National Plant Collections Register
Alister Clark Roses & significant Australian cultivars
It was nearly 50 years ago as a young immigrant from Holland, under his father's guidance, that John Nieuwesteeg planted his first cuttings in Australia. Today, as the next generation of the Nieuwesteeg family continues to distribute high quality roses to clients from their wholesale nursery in Coldstream, Victoria, John is recognised as one of Australia's leading rosarians. He is a second generation rose-grower who played a significant role in the search for, growing on, research, identification and release of one of the first collections registered with the GPCAA, the Alister Clark Rose Collection. John also breeds roses, is involved in and supports the Rose Society of Victoria, Heritage Roses in Australia and is currently the President of the Garden Plant Conservation Association of Australia. He holds the GPCAA registered collection of Alister Clark Roses and early Australian cultivar Roses.
E: Hi John. Thanks for agreeing to participate in this trial interview format for Genus. The idea is basically a question and answer routine... are you ready?
E: How do you treat your rose thorn scratches?
E: I didn't say I was good at this! I was just wondering - what do you put on your thorn scratches?
JOHN: Nothing much. I use "Savlon" - mainly during the winter.
E: If money wasn't a problem and you were starting all over again tomorrow, would you collect roses or cars?
JOHN: Well, it wouldn't be cars!
E: I've used honey to propagate roses. Do you?
JOHN: No. It's a waste of honey. Are we planning on getting any better at this?
E: Hope so! When did you start collecting roses?
JOHN: It would be better if you asked me, "When did you become interested in heritage roses?"
E: Hmmm, righto. When did you become interested in heritage roses?
JOHN: I first started hunting up old roses in the late 1970's when we lived in Wandin.
E: Why roses?
JOHN: Customer requests. Ever heard of Rosemary Houseman? She had the "Rose Arbour" nursery in Malvern. I already had a few of the old roses and when my brother bought a property in Emerald, I collected some suckers from him and grew them on. Rosemary Houseman came onto our property in Wandin, said she'd like to buy them and the business grew from there. I had a family to feed - so that's where it started!
E: How many roses would you say you have now?
JOHN: I don't know... it would be many hundreds of varieties.
E: Do you have a favourite?
JOHN: Not a definite one - much easier to name a dozen.
E: Okay, name a dozen!
JOHN (laughing): I was waiting for that. The roses that I remember from when I was young - the ones I have a history with - will always be important to me...
R. "Cecile Brunner" R. "Cicely Lascelles"
R. "Crepuscule" R. "First Love"
R. "Helen Traubel"
R. "Just Joey"
R. "Lady Huntingfield"
R. "Monsieur Tillier"
R. "Mr. Lincoln" R. "Sutters Gold"
If you asked me again tomorrow though, this twelve would include six others.
E: A recurring issue for collection holders is weather proof plant labels. How do you label the roses in your own garden?
JOHN: Venetian blinds cut up. Have you heard about the blind Venetian?
E: Stay the course, John - we're on a roll here. Do you sell your roses for any purpose other than planting in gardens?
JOHN: We do get the odd request for hips or oils, but it's usually people just playing.
E: Can you share any interesting stories about your Alister Clark Rose Collection?
JOHN: Well, the revival of interest in Australia of Alister Clark ("AC") Roses started for me with Tom Garnett, a former patron of the GPCAA, who sadly passed away on the 22nd September, 2006. Tom was writing the book "Man of Roses - Alister Clark of Glenara and his family" and he suggested to Susan Irvine that somebody should hunt up and collect the Alister Clark Roses, saying that he was too old and she was not! Tom Garnett had been invited by Lady Johnstone to write a book on the life of her uncle, Alister Clark of Glenara. The book had been suggested to her in 1982 by Neil Robertson who was a bookseller at that time. Susan Irvine went to see Mrs. Eve Murray of "Langley Vale" in Kyneton, Miss Tid Alston of "Oaklands" at Oaklands Junction (the Alstons were neighbours of AC) and she also went to Glenara, AC's old property in Bulla, Victoria. From these three properties, Susan started the original Alister Clark Rose Collection... this must have been around 1983. As none of the roses at "Glenara" were named, a lot of mistakes were made! In the summer of 1986-1987 Susan Irvine asked me if I would be interested in budding and grafting a number of the Clark varieties - they were:
R. "Baxter Beauty" (Apricot sport of R. "Lorraine Lee")
R. "Borderer" (P. cop.amb., Poly. 1918, Everbl.)
R. "Cherub" (Salmon P. HT 1923, Cl.)
R. "Daydream" (Blush P, 1924, Cl.)
R. "Diana Allen" (P. 1939 Dwarf, Bed)
R. "Doris Downes" (P. HT 1932, Hedge)
R. "Ella Guthrie" (P. HT 1937, Scent. Everbl.)
R. "Glenara" (Rosy-P. 1952),
R. "Jessie Clark" (P. Single, Cl. 1915 Early)
R. “Kitty Kininmonth” (Carmine rose, HT 1922, Early cl.)
R. "Lady Huntingfield" (Golden, HT 1937, Everbl.)
R. "Marjorie Palmer" (Rose, 1936, Everbl.)
R. "Mrs. Maud Alston", R. "Restless" (Red, 1938)
R. "Ringlet" (P. white centre, 1922)
R. "Sunny South" (P. 1918, Everbl. Hedge)
R. "A.C. Cream",
R. "Pink Flori"
R. "Super Pink" (not the real names for the last three).
It was about this time that I met Robert Peace. He was pleased to hear someone as going to be growing the Clark rose creations, and gave me a list of names of all of the Alister Clark roses. This was when the fun started! The more I read through the list, the more interesting it became. As all of the varieties were new to me, I only had this list to go by. A lot of the Clark roses didn't flower in the first year. As an example, the foliage of one variety looked familiar to me and this one turned out to be R. "Climbing Tiffany"- not a Clark rose at all. The next to flower was R. "Ella Guthrie". It had only five to eight petals - the list said about forty. A visit to Brundrette's Rose Nursery to look through their old catalogues 1929 Everbl. Bed) named after Ella's niece. This was confirmed by Mary herself when she visited Susan Irvine at "Bleak House". Mary's daughter, a Mrs. Diver of Eltham, bought twelve of her mother's roses from us.
R. "Mrs. Maude Alston" was renamed to R. "Mrs. Alston's Rose" after Tid Alston informed us that had Alister named the rose, he would have called it "Mrs. Tom Alston" and not "Mrs. Maude Alston" (reflecting protocols of his time). From Alston's came R. "Mrs. Harold Alston", a climber with flowers, much like R. "Sunny South" but with more petals and a bit larger. R. "Countess of Stradbroke" came from Tom Garnett's Garden of St. Erth in Blackwood, Victoria.
The story of R. "Cherub" would take too many pages! Finding the real AC R. "Cherub" remains a challenge and is elusive to me to this date. That's a rose I'd love to find!
In the Australian Rose Annual of 1963, David Auston mentioned, among others, R. "Courier". I rang David and while he no longer had it growing, he knew it was growing in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Next thing I knew, a bud stick turned up in my mail box. Susan Irvine received a phone call from a Mr. Robert Nash at Mortlake saying he had R. "Mrs. Albert Nash", and R. "Gwen Nash" and Susan didn't have time to go, so my wife Mary and I, and the children, set off to Mortlake - a five hour trip!
I collected propagating material of R. "Mrs. Albert Nash", but no R. "Gwen Nash". A rose collected from "Coombe Cottage", home of the late Dame Nellie Melba at Coldstream, does fit the description of R. "Gwen Nash". R. "Dividend" I received from Miss Alice Jeffrey of Kew. It is a tea rose, golden yellow, with a strong scent. So far the growth is poor.
R. "Kitty Kininmonth" I collected from Mount Hesse, a large sheep farm near Winchelsea in Victoria - still owned by the Kininmonth family. R. "Golden Vision" was discovered in the west by Rose Marsh, a Heritage Roses in Australia member and Co- Ordinator. We first made R. "Golden Vision" available in 1992 - a very worthwhile addition to our AC collection.
