Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cinnamon Roses

Cinnamon Roses photo from Cornhill Nurseries
In summer the back door of Grampa Mac's farmhouse stood open all day.  The narrow porch faced north and ran the length of the kitchen ell. It was a cool and sheltered spot on a hot day, flanked by the bulk of the house wall to the west and with the flat expanse of hay meadow lying below to the east. A clothesline took up much of the grassy space, and in my earliest memory a sour cherry tree leaned from the house wall toward the morning sun.  Rounding the corner of the main house a grassy strip was bordered by a bed of common orange daylilies--which had to occasionally be ruthlessly scythed back lest they take over the yard.
There were currant bushes at the bottom of the vegetable garden and the remnants of a fruit orchard shaded the chicken coops beyond.
A footpath began at the old pear tree, meandered past the plum trees which were already succumbing to black knot fungus, and emerged on the dirt road halfway to my parent's small house a few hundred yards away.
A huge maple dominated the bit of  yard below the westward looking front door. From one of its sturdy branches Grampa Mac had hung a rope swing. Between that green lawn with its stone well curbing and the path was a dense tangle of Cinnamon Roses.
Though the blossoms were prolific and had a pleasing spicy scent, they didn't often find their way into bouquets. The canes sprawled untidily and were viciously thorny. Any foray amongst them meant being raked bloody as the branches seemed to reach out and snatch at my scalp, my bare legs and arms, even ripping the fabric of my shorts or pinafore.
My Uncle Bill attacked the Cinnamon Roses from time to time, armoured in his patched Carhartt pants and wielding well-honed pruners.
At some time during the 1970's they were cut down and the area was bush-hogged, removing the last trace of the invasive canes.
A neighbor of my parent's generation, Sally Phelps, whose family farm was a mile or two from Grampa Mac's, to the east, mentioned Cinnamon Roses.  She remembered how prevalent they were in her childhood, growing in wiry sprawls along the roadsides. Her nostalgic words conjured a picture in my mind of Cinnamon Roses mingling with orange daylilies on the roadside near the old Cheney place. The grey ghosts of old buildings there were razed, the lot graded and a new house built on the site in the 1960's.
I was surprised to find a nursery offering Cinnamon Roses for sale as their invasive ways and rather clumsy form don't favor a neat perennial garden.

In sorting gardening books last week I found I had marked the following paragraph in my
copy of 'The Fragrant Garden" by Louise Beebe Wilder.
The book was first published in 1932 and in this excerpt it appears that
Mrs. Wilder was quoting an earlier source.

"R. cinnamomea, Cinnamon Rose.  Candace Wheeler speaks of the Cinnamon Rose, 'braiding its odors with those of the sweet white Syringa blossoms, quite undisturbed by a new generation of rose-lovers.' 
It is a small, flat, tumble-headed pink rose of fine, if faint spicy scent, often found flourishing by the dusty highway, or pressing its quaint blossoms through the broken palings of old and deserted gardens.  Not now found in Rose lists but it was popular with our grandmothers who cherished many sweet and simple things."

My Google search for Cinnamon Roses turned up the short story linked below.
The author's name, Mary Wilkins Freeman, set off a clang of memory in my rag-bag mind.
A bit of pawing in a box of books and I had my hands on the above pictured paperback.
"Cinnamon Roses" isn't included in that collection.
Mary Wilkins Freeman's 'characters' speak in the verncular of New England, a speech with which I am familiar in several of its variants. She was complimented by later reviewers for a less cumbersome use of regional dialect than many of her contemporaries, still the dialogue must have been awkward to transcribe.
If you enjoy old stories, take a moment to read 'Cinnamon Roses.'


  1. What a lovely story. I have never heard of Cinnamon roses before, but they sound pestilential! Do you have a photo? They sound a proper briar rose.

  2. They sound as though their scent would be welcome close to a herb garden ...I have never heard of them before. I must follow your link tomorrow and enjoy a read.

  3. I have never heard of them either but would like to learn more. I love your expression "rag-bag mind". I know just how you feel!

  4. What a wonderful tale! Now I want cinnamon roses in my yard, only I kill roses terribly.