A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Rosa 'Agnes' , John Tuytle & The VanDusen Plant Sale
Sunday, April 29, 2007

This entry is a sad one for me. For 18 years I attended (bright and early around 7am) the once a year VanDusen Botanical Garden Plant Sale held today. As I write I this morning I am not on that line. I am sure that it would not have taken me much effort to find a few gems for my garden at the sale in spite of the trend (a decline of sorts) in local plant sales. Fewer and fewer older gardeners are around to divide their plants and donate them to plant sales. There are fewer instances of gardeners at VanDusen dividing plants from that garden. So more and more of these plant sales are simply no different from going to local nurseries. In fact many of the plants in today's VanDusen sale will be plants purchased from those nurseries. The chances of finding those hard-to-find specimens are slim. In years past I found rare hydrangeas and dwarf conifers.

Best of all it was at VanDusen where my interest in buying and collecting fragrant or otherwise interesting roses began. It began because of the pleasant volunteers from the Vancouver Rose Society who would be there to recommend and enthuse me. Christine Allen, who propagated old roses decamped to Australia last year and this year my Dutch/Canadian friend, John Tuytle (83) has decided not to attend and he scrapped his old and rare rose "business" last year because of heart problems.

Johne Tuytle has a sheep farm in Langley but he no longer has lambs. "To much trouble," he told me last week. In this farm any gardener would go nuts as I have the times I have been there. Not only does John have the best and rarest roses in his gardens he has a special green thumb for eryngiums. The largest I have ever seen I saw there and the bluest of blue specimens were in his garden. John is also a carpenter/artist and his gates, fences, bird houses are a delight.

Every year at the VanDusen sale I would run over to the roses to ask John what he had brought and he would proudly point to this one and that one. One year I remember I was looking for an extrememly rare plant that was one of the parents of David Austin's first English Rose, the myrrh fragranced Rosa 'Constance Spry'. "Do you have Belle Isis?" I asked John. I pronounced the latter part of the name to rhyme with crisis. With a twinkle behind his glasses (John twinkles a lot) he said, "I don't know about that rose but here I have Rosa 'Belle Isis'," and he pronounced it in the correct French.

John's interest in propagating hard-to-find roses was never really a business as he only brought his roses to the VanDusen sale and a few others found themselves at Christine Allen's little Langley Rose nursery (now sadly closed).

My relationship and friendship with John began in late July, 2000. It was then that Canada Post comissioned me to find and photograph 6 Canadian roses that would then be paired down to four that would ultimately become stamps in August, 2001. As things go with requests of a botanical nature by those who have no idea of when plants bloom I knew I was in trouble, Most roses flower in late May and June and by July they either stop blooming or they do so sporadically.

Only John had the rare (for BC as it does not grow well in our rains) 1922 Rosa ' Agnes'. This rose, a relative of the extremely hardy Japanese rugosas, was the first ever yellow rugosa. It was perhaps the first famous Canadian rose. For weeks I called John to ask him how his Agnes was doing. It wasn't! Then one day in the beginning of a very hot day in August he called, "Come now, she is in bloom. There are two flowers." Like a shot I drove to Langley only to find a couple of flowers that that were beginning to wane in the heat. Somehow I managed. I feel, to this day that Rosa 'Agnes' cemented a bond between the kindly Dutch man and me. I don't quite believe John when he told me a few years later, "She was a terrible rose, I burned her."

As property becomes more expensive in our area younger people are buying condominiums and the need for a garden is curtailed. Nurseries are going through a terrible stage trying to find ways of enticing old timers like me to return while at the same time "training" the young crowd to develop a passion for plants and gardens.

I am sure that it will all change for the better soon. But why would anybody want to buy a painting or a photograph to put in the living room when a large plasma TV can replace and be much more "interactive"? Gardening is hard work. It is far better to stay inside and watch vicariously someone talk about someone else's garden. It seems that both the photography/art and nursery business is going through an unexpected transition.

Until things change I can only treasure John's roses in my garden.

This is a sad entry because I cannot post a picture of John. I never got around to it. John has invited Rebecca and me to visit him in the fall. I will make sure I take his portrait.


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