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Ross Rose

by Gary Scales

William Tell Coleman was a millionaire San Francisco commission merchant and an 1856 Vigilante leader who lived in Marin County. Coleman had purchased the Irwin Ranch that extended hundreds of acres on the eastern boundaries of San Rafael. He wanted to build a large home for his family and then sell off portions of the ranch to friends. But the property had no water. Coleman formed the Marin Water Company and bought land on the eastern slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, not far from the present-day Meadow club golf course. There he built a dam on Lagunitas Creek and carried the water from the hills above Fairfax by pipe and open wooden sluice throughs, through San Anselmo, all the way to his San Rafael property.

The water company eventually became the Marin Municipal Water District and Lake Lagunitas was the first in a series of lakes providing water for Marin residents. When later subdivided, the Coleman “tract” became the residential areas of Dominican and Lock Lomond.

The Coleman home was built on the Domincan College’s Forest Meadows. The long, low rambling white house included wide porches decorated with intricately carved wooden trellises on which massive climbing roses with yellow and gold blooms grew abundantly. The original stock of the unnamed rose had been brought from China and given to the Coleman family. The rose thrived and was locally called the “San Rafael Rose.” The Colemans generously gave cuttings to friends and neighbors who wanted the vigorous gigantean with “bronzed yellow blooms with a tinge of copper, striped and plumed like a tulip.” Soon there were roses bushes from the “San Rafael” cuttings growing all over Marin County.

Unbeknownst to the Colemans, the rose had been introduced in England as “Beauty of Glazenwood, “ but many rosarians, including the London Royal Horticultural Society, thought the rose was the same as “Fortune’s Double Yellow, “ which had been discovered by Robert Fortune in 1845 in Canton, China, where the rose was known as Wang-Jan-Ve. In the forward of the classic “Growing Good Roses,” the late M.F.K. Fisher lavishly praises a yellow-blend rose “Gold of Ophir,” as a seldom-used name for Fortune’s Double Yellow.

In the early 1980’s , this author asked Joseph Klima, former president of the American Rose Society, and his wife Marion, if they could identify a climbing rose growing wild along the Ross Creek by the Lagunitas Bridge. It was their opinion it was “Gold of Ophir.” The rose bush undoubtedly was a hardy survivor from the Shotwell Family gardens. The Town purchased the property from the Shotwell estate from the Kittle Family in 1927 for the site of Ross Town Hall. The original cutting of the rose bush was most likely taken from the Coleman’s San Rafael gardens.

Before the Lagunitas Bridge was replaced in 2010, the enormous Gold of Ophir (Fortune’s Double Yellow) climbing rose, affectionately known to the locals as the Ross Rose, spread up into the adjoining oak tree at the northeast side along the Creek. Its bronzed yellow blooms, with a tinge of copper marked the arrival of spring and delighted generations of Ross residents.

The author, a founding member with the Klimas of Marin Rose Society, requested the Ross Public Works Department to take cuttings from the massive climber before the bridge was demolished. Robert Maccario, on behalf of the Town, took several and cultivated them into bushes before replanting them along the new fence. One bush has survived and vigorously blooms each year.

Another thriving Fortune’s Double Yellow or Ross Rose bush is growing near the tennis courts of the Frederick S. Allen Park. It’s size and magnificent blooms are mostly hidden by trees and shrubs. Whether called the San Rafael Rose, Beauty of Glazenwood, Fortune’s Double Yellow, Wang-Jang Ve, Gold of Ophir, the roses now are called the Ross Rose and every effort should be made to propagate and preserve them as part of the Town’s heritage.









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