From the Collection:
Michael Walsh and the Rambler Rose
To the east of the museum is a small fenced garden overlooking Little Harbor.  In the center is a granite rock carved with a commemorative for the man who developed the roses which climb along the fencing. “Near this place,” it reads, “lived Michael H. Walsh who made the rambler rose world famous.”
Born in Wales, Michael Henry Walsh gained considerable knowledge and experience in horticulture before coming to the United States. His life began in Woods Hole at the age of 27 when he was hired as head gardener by Joseph Story Fay. He made his permanent home with the Fay family, working with shrubs, trees and flowers as well as roses. His most productive work with roses began in the year 1897 when he enlisted the help and interest of Miss Sarah Fay, daughter of the Joseph Story Fay. Without her generosity it is doubtful that his extensive experiments and research could have been accomplished, for it was on the three acres of the Fay Estate, opposite Little Harbor, Woods Hole, that he grew his roses. Before any varieties could be marketed, thousands of test plants had to be grown.
Among the many popular rambler roses he originated, the one he named Hiawatha was the most acclaimed. In a few short years (1897-1900), he and Miss Fay together created what was considered one of the most remarkable rose gardens in the United States. Every June they opened it to the public, and people came from all over the northeastern United States to admire it.
In 1901 there occurred a disastrous fire on the railroad tracks next to Little Harbor just below the garden. Heavy smoke, blown by the prevailing southwest wind, poured up the hill over the roses for three days. It ruined Walsh’s entire crop. The most serious loss was the complete destruction of the Lillian Nordica, a hybrid tea rose he had created and named for the famous opera singer, Lillian Norton of Martha’s Vineyard. This rose was about to be put on the market for the first time. When Mr. Walsh noticed the leaves on his plants shriveling due to the fire-produced gases (containing carbolic acid, pyridine and sulphur), he went to the railroad officials, pleading with them to stop the fire. It had been deliberately set by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad to burn the Engine House and some small sheds in the Woods Hole railroad yard. The men ignored him. Subsequently, he and Miss Fay sued the Railroad for damages, and settled out of court for a sum of $20,000.

Mr. Walsh’s share of the money enabled him to resume his business and in the following twenty years he became famous, not only in this country, but in England as well, earning in one year Fourth Place in the World for his collection of all types of roses. He was most proud, however, of his rambler roses, which he bred for their hardiness and vigorous climbing habit. Unlike most roses, they are virtually carefree, and to this day they can still be seen in rose gardens and villages of several European countries, as well as all over Woods Hole every July in stands some of which are known to be more than a hundred years old.
Walsh published yearly catalogs of his roses, hydrangeas and hollyhocks which were shipped all over the United States and Europe.
The road from Woods Hole to Falmouth used to be lined with rambling roses and, even now, some can be seen peeking out of the brush, especially alongside the golf course.

Information for this article was culled from Michael Walsh and his Roses” by Joan Brown Hulburt in Woods Hole Reflections. Thanks to Gretchen Ward Warren for her assistance and for reliable stewardship of the Walsh memorial rose garden
Miss an issue? See all Weekly Dispatches here
Renew your membership or join our mailing list !
Woods Hole Historical Museum
579 Woods Hole Road (P.O. Box 185)
Woods Hole, MA 02543
Phone: 508-548-7270