Monday, February 10, 2014

Eureka! An Update on the Real Irish Fireflame

originally published, American Rose Rambler, March/April, 1997; included in A Passion for Roses, 1997

As I had reported earlier in the Akron Rose Rambler, I had been searching for the 1914 Dickson single-petaled hybrid tea IRISH FIREFLAME. I had exhausted all but two sources and had in each case received Dickson's 1905 offering. IRISH ELEGANCE. While the latter is a wonderful rose, I had several plants of it, mostly sold as the former.

IRISH FIREFLAME was the last single-petaled hybrid tea listed in Combined Rose List as being commercially available in the United States that I needed to complete the single-petaled bed in my garden. My determination grew each time the wrong rose was delivered.

Lowe's Own-Root Roses reportedly offers the proper rose. Efforts to obtain it have not yet been successful. Gregg Lowery insisted that Vintage Gardens had the real IRISH FIREFLAME. The rose sent was, unfortunately, IRISH ELEGANCE.

Each time I found a reference to these two roses in old books, IRISH ELEGANCE was pictured with the comment that the illustration would serve for both. The distinctive difference was said to be IRISH FIREFLAME's deeper color.

Gregg Lowery was most apologetic for the misshipment and assured me that Vintage did offer the correct variety. October 1995 provided the opportunity for Jerri Owens and Ito travel north on a rose vacation. We visited beautiful gardens and met delightful people. Vintage Gardens proved to be a wonderful nursery. The layout was very pleasing, the staff very courteous, pleasant and knowledgeable, and Gregg, a wonderful host.

Gregg extended to us an invitation made by Phillip Robinson to visit the gardens of the Korbel Winery the next day. We were quite excited and quickly accepted. To have two gracious gentlemen, who are both experienced, knowledgeable gardeners and who both possess tremendous rose knowledge provide a tour of the gardens of the Korbel Winery is an experience to remember.

Phillip Robinson is the mastermind behind these beautiful gardens. We were shown glorious borders, filled with rare plants, all combined with imagination and creativity. Phillip is truly an artist with color, texture and design. The highlight for me was the rose garden. It contained mature bushes of such wonderful old hybrid teas as a four foot POLLY, a five foot bush of MRS. SAM MCGREDY....and the illusive IRISH FIREFLAME. The only bloom was well spent, but obviously only five petals. The bush was absolutely not IRISH ELEGANCE. Phillip and Gregg generously cut budwood for me.

One plant has been produced from the Korbel IRISH FIREFLAME budwood. It has now flowered and I can understand the confusion of the IRISH ELEGANCE and IRISH FIREFLAME illustrations in rose books. I can also understand how a harried nursery person could confuse the two for shipping. They are, however, completely distinct roses.

IRISH ELEGANCE grows to an open, airy, tall, wiry bush. The foliage is bronze-plum when new, turning a medium, matte green. The stems are long, usually producing three buds. The peduncle most often is sparsely covered with short, bright red prickles. the blooms are five-petaled, but the petals resemble a diamond shape, with a pointed base resulting in the petals appearing separate and distinct, like the fingers on you hand. the color is luminous orange-salmon-gold-apricot, aging to apricot-fawn. Blooms are normally about 3" in diameter.

By comparison, IRISH FIREFLAME is very much a more refined, modern hybrid tea. The wood is smoother, greener and shinier. The leaves are larger, heavier and dark glossy green, more in the mold of a Pernetiana. The internodal spaces are much longer and smoother. The blooms come mainly one to a stem with quite long, smooth, glossy peduncles. The buds are long, slender and pointed with glossy sepals, darker than its stablemate. Both are richly, brightly colored, but IRISH ELEGANCE is much lighter in color, while IRISH FIREFLAME is typical of the hybrid foetidas of the early part of the century. The flowers show rich, bright orange, strong old-gold and cinnamon veins. The petals are large and shell-shaped, reminiscent of those possessed by DAINTY BESS or VESUVIUS, not separated like those of IRISH ELEGANCE. Its blooms on a two foot tall plant are almost as large as those of IRISH ELEGANCE's on its five foot bush. They will obviously be significantly larger as the plant develops. This would be in line with its description in Modem Roses as having 5' flowers.

The Vintage/Korbel IRISH FIREFLAME fits the descriptions I've been provided by rosarians who grew and loved this rose decades ago. It's also in keeping with those published in catalogs of the 1920s and 1930s. So, the real IRISH FIREFLAME has finally "stood up," thanks to Phillip Robinson, the creative genius responsible for the beauty of the Korbel Winery gardens, and Gregg Lowery of Vintage Gardens. Now I have a lead on IRISH AFTERGLOW, a darker sport of IRISH FIREFLAME, apparently being grown in northern California. I'm off on the next chase!

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