For history buffs who also happen to be avid gardeners, there are few things more exciting than a visit to the oldest rose garden in the country at the Wyck House. Our visit there was a highlight of our recent vacation.
The buildings and gardens of the Wyck estate sit quietly behind a plain picket fence in the heart of the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
The rose garden was cultivated and maintained by several generations of Haines descendants and ultimately abandoned and allowed to grow untended for at least a generation, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. But for that, the heirloom roses would likely have been replaced with their more modern counterparts. The garden remains the only one in the area, in fact, that was not replanted with modern reblooming roses.
|Jane Bowne Haines|
Now restored to as close to its original design as possible, the Wyck rose garden was designed and planted in the early 1820’s by Jane Bowne Haines, a native New Yorker who married Philadelphian Reuben Haines III. The roses she planted have survived through three subsequent generations and most are still growing where she first planted them nearly 200 years ago.
Although reportedly unenthusiastic about moving to Philadelphia, once settled into her new home (new to her but already vintage at that point), Jane set about turning an ordinary kitchen garden into an extraordinary rose garden. With an interest in roses and a flair for horticulture and landscape design, she created an elaborate garden with multiple beds, pathways, and more than 30 different heirloom roses.
Interestingly, she left in place roses that had already been growing there, so there are roses in the garden that actually predate the beginning of the 19th century.
According to Nicole Juday, the rose and landscape curator for the Wyck gardens, some of the roses date back to the time of Empress Josephine. She has been reviewing some of the papers in the extensive collection of documents maintained by the Wyck Association and has found documentation that some of the roses originated with Empress Josephine and passed through no more than three sets of hands before they were planted in the Wyck rose garden where they can be seen and enjoyed today.
Jane was a pregnant mother of five when she was suddenly and unexpectedly widowed. The daughter she gave birth to a few months after her husband’s death inherited her passion and skill for horticulture.
|Jane Reuben Haines|
Named for her parents, Jane Reuben Haines was a semi-invalid who never married and spent her entire life at the Wyck House. Inheriting her mother’s knack for horticulture, she maintained the gardens throughout her life. Following her death in 1911, the estate passed to her niece and nephew, Jane Bowne Haines II and Caspar Wistar Haines II.
While the heirloom roses in most other gardens were being replaced with the hybrid repeat bloomers, the historically significant roses of the Wyck garden were allowed to survive by virtue of benign neglect for nearly 40 years following the deaths of the third Jane and her brother Caspar, who had maintained the gardens during their lifetimes.
Eventually, Mary Haines, the elderly widow of Robert Haines, the oldest nephew of Jane and Caspar who had inherited the property from his aunt and uncle, enlisted the aid of rosarian Leonie Bell to once again restore the garden to its previous glory. It was at this point in the 1970’s that the estate became a museum.
Unless one is able to appreciate the history contained within the fences that surround the home and garden, few people are likely to be as excited as we were to be visiting an historic rose garden in early July.
Since the roses in the Wyck garden are heirloom roses that bloom once, early in the season, unless you visit the gardens during late May or early June when they are fully in bloom, most visitors find little (aside from the perennials scattered among the beds) to hold their interest in the rose garden at other times of the year.
Seeing the roses at the Wyck home was, for us, truly exciting, irrespective of their bloom cycle. While we would very much like to visit again when the gardens are at peak bloom, both Steve and I were thrilled just to be able to stand in the midst of the four parterres that form the rose garden and look at the shrubs whose origins date back, in some cases, more than 200 years.
An occasional faded blossom could be found among the rose hips that were forming prominently on every shrub. One rose had a spray that, while certainly past its prime, still managed to fill the air around it with a heavy rich perfume. We could only imagine how intensely beautiful the fragrance and color must be when the garden is at its height in the spring.
Of particular interest to us was the famous gallica rose, the Lafayette rose, thought to have been brought by General Lafayette during a visit to the Wyck home in the summer of 1825.
While I’m certain that many people look at the unassuming shrub and wonder what all the fuss is about, we were deeply moved to be able to see this shrub, as rare and as precious as many fine artifacts housed at the Smithsonian, and a living piece of history.
|The tuliptree in the yard at Wyck.|
One other plant grabbed my attention as soon as we entered the main gate. Next to the house stands a tuliptree of indeterminate age but enormous height. We are newly acquainted with tuliptrees so it was of particular interest to us and I was pleased that I was able to recognize this very old and mature specimen which is probably as old or older than the Wyck House itself.