R. "Mab Grimwade" is growing in the garden of the Kelly family at Barwidgee, a property near Carramut in the western district of Victoria. In November 1990 when I went there, Mrs. Kelly was, I think, 92 or 93. Her late husband was a brother of Mab Grimwade. On this particular day Mrs. Kelly came in to the garden with her nurse. She was nearly blind, but knew exactly where the rose was supposed to be. The plant was rather small and didn't look old enough to me. The gardener directed us to another Kelly property just out of Carramut called "Eulo". In this garden we found a quite large bush of R. "Mab Grimwade", together with
R. "Margaret Turnbull", a relative of this Kelly family. Growing on the wall of the shed was an interesting climber with very bright pink single flowers fitting the description of AC's R. "Mary Warren", a cross between R. "Scorcher" and R. "Mrs. Frank Guthrie". On Tuesday, 9th November 1991 Susan Irvine and I went to Hugh Dettman and Dr. Grove's gardens, both of which were in Kyneton.
From the Dettman garden we collected 18 varieties. R. "Sunny South" was there and an apricot variety which turned out to be R. "Miss Hugh Dettman", the same as one I had already collected in Berwick.
Driving all over the state in our search for Alister Clark roses, Susan Irvine & I often ended up coming home with yet another cutting of R. "Sunny South". This rose, together with R. "Lorraine Lee" and R. "Black boy" can still be found surviving in most old gardens and farm properties - despite never being pruned or watered.
E: Have you come across any of Frank Reithmuller or Mrs. Fitzhardinge's roses in your travels?
JOHN: Ah, yes! I've got a good representation of them.
E: What do you have?
JOHN: Well, from Frank Reithmuller's collection I have:
R. "Claret Cup" R. "Gay Vista"
R. "Honey Flow"
R. "Lady Woodward"
R. "Spring Song"
Unfortunately, most of Mrs. Fitzhardinge's collection has been lost, but I do have:
She had several other varieties, including:
R. "Lady Gowrie"
R. "Governor Phillip"
E: What roses do you have in the Nieuwesteeg collection?
JOHN: A 1992 hybrid tea R. "Scarlet Queen Elizabeth" sport named R. "Joyce Edmonds" after a stalwart of the Heritage Rose Society, who died a couple of years ago, aged 90. It has double cupped blooms of soft to mid pink, a good fragrance and is a very free flowering bush to 1.5 metres.
A 1992 multiflora named R. "Tarrawarra" after the locality near our nursery. It has clusters of small semi-double blooms in cream to salmon-pink, on a small, free-flowering bush.
A 2000 R. "Abraham Darby" sport, named R. "Jean Galbraith" honouring the life of this outstanding Australian botanist, writer and gardener. Jean Galbraith (1906 - 1999) lived most of her life in Gippsland, Victoria. Do you know about Abraham Darby and the role he played in the industrial revolution?
E: No! We won't have the space to cover the industrial revolution in this issue.
JOHN: Another one I've been growing of late is a seedling..."R. "The Little Milkmaid" and you may as well mention a hybrid between
R. foliolosa and R. willmottiae that we've got and thinking of registering soon. We're planning on calling it R. x "Nieuwesteegii".
E: Wow... that's an impressive legacy for the family name!
JOHN: I must see about that soon.
E: John, was Alister Clark's R. "Lorraine Lee" named after a cousin of Mrs. Clark's who was visiting from England in 1920? I read that when Alister found out she was a rose lover, he asked her to choose any unnamed rose in his nursery beds.
JOHN: I think she was a distant relative at least. I haven't heard that she was related to Edith Clark. Did you know there were five children in Alister's family and he was the youngest? He had three sisters, Agnes, Jessie and Annie and a brother Walter. Walter married his cousin, Mary Johnston.
If you're interested in the Clark family history, I'd highly recommend you read T.R. Garnett's book written in 1990 titled "Man of Roses" Alister Clark of Glenara and his family.
E: Just got a few more questions, John - we're on the home stretch now. How often do you feed your roses?
JOHN: August and March would be the most suitable times.
E: Do you have any suggestions for tackling thrip and black spot?
JOHN: You can't win against thrip and for black spot you'd have to use a preventative spray on a weekly basis during the growing season. We don't spray ours at all.
E: What do you use for mulch?
JOHN: We mostly use wood shavings which I get from a local man. It's not ideal but economical for a large area.
E: I've heard you've got a great singing voice and just recorded a CD. Are you going to put it up on Youtube?
JOHN (stubbornly): No!
E: Okay! Well, that's about it for now. I had fun and it was fascinating. What did you think, John... not too bad?
This article was first published in Genus Volume 22 No. 1 February 2010