Friday, November 26, 2010

Restoration of the Rose Garden at Ben Lomond Manor

Ben Lomond, a beautiful stone manor house built in 1832, was once the centerpiece of a very prosperous plantation in Manassas, Virginia.  On July 21, 1861, the property was taken over by Confederate forces after the First Battle of Bull Run, and the house was filled with wounded soldiers.  The house sits only a mile from the site of the battle.  As the nation prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, preparations are in place to style Ben Lomond house as it would been while the Confederates were there. 

Built of native stone, Ben Lomond once wore an outside covering of stucco scored to look like cut stone blocks and a much-larger porch.  This building now houses offices for the Prince William County parks.

Notice the subtle signs of the styling to come. There is a stretcher being stored, for now, beside the staircase.

The woodwork in the house is especially detailed.  I love the lowered window sills and the beautiful paneled jambs.

The workmanship on the stairs and newel posts was especially fine.

I found it fascinating that this house has the same 'bug catcher' light fixture that we had in our foyer.  It must have been THE thing to do at the time when updating an old house.

Why are there two fireplaces next to each other, you ask?  At some point, a wall between them was removed to turn two smaller bedrooms into one large bedroom.

I visited Ben Lomond in early November, in the rain, to meet with Park Service officials to coordinate the restoration of the lovely rose garden behind the manor house.

All of the blooming rose photos in this post were taken by me in May 2009.

This garden, approximately 100 feet square, was created from the rose collection of Jim Syring, and was designed after a garden in France.  Almost all of the roses here predate the 20th Century.  Many of them are extremely rare, and a few are totally unknown in commerce today. 

This plaque is in the center of the garden.

Our first order of business in the restoration of this garden is to get the weeds and grass and overgrown perennial companion plants under control.  The weeds will be removed by a contract crew in the next few weeks.

In this photo, I see perennial geranium and artemesia that are completely smothering roses, along with Bermuda grass and germinating winter annual weeds.

I barely notice roses in this photo.  The Lamb's Ears and salvia have practically taken over.  Notice the bed in the upper right corner that has been weeded. 

After the weeds are removed and the companions whipped into shape, we will begin work to identify and catalog the roses that remain in the garden.  Well-meaning volunteers have planted roses to fill holes in the beds, often using roses that are completely inappropriate for this garden.  'Knock Out' is a nice modern shrub rose, but it doesn't belong in a historic garden ... period.

Other roses in the garden are rootstock from roses whose grafts of the original variety have died.  This rose is Rosa eglanteria, aka 'Sweetbriar Rose'.  It has lovely pink flowers in the spring, loads of orange hips in the fall, leaves that smell like green apples ... and it has to go. 

Rosa eglanteria, photographed in May 2009.

R. eglanteria has such a lovely flower!

And a beautiful crop of hips.

Other roses are in their correct location, and correctly labeled, but they are suckering and overrunning the roses adjacent to them.  Two of the worst offenders are 'Tuscany Superb' and 'Tricolore des Flandres'.  These two roses have formed little colonies, each containing probably at least 75 offshoots, which must be thinned out and returned to their original boudaries.

The tangled colony of 'Tuscany Superb' had finished blooming when I photographed it in May 2009. 

'Tricolore des Flandres' is another rose that will happily sucker its way across the garden.  Suckers are easy to control, if dealt with once a year in the fall.  They become a much large problem if neglected and allowed to reproduce the way these roses have been.

We are working with the original list of roses and a transcription of the planting plan to help us restore the original design of this garden.  We have a powerhouse group of volunteers to lend a hand, including a Who's Who of rose experts in our area.  I am humbled to be in their company on this project.

You can sort of see, in this photo I took from a second-floor window of the Manor House, that the garden is a series of concentric square beds.

Identification of the roses will be a challenge, since most of them are once-blooming Old Garden Roses.  We will soon make a first attempt at IDs, using the rose list and planting plan and what we know about growth habits, foliage, prickles, and other characteristics.  Come spring, when the roses are blooming, we can confirm our initial identifications, and work to ID any roses we couldn't identify this winter.

'Cardinal de Richelieu', a Gallica rose, is correctly labeled and easy to ID when in bloom.

'Henri Martin', a Moss rose, can be ID'd from buds or prickles, in addition to his lovely flowers.

The garden has engraved labels for each rose, but many of the labels are either in the wrong place or are thrown randomly into the beds ... having been stepped on or hit by a lawn mower.

A lovely rose with no label.

We have a target date of May 14, 2011, for the completion of the first phase of the restoration.  On that day, Ben Lomond will host an Open House and Living History Encampment, so the garden must look its absolute BEST.  We plan to have finished the weeding and control of the companion plants, removal of the inappropriate roses, and reduced the size of the invasive roses.  We will label the roses we can absolutely identify, and remove the labels from the roses that are labeled incorrectly.  Hopefully by then, we can obtain some replacements for missing roses and have them planted to fill in some of the empty places.

The restoration of this garden will be a multi-year project.  Our ultimate goal is to return the garden to its original form, with as many of the original plants as we can find, and to keep it in optimum condition for the many visitors who come to Ben Lomond each year.  I'll come back with updates from time to time, as we proceed with this project. 


  1. Such a very interesting post. My goodness, you certainly have your work cut out for yourself. You are the perfect person for this wonderful project! I also loved seeing the inside of the house. I miss the east coast charm of older houses...the staircases, lighting, woodwork,etc.
    I am looking forward to seeing the progess of this fabulous project.

  2. Good lord... I'm exhausted just reading this and wondering how in the world you keep all that rose information in your head. Too much for this old gal.

  3. Connie, What a project you have taken on. I bet it will be wonderful when completed. Please keep us updated on the progress.

  4. Wow, lots of work ahead Connie. Yes, I could see where Knockout wouldn't be appropriate for an 1860's era garden (he says in a voice dripping with disgust and sarcasm). Good luck on all the ID's.

  5. I am madly in love with that runner!!!.....

  6. What a beautiful historic property! And you certainly have your work cut out for you, but I know that by May it will look fabulous once again!

    Kat :)

  7. Thank you so much for writing about this. I also love roses and have many of the antiques in my garden. Since I live in rural Oklahoma, I plant what wants to live here. I love that you are restoring the garden to something nearer to its original design. It will then fit the beautiful house. I hope you'll keep us updated in the future on this project too.~~Dee

  8. I wish you the best of luck in your efforts, and yes please, no Knock Outs. This house needs an old rose garden. I can only imagine what went on inside after the battle was over.

  9. What a wonderful project. They could not have picked a more suitable rosarian for the job.

    Your preservation efforts will reap rewards for future generations!


  10. I appreciate all of your votes of confidence. We have some really knowledgeable folks in on this project, and it’s going to be great once we really get started. I am so stoked to be working on a public garden that has such a terrific collection of OGRs … with funds available to replace the ones that are missing from the collection! Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

  11. What an amazing project you are undertaking. My hats off to you.

  12. I am a volunteer with the Master Gardeners of Prince William County. This morning, we met with two rose experts and worked on this garden. It is exactly as you say - overrun with weeds and mulberry bushes and saliva, suckers are so plentiful it is difficult to identify the original bushes at times. The potential, though, is so promising. I've never seen many of the varieties that we learned about. I'm looking forward to visiting a little later in the spring to see the results of everyone's efforts. I hope to get the opportunity to work on this garden again.

  13. I am an old friend of Jim Syring's and he would be so pleased that so many people care about his garden and that it has been taken on to be maintained. I wish I still lived nearby and could help with the maintenance and "deadheading" the way Jim showed me.


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