“She brought it from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City in a teapot,” my boss, Peter Lassig, told me. It was the spring of 1980, and we were standing in a quiet corner of Temple Square, in the heart of Salt Lake City. Before us, a small, unglamorous rose was beginning to produce its small, deep-red flowers. Peter had asked me to transplant it to a historic home garden, two blocks away. The rose was growing within a collection of special plants protected by the warmth and shade of a fifteen-foot wall made of adobe and sandstone that surrounds the square.

Peter explained that the rose came from a woman named Elizabeth Hubble. “She walked the thirteen hundred miles from Nauvoo,” he said, “but her rose rode in the wagon and was most likely the only luxury she allowed herself.” Elizabeth was one of seventy thousand Latter-day Saints who made the trek across the plains along the Mormon Trail from 1847 to 1869 before the railroad connected the West to the rest of the continent. Elizabeth was among those who were expelled from their homes in Nauvoo, a city they had built. She would have had little time to dig the plant from her garden, and she made a real commitment to keep it alive for the rest of her journey. She would have watered it from the Platte River in Nebraska, the Sweetwater River in Wyoming, and Emigration Creek as she traveled down into the Salt Lake Valley.

As Peter told me about the storied rose that late spring afternoon, we were standing across from the south door of the Assembly Hall, a beautiful, Victorian Gothic building, completed in 1882, that was about to go through an extensive renovation—the reason it was necessary to move the rose. Temple Square is the most visited site in Utah, which is impressive for a state boasting five national parks. Its ten acres are dominated by the large, domed Tabernacle and the Salt Lake Temple, divided by the Center Mall. With a cathedral of fabulous American and European elms (Ulmus americana and U. laevis) overhead, Temple Square has served as one of the great urban spaces in the United States for well over a hundred years. The perimeter wall was built as fortification when Salt Lake City was still wilderness and now provides a peaceful space amid the noise of growing urbanity.

The next morning, I took a shovel and a pot to dig the little Nauvoo rose, becoming one more in a line of gardeners who had cared for the plant and its provenance since Elizabeth’s family had given it to Temple Square in the 1880s. Peter had been introduced to the rose in 1953, when he was fifteen, by his boss Irvin Nelson. In turn, Irvin had been charged with caring for it by his predecessor, who had gardened at Temple Square since the late 1800s. This location was the second placement for the rose on Temple Square. I was taking it to its first new home in nearly a hundred years.

Towering over the rose were three Japanese tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) that were the most tree-like peonies I have ever seen. They had been a gift in the 1930s from Brown Floral, a family-run nursery that is still part of the horticultural fabric of Salt Lake City. Each plant had at least thirty mauve blooms, and they were dug and moved to the garden south of the Temple. Several other plant treasures in this space would also be transplanted.

In the spirit of its century of being a repository of gift plants, this garden between the Assembly Hall and the Temple Square wall was where, six years later, I chose to plant the seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides). This plant was sent to subscribers of Arnoldia when the story of this newly introduced species was published in the Fall 1986 issue. That Heptacodium grew into a glorious tree that every few years bloomed at the same moment as the monarch butterfly migration from north to south. You could stroll past the tree and be amazed as hundreds of monarchs were startled into the air. It was cut down a few years ago by a gardener who had no knowledge of its history and was cavalier about not wanting to learn from those who had come before.

In the process of digging the rose that morning in May 1980, I was horrified when it split in two. But, this became an opportunity. I carried the little plants across the two blocks to the Beehive House, where I was the summer gardener and weed-puller. I planted them on either side of a path that led to a gate in the cobblestone wall. Brigham Young had built the wall in the 1850s around his two side-by-side homes, the Beehive House and the Lion House. The roses flourished there for two decades, until the cobblestone wall suddenly collapsed, killing one of the pair. The other was moved to another part of the Beehive House garden while the wall was being rebuilt and was never moved back. I was concerned for the future of the Nauvoo rose because it was difficult to find anyone in the next generation who was interested, but I eventually took three cuttings and have grown them in my home garden for the past decade.

I once keyed out the Nauvoo rose and believe it is a Rosa chinensis ‘Minima’, a variety (formerly known as Rosa indica minima) introduced into cultivation in the early 1800s. It grows about two feet high and two feet wide, and it blooms from spring to fall. In the intense high-desert sunlight of Utah, it prefers growing in a bit of shade. Compared to other roses, the Nauvoo rose may not seem very glamorous. Elizabeth, however, had the imagination to envision her little plant blooming in her new home in the Great Basin. Her descendants who donated the rose and the line of gardeners who cared for it since have all been connected by the love, care, and determination required to let it grow.

Esther Truitt Henrichsen is the garden designer at Thanksgiving Point Institute in Lehi, Utah. Previously, after completing a master’s in landscape history, she worked for many years as a landscape designer at Temple Square.

Citation: Henrichsen, E. T. 2021. The Nauvoo Rose On Temple Square. Arnoldia, 78(5-6): 8–9.

From “free” to “friend”…

Established in 1911 as the Bulletin of Popular Information, Arnoldia has long been a definitive forum for conversations about temperate woody plants and their landscapes. In 2022, we rolled out a new vision for the magazine as a vigorous forum for tales of plant exploration, behind-the-scenes glimpses of botanical research, and deep dives into the history of gardens, landscapes, and science. The new Arnoldia includes poetry, visual art, and literary essays, following the human imagination wherever it entangles with trees.

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