In addition to beautiful, natural landscape and historically significant residents found at Lone Fir, the cemetery also includes a very special garden that contains some of the oldest known roses in Oregon. Friends of Lone Fir are stewards of this rose garden, taking on the responsibility for fertilizing, weeding, pruning and conducting botanical research.
Some years ago, volunteers received a copy of a hand-written galley, the manuscript for a book about the pioneer rose garden at Lone Fir titled, “The Pioneer Rose Trail,” by Mary Drain Albro. This book is the story of a garden club, set in the 1930s, which set forth to find the truth behind an old story from the pioneer days. Legend had it that pioneer women brought roses with them on the Oregon Trail, somehow managing to keep them damp in the pockets of their aprons during the entire six-month journey. Truthfully, they stuck the cuttings in potatoes, enabling the roses to utiize the moisture in the potato for weeks before needing to re-soak the potato.
The garden club set about going over the Oregon Trail from the Whitman Mission in Walla Walla, Washington, to the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon, looking for old farmsteads with rose bushes left by the settlers. From this research, they identified 23 varieties, along with many stories about who brought them and from where, as well as some information about what these particular roses meant to the people who considered them special enough to bring on the Trail.
The garden club formalized itself into the Pioneer Rose Association, collected and propagated these roses, and planted them in four gardens around the state. They were located at Willamette University in Salem; Champoeg, which is Oregon’s territorial capital; Pacific University in Forest Grove and Lone Fir Cemetery in Southeast Portland. The one at Lone Fir is the only one left, making this garden truly a living jewel and a direct connection with the pioneers, still kept alive by careful tending all these years later.
Unfortunately, some of the roses are missing at the pioneer garden in Lone Fir. The manuscript mentions numerous pinks, reds and whites, and yellows and coppers; but no yellows nor coppers have been located at Lone Fir. Over the course of some years, volunteers Becky Oswald, Nancy Hawver and Laura King have directed research, which has resulted in the botanical names being assigned to the roses. Several rose experts and photographers have also helped identify roses and connect the written information with the actual plants in the garden.
Restoring the collection and the garden itself is the next step in the project, in the planning stages now.