How the John Ystumllyn rose won backing from the Queen, Parliament, BBC and RHS

John Ystumllyn
John Ystumllyn

The Queen, a Cabinet minister, MPs, the BBC and the RHS have all backed a rose that has been launched as a symbol of friendship.

We Too Built Britain's Zehra Zaidi and Harkness Roses' David White are behind the John Ystumllyn rose, named after the first well-recorded black Welsh gardener and black man in North Wales, and believed to be the first rose named after an ethnic minority Briton.

Zaidi’s Horticulture Week articles in June and July 2020 on John Ystumllyn created a groundswell of support for a new rose. Horticulture Week advised on finding a rose grower and in helping promote the project.

The Queen's office has now written to Zaidi saying she "would be pleased to accept a rose to be planted at Windsor". This follows articles and broadcasts at the BBC, RHS, and the Guardian.

We Too Built Britain, founded by Zehra Zaidi, has campaigned to tell the stories of under-represented people in Britain with the aim of building social connections and to show what we have in common, to then also understand and value our uniqueness and differences. Previous campaigns include the new 50p ‘Diversity Built Britain’ Royal Mint coins and the ‘Hidden Heroes’ statues campaign. Advolly Richmond, social historian, is also a key campaign supporter.

Zaidi says: "The representation element matters. To our knowledge there has never been a rose named after an ethnic minority Briton."

Ystumllyn was an 18th centiry Welshman of uncertain origin, possibly a victim of the Atlantic slave trade who was taken by the Wynn family to its Ystumllyn estate in Criccieth, where he was christened, and given the Welsh name John Ystumllyn, who became a gardener.

"It came about because of a lack of diversity in gardening," Zaidi says. Concerned the history about minorities in gardening might not be remembered, Zaidi approached HortWeek and the story was shared. People called for a rose: "before we knew it we had a campaign".

Harkness Roses has set aside 5,000 roses for community gardens and will send out roses for free to community garden groups. All groups must do is: write in and tell Harkness Roses “why inclusion and community in gardening matters” and send images of their group planting the rose for the Community Wall on Harkness Roses’ website.

White says: "We think this is a really important story. It's important to give it the quality of rose that matches the interest of the story.

"As a business, we became quite isolated over the last 15 months." Garden centres were closed, there were only Zoom meetings, and lots of people don't have gardens, and struggled with mental health. "This rose took on a bigger significance; we wanted to engage in a community project to get people gardening."

Zaidi says the public impact is the rose is "a symbol of friendship, love and community because that's what John's story represented.. and a homage to the gardening community. I hope this brings people together."

The rose was chosen from 40,000 seedlings and is a compact floribunda shrub, developed from eight years breeding, with a citrus fragrance, flowering from late May until the first frosts. It is suitable for pots, beds and borders.

White adds: "The John Ystumllyn Rose has had brilliant coverage. Thank you for the introduction – it has opened up a new world for me especially and over the next 12-24 months I am going to be really throwing myself into the Community Garden World."

Liz Saville Roberts, the MP for the area where John Ystumllyn lived, says: "I knew the story locally, but what this does, we suddenly we wake up to how this story that we kept and cherished - that this story is really of national importance."

The Plaid Cymru MP raised the rose in the House of Commons on 21 October, asking if time could be set aside to debate black history stories, including that of John Ystumllyn.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg replied: "If the Ystumllyn rose could be the rose of friendship across political parties, I think that's something we could plant with pride."

Zaidi concludes: "Horticulture has been joyous, such a welcoming community. This campaign shows we take each other for granted, sometimes you just have to ask and build connections together."

Timeline: 

June 2020: We Too Built Britain's Zehra Zaidi has a Twitter conversation about John Ystumllyn

16 June 2020: Zehra Zaidi writes about John Ystumllyn in Horticulture Week

June 2020: Story feedback includes the idea for a rose.

3 July 2020: HortWeek publishes a piece by Zaidi floating the idea of a rose.

July 2020 Horticulture Week puts Zaidi in touch with David White at Harkness Roses. Zaidi works on a campaign centred around the rose, to launch in 2021, bringing in many contacts to advise and promote the idea, including the RHS and BBC.

October 2021: Black History Month

19 October 2021: HortWeek visits Harkness Roses, Zehra Zaidi and David White and records podcast, as well as a BBC feature.

20 October: Launches at HortWeek

21 October: BBC film broadcast

21 October: RHS podcast

21 October: Parliamentary debate

22 October: Story appears in The Guardian.

22 October: Revealed that The Queen will accept a rose to be planted at Windsor.

Mid-November: 2,900 roses will be available for dispatch

Autumn 2022: 12,000-15,000 roses will be available for garden centre sale from autumn 2022-spring 2023. Some 250 independent garden centres are already showing interest.

May 2022: The rose will officially launch at RHS Chelsea Flower Show


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