims in mind…

Firstly, he wanted to produce the first rose to flower all year round. His first generation crosses of R. gigantea were Spring blooming only eg Jessie Clark; Courier; Golden Vision and Tonner’s Fancy; However, he  achieved his aim with second- generation crosses, Lorraine Lee and Nancy Hayward, both bred from Jessie Clark. A bunch of Lorraine Lee (photo below) was shown at every meeting of the National Rose Society for 20 consecutive months.BlogAlisterClarkReszd20%IMG_9113

He also aimed for roses, which performed well in ordinary gardens, rather than show roses, so his roses were very popular with the general public in Australia. An Argus poll in 1937 of 230 varieties of garden roses and 99 different climbing rose types resulted in Lorraine Lee being voted the most popular garden rose, while another of his roses, Black Boy, polled as the most popular climbing rose. While Lorraine Lee, Black Boy and Nancy Hayward (photo below at Werribee Park) are considered to be some of his most successful roses, Alister believed that Sunny South and Gwen Nash were some of his best roses.

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He wanted to breed tough roses, which did not require pampering or coddling and he did not believe in using chemical sprays and fertilisers, preferring to encourage birds for aphid control. Our little Eastern Spinebill is an excellent rose guardian!BlogAprilGarden20%Reszd2016-04-06 14.13.19Alister named his roses after horses, people and places. His first rose, Hybrid Tea, Lady Medallist 1912, was named after a successful racehorse, as was Squatter’s Dream 1923, Tonner’s Fancy 1928, Flying Colours 1922 and Courier 1930, while many of his roses bred the name of family friends, especially women, like climbing rose Gwen Nash 1920 and bush roses Peggy Bell 1929; Mary Guthrie 1929; Marjorie Palmer 1929; Countess of Stradbroke 1928 (the wife of the 3rd Earl of Stradbroke, who was the Governor of Victoria from  1920 to 1926) and Cicely Lascelles 1937 (photo below). He named Amy Johnson 1931 after the famous English pilot, who was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, to commemorate her landing and Edith Clark 1928 after his wife, who was also the Patroness of the Victorian Rose Society.

I will be writing about specific Alister Clark Roses on Thursday, but for more on the naming of his roses, read: ‘The Women Behind the Roses: An Introduction to Alister Clark’s Rose-Namesakes 1915 – 1952’ , written in 2010  by Andrew and Tilly Govanstone. It is also well worth reading ‘Man of Roses: Alister Clark of Glenara and His Family’ 1990  by Tommy R. Garnett and Susan Irvine’s Rose Gardens: Garden of a Thousand Roses with A Hillside of Roses by Susan Irvine 1992  for more information on this amazing rosarian, as well as an illustrated list of his roses.BlogAlisterClarkReszd20%IMG_9470Being a gentleman of private means with a philanthropic nature, Alister never bred or grew roses commercially, preferring to donate them to rose societies and charities for their fundraising efforts, as well as giving them as gifts to the people, after whom he had named his varieties. For example, Jessie Clark (photo below) was donated to the National Rose Society of Victoria to contribute to prize money at rose shows.BlogAlisterClarkReszd2014-10-19 15.15.58Alister Clark was the founding President of the National Rose Society of Victoria in 1889. He was highly regarded in the USA and was awarded a Honorary Life Membership of the American Rose Society in 1931 and elected as Vice-President of the Royal Horticultural Society of London from 1944 – 1948. In 1936, he was awarded the Dean Hole Medal from the National Rose Society in London, the highest honour in the rose world. Here is a photo of gold rose: Baxter Beauty 1924, not strictly bred by Alister Clark, but a sport of Lorraine Lee :bloghxroses20reszdimg_4796Alister died in 1949 and after his death, interest in his roses waned with the renewed availability and popularity of roses from Europe and America after the end of the Second World War. Also, they are large roses for large gardens and most bloom only in the Spring, so are unsuitable for gardens with limited space. While Black Boy, Nancy Hayward and Lorraine Lee remained constantly in nurserymans’ catalogues, many Alister Clark roses were lost during this period.