Just as the Wyck House and Garden is an important part of Philadelphia’s rich heritage, the women of Wyck are an important part of the study and profession of horticulture. The legacy of Jane Bowne and Jane Reuben Haines is a living history of rose culture in America.
|Jane Bowne Haines II|
Jane Bowne Haines II transformed her innate love and talent for horticulture into the first horticultural college, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women, which she established in Ambler, Pennsylvania a year before her death.
Currently known as the Ambler College of Temple University, the college offers associate, baccalaureate and masters level programs in landscape design and architecture, horticulture, and environmental design as well as certificate programs in horticultural therapy and environmental sustainability.
|The front facade of the Wyck home. Trellises support climbing roses and some clematis vines.|
|A grape arbor extends from the left side of the Wyck house.|
|The grape arbor shelters a pump which was used to irrigate the gardens. A trough leads to the vegetable garden.|
|Vintage pump used to irrigate the gardens at the Wyck estate.|
|Shallow, brick-lined shallow trough or trench that directed water from the pump to the vegetable gardens.|
|Original ice house at the Wyck estate.|
|Original smoke house at the Wyck estate.|
|The rose garden, taken from the entrance to the front yard from the gate near the ice house.|
|The back of the house opens to the garden in the front yard. A grape covered trellis extends across the back of the home.|
|A rose covered trellis covers the side entrance into the garden.|
|This massive magnolia, Magnolia soulangea, stands next to the famed Lafayette rose.|
|The magnolia apparently had two main trunks originally. It is thought to have been planted in the early 1820's when the original Jane Haines built the garden.|
|The Lafayette rose is visible in the right lower corner of the photograph.|
|The rose that encircles the base of the magnolia and grows up the tree is the native species rose R. setigera. It still had a few fading blooms during our visit earlier this month.|
|The grapes on the arbor across the back of the house are thought to be the Fox variety although they no longer bloom. They likely predate the garden by many years. Seen in the foreground (middle bottom of the photograph) is the Lafayette rose.|
|One of four parterres that comprise the rose garden.|
|A bed of heirloom roses, each showing fat rose hips, edged with a boxwood hedge.|
|Rosa rubrifolium with tall, pale yellow blooming hollyhocks.|
|Some of the prettiest rose hips we saw were these burnished orange ones of the Rosa rubrifolium.|
|The other rose hips that really caught our eye are these deep burgundy/mahogany ones of the Rosa spinosissima, the Scottish Rose.|
|The Scottish Rose was enormous, at least 4-5 feet tall and almost as wide.|
|Perennials offered a burst of color here and there throughout the garden.|
|A small circular bed with purple balloon flowers and pomegranate shrub.|
|Close-up of the pomegranate blossom.|
|Tall phlox and other perennials provide bursts of color here and there throughout the rosebeds.|
|A blossom of Rosa chinensis, "Monthly Cabbage", peaks out from the back of the shrub.|
|These blossoms of "Champney's Pink Cluster" were still highly fragrant even though they were fading.|
|Another fragrant blossom of "Champney's Pink Cluster".|
|Each of the three Janes left their indelible mark on the garden. With the exception of the R. setigera, the climbing roses were all planted by Jane Bowne Haines II.|
|An enormous holly shrub near the entrance to the vegetable and herb gardens.|
|An oak leaf hydrangea near the entrance to the vegetable and herb gardens.|
|The vegetable garden is a working garden that produces vegetables which are sold at a farmer's market.|
|The tour guide told us that this greenhouse was built just after the turn of the century (early 1900's) from a kit. It stands at the far end of the vegetable garden.|
|The vegetable and herb gardens.|
|The vegetable and herb gardens.|
|Bee hives and cold frames in the vegetable and herb gardens. There were bee hives in the rose garden as well|
We hope to return to the Wyck when the roses are in bloom. For more information about the Wyck estate or to schedule a visit, please see the links below.
Photographs of Jane Bowne Haines, Jane Reuben Haines, Jane Bowne Haines II, courtesy of the Wyck Association, used with gracious permission of Nicole Juday.
Photographs of the Wyck home and garden by the authors.
You can read more about the Wyck Home and Garden HERE.
You can learn more about the horticulture and landscape certificate and degree programs and the history of the horticulture program at Ambler Temple HERE and HERE.