A Concise History of Jackson & Perkins

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Posted on 11/09/2021

When you have a rich and fascinating history, you should take pride in that history and be willing to share your story with others. At least, that’s how we feel here at Jackson & Perkins!

Today, we’re known not only as the foremost source of premium Jackson & Perkins roses (including eagerly awaited new introductions every year) but also as the place to go for holiday gifts, an enormous and ever-increasing variety of perennials, bulbs, patio plants, and gardening supplies, and a whole lot more.

But that isn’t how we started. As is the case with most things that succeed and turn into something wonderful, Jackson & Perkins’ beginnings were very simple. From starting a small family-run company selling a few varieties of fruit to creating the world’s first rose-delivery business and becoming one of the most respected dealers of hybridized roses, Jackson & Perkins has made a huge and lasting impression upon the gardening world.

It all began in 1872 in Newark, NY. A man named Charles Hinsdale Perkins (1840-1924) opened a small wholesale truck farm with the financial support of his father-in-law, Albert E. Jackson (1807-1895). Initially, their focus was strawberries, raspberries, and grapes, which they also sold directly to any customers who stopped by their farm.

But before long, Charles started developing an interest in things other than the few types of fruit they were growing. The first addition to their inventory was vines and shrubs, which he sold to nearby retail nurseries.

However, even that was not enough. In 1882, the idea of rose propagation took hold of Charles, and it was this fascination which would lead Jackson & Perkins to where it is today!

In 1884, Charles hired E. Alvin Miller, a hybridizer who was set the task of developing a special new rose. 1901 brought Mr. Miller’s first success, although the word “success” doesn’t really lend it justice, considering the impact it had upon the gardening world. Charles named this new rose ‘Dorothy Perkins’, after his granddaughter. A climbing rose offering small, petal-packed, salmon-pink blooms, ‘Dorothy Perkins’ would become a favorite among gardeners everywhere. In 1908, it received top honors from the Royal National Rose Society in Great Britain, and to this day, still graces the walls of such historically important and architecturally stunning places as Windsor Castle!

Historic Photo of Jackson Perkins Estate Rose Garden. Courtesy Newark Arcadia Historical Society.

In 1928, Charles’ nephew, C. H. Perkins, took over the role as President of the company, and he increased their rose hybridization program by bringing in Dr. Jean Henri Nicholas, an internationally known French hybridizer. Dr. Nicolas died in 1937, but he was succeeded by his understudy, Eugene Boerner, who made great strides in developing the floribunda class of roses. The term floribunda, which is known and used throughout the entire rose industry, was actually coined by C.H Perkins.

Naturally, the development of all these new roses meant Jackson & Perkins, as well as other growers, wanted the ability to protect the plants they were introducing. This led to the 1931 extension of plant patents to nurseries by the United States Congress. The law provided protection to nurseries that developed and introduced new plants, giving them seven years of competition-free production.

Eugene Boerner drastically influenced the company’s ability to propagate new varieties in 1939 by collecting 10,000 cuttings from growers in Europe. He spent 45 years with Jackson & Perkins—his entire career—hybridizing over 60 floribundas, 14 of which were given All-American Rose Selections (AARS) honors—11 during his lifetime and another 3 after his death. His undisputed dedication earned him the nickname “Papa Floribunda”!

1939 was also an extremely important year for the company due to the New York World’s Fair, which proved to be the ideal venue for introducing their new roses to the nation. Charles Perkins had a 10,000-square-foot garden at the fair, an exhibit entitled “A Parade of Modern Roses”, which showcased 8,000 roses. A dark red floribunda called ‘World’s Fair’ was the star attraction and ended up becoming the winner of the first AARS competition.

This rose display was a huge success, enticing visitors from all over the country who purchased roses but did not want to carry them back home. Approximately 40,000 people asked if they could have their plants shipped to their homes. These customers then informed their friends and families of the convenience of having roses shipped directly to them, and Jackson & Perkins had a ready-made customer list. Before long, orders started pouring in from across the nation, and Jackson & Perkins was soon sending their prize roses to customers near and far. It was the first-ever mail-order rose nursery—a new channel of plant commerce had been created, and within the next few years, their first catalog was published.

Another hybridizer who had an enormous influence on the future and popularity of the company was William Warriner. He developed 110 rose varieties throughout his career, resulting in the sale of 40 million plants and 20 AARS winners! In 1978, two of his roses, ‘Medallion’ and ‘Red Masterpiece’, were selected for special-issue postage stamps by the United States Postal Service.

The people of Newark, NY were proud of this local rose nursery which had gained so much success, and they began calling their city the Rose Capital of America. Each spring and summer brought thousands of visitors who wanted to see the famous Jackson & Perkins roses for themselves. People continued to travel there every year up until about 1973, when the new owners, Harry and David, moved the company to the west coast.

The pride, however, has not left the town that provided the start for this well-known and beloved rose company, and its history can still be explored and experienced by anyone who wants to take a trip up to Newark, NY. The original Jackson & Perkins estate is now the site of Perkins Park and the delightful Vintage Gardens Bed and Breakfast on High Street. The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. It is still tastefully furnished with antiques, and the owners are dedicated to maintaining its original appeal, throughout both the house and the formal gardens.

And those who decide to go and enjoy a day or so at the Vintage Gardens Bed and Breakfast can learn even more about Jackson & Perkins by visiting the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society and Museum. It’s a trip worth taking for gardeners and history buffs alike!

Photo of the rose garden at Vintage Gardens Bed and Breakfast. Courtesy of Michael and Kimberlee Meeks.

Jackson & Perkins has seen many developments over the years, including several changes in ownership. However, one simple thing has remained unchanged to this day—our dedication to providing the very best, most beautiful roses available. It’s something in which we take great pride, and we’re thankful for and humbled by our beginnings and rich history.

And our customers continue to let us know just how important our company has been to them. We have received numerous letters, photos, emails, and phone calls from those who have gardened with us throughout several generations. We’ve been told of the excitement of receiving the newest catalog and the joy of sitting down (often grandmother and grandchild, mother and child, or as a whole family) to pick out something for that year’s garden. Rather than throwing out their catalogs at the end of the season, many tell us they keep them, simply because they’re beautiful and informative. That is something that I (and I imagine most here) find very humbling. It’s wonderful to know that our work is so appreciated and respected.

These days, we try to provide something for every type of gardener, not just those seeking roses, bringing new and exciting things each season.

But our first love is, and will always be, roses.