Interest in Alister Clark roses was revived in the 1980s, especially through the efforts of nurseryman, John Nieuwesteeg, and roselover, Susan Irvine, who grew many of them at her various gardens at Bleak House and Erinvale, Victoria and Forest Hall, Tasmania, about which she has written, the former two gardens faeatured in her book photographed below. It is also worth reading the interview with John Nieuwesteeg: http://gpcaa.typepad.com/settings/2011/02/alister-clark-roses.html  for more information about the search for Alister Clark roses and the establishment of the GPCAA’s Alister Clark Collection.blogrosebooks30reszdimage-233

Alister Clark roses are now grown in the Rex Hazlewood Rose Garden at the Old Government House in Canberra (26 Alister Clark roses); at the Alister Clark Memorial Rose Garden in the St. Kilda Botanic Gardens on Blessington St, St. Kilda (5 unlabelled Clark roses including Black Boy and Lorraine Lee. See: http://www.melbourneplaces.com/melbourne/alister-clark-rose-garden-%E2%80%93-botanical-gardens-st-kilda/) ; the Alister Clark Memorial Garden at Moonee Valley Racecourse; the John Nieuwesteeg Heritage Rose Garden at Maddingley Park, Bacchus Marsh; and the Alister Clark Memorial Rose Garden at Bulla.  Ruston’s National Rose Collection contains nearly all Alister Clark’s climbers, while State Rose Garden of Victoria at Werribee Park has a large collection of Alister Clark roses, especially the Gigantea climbers. The Geelong Botanic Garden grows Borderer; Lady Huntingfield; Mrs Fred Danks; Squatter’s Dream and Mrs Maud Alston, and the rose maze at Kodja Place, Kojonup, Western Australia has a hedge of Australian bred roses, including 32 Alister Clark roses.

Private gardens featuring Alister Clark roses include Richmond Hill and Forest Hall, Tasmania; and Carrick Hill, South Australia. They are also grown in some of the world’s greatest rose gardens like Bagatelle in Paris and Sangerhausen in Germany. Here is another photo of Nancy Hayward 1937 at Werribee Park.

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And finally, a few notes about Alister’s family home, ‘Glenara’.

Glenara

10 Glenara Drive, Bulla, Hume City

Once the mecca of rose lovers all over Australia and home to famous rose breeder, Alister Clark, the 25 acre garden was started by his father Walter and ran right down to Deep Creek. The garden was designed by Charles Swyer and included fruit trees and a specialised collection of conifers and unusual Australian natives. The property was painted by Eugene von Guerhard in 1867, the painting now held in the National Gallery of Victoria.

When Alister owned Glenara, the garden was an informal garden, with drifts of daffodils carpeting the hillside opposite the house and roses planted informally through the garden. He employed up to 8 gardeners. After Alister’s death, it fell into disrepair with blackberry, smilax, kangaroos, possums and rabbits overtaking the garden.

The old house is now classified by the National Trust and listed on the Historic Buildings Register. See : http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/177.

The verandah is festooned with blue wisteria and the yellow Banksia rose R. banksiae lutea, with China rose, Cramoisi Superieur, in the front bed. At the start of her quest, Susan Irvine visited owner Ruth Rendle at Glenara, where she was entranced with the wild and woolly garden, overgrown with periwinkle, smilax, agapanthus, long grass, wild daffodils and sweet peas and huge mounds of surviving roses including Jessie Clark; Milkmaid; Traverser; and Tonner’s Fancy. She took cuttings from 64 different bushes, but unfortunately, there were no labels, garden plans or records. A good proportion of them struck, though many of the climbers did not, those bred from R. gigantea stock being notoriously difficult propagate. Tonner’s Fancy 1928, photographed below, still flourishes at Glenara.

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Tomorrow, I will be writing about the Alister Clark Memorial Rose Garden at Bulla, one of my favourite rose gardens in Victoria!

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