CAZENOVIA — On Thursday, June 16, Bag End in Cazenovia hosted its fifth annual “Rosalia,” a celebration honoring the “first flush” of the property’s hardy, old-fashioned roses.
Visitors were invited to tour the rose gardens, taste some rosé wines, and enjoy a selection of artisan cheeses inside the “Pioneer Barn.”
“We just hope that visitors will enjoy the beauty of the flowers that are blooming and perhaps identify varieties they would like to grow,” said Bag End owner Jay King.
Drawing inspiration from an ancient festival of roses observed by the Roman Empire, King and his wife, Anne, organized the first Rosalia in 2018 in hopes that the event would encourage local gardeners to try growing old-fashioned cold hardy roses at their own homes.
Located on Fairchild Hill overlooking Cazenovia Lake, Bag End features two antique barns that were moved and renovated by builder and historical barn expert Randy Nash.
The Kings lived in the 1795 antique barn home year-round for 23 years before making it available to Cazenovia visitors for short-term rentals.
The couple purchased Bag End — named after the home of “Lord of the Rings” author JRR Tolkien’s Baggins family — in the late 1970s from prominent Cazenovian Jimmy Hubbard.
When preparing to move to Cazenovia from the Sedgwick neighborhood in Syracuse, the Kings were warned by local, long-time gardeners that they would be unable to grow roses at their new home.
After years of struggling to maintain a garden of modern hybrid tea roses, the Kings discovered Rosa rugosa rubra growing wild out of a shale embankment along Route 20.
The couple determined that if the roses could grow in such inhospitable conditions, they could certainly survive in their garden.
Once [the Rosa rugosa rubra] had gone dormant in the fall, our younger son nearly rappelled down the steep embankment and just tore out 30 rootings, which he and I immediately stuck in the unprepared ground in front of our house,” recalled King. “Every single one took hold and the resulting 50-foot hedge — 20 feet deep in some places — is there today. That led me to do some research, uncovering other varieties of rugosas, the cold hardiest family of roses in the world, and rugosas became the nucleus of our antique rose collection.”
The Kings organized the first Rosalia with the goal of sharing their discovery that roses can indeed be grown in Cazenovia, even on their windswept hilltop.
In 2020 and 2021, in lieu of the traditional Rosalia, Bag End hosted socially distanced garden tours, during which Cazenovia Garden Club and other interested individuals were invited to walk around Bag End and view its gardens.
Today, the Kings grow around 60 varieties of roses.
“My favorite variety for Bag End is a white Rugosa, named Blanc Double de Coubert,” said King. “It is a beautiful white [color], fragrant, a repeat bloomer, and produces beautiful rose hips in the fall. However, it is also an aggressive spreader, which might be undesirable in smaller garden areas. The Campfire Rose, developed in Canada recently, is an outstanding performer all season long, producing yellow, orange, and red flowers on a contained size plant.”
While Bag End’s annual Rosalia highlights the property’s roses, visitors also have the chance to view other flowers in bloom, such as baptisia, daylilies, dianthus, geraniums, irises, lupines, and Itoh peonies, hybrids that combine the best qualities of tree peonies and common herbaceous peonies.
“Our Itoh peony garden is especially showy this year,” said King.
Unfortunately, King noted, visitors to this year’s Rosalia were unable to witness Bag End’s newly created Saunders Peony Garden, which is devoted entirely to varieties created by Arthur Percy Saunders (1869–1953), the “Father of the Modern Peony,” at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY.
King became aware of Saunders’ work at Hamilton College only after learning that the American Peony Society would be holding its 2023 annual convention in Syracuse. At that point, he started looking into the organization’s ties to Central New York and learned about the desire of many peony aficionados to visit the Saunders collection on display in Hamilton College’s Grant Garden.
Realizing that he did not know of any local gardens, including his own, that grew Saunders varieties, he decided to put in a whole garden of them.
The Kings planted 55 Saunders “roots” last fall and will be adding about 20 more this fall.
“They love Bag End,” said King. “All but one root survived the first winter and are thriving, and our Saunders collection will be one of the most comprehensive in New York State. My biggest personal takeaway so far has been that due to the large number of Saunders varieties that are either ‘early’ or ‘very early,’ our peony season at Bag End has been extended by perhaps two weeks — and at the front end, when any blooms are extra welcome. Unfortunately, this also means that visitors to Rosalia won’t have much to see in that garden.”
In addition to maintaining and expanding his Saunders Peony Garden, King also aims to collaborate with the Cazenovia Garden Club to introduce Saunders varieties to other Cazenovia gardens.
Bag End is located at 1702 Route 20 West, Cazenovia.
For more information, visit cazenoviabagend.com/index.php.