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When I learned that Sean McCann was going to be at the 2003 American Rose Society conference, I felt compelled to go. I had enjoyed his columns in the "American Rose Magazine" for years. A drive of more than 10 hours was a small price to pay to meet this gentleman.
To those who admire and collect roses, the name Sean McCann is familiar; to others he may need introduction. Sean McCann has hybridized more than 90 roses. Many of them are very fragrant, and they are all remontant, which means they repeat their blooms throughout the season.
Sean was born in Ireland and he now lives very close to where he was born. His home was nestled alongside a racetrack and from a very early age he was surrounded by horses, which may explain his lifelong love of them. He worked as a journalist for a newspaper in England, first as a feature writer and later an editor. He also worked for the BBC as a sportscaster. In the mid-'60s he and his family returned to Ireland. Here is an account of that time, in his words:
"When we came back to Ireland in the early sixties a friend in England sent me a dozen rose plants. Gardening was far away from my mind then but I planted them (Peace, Virgo, Ena Harkness and Eden Rose) then about a year later I happened to drop into a rose show in Dublin as I was strolling about. I mentioned to one of the committee that it seemed like all the prizes went to one particular area to which he replied that they were just waiting for someone to beat them. I took the challenge and went to the "hostile" area the next weekend with blooms from the garden all sloshing about in a bucket of water. I got a lot of advice where to put the different entries. In the afternoon the whole family went back with the children running ahead. There were shouts of delight: 'Dad, you've got a second prize!' followed by, 'Dad you've got a first!' And then the final accolade, 'Dad, you've won the cup!'
After a start like that I was hooked. Who wouldn't be?"
I talked my husband into driving me to New Orleans for the American Rose Society conference with the promise that he could roam the French Quarter while I attended rose seminars. When I checked into the conference, I discovered that Sean would only be speaking at a luncheon. It was an event the "big wigs" were attending and it cost $35. That is a lot to pay for lunch, but I had come to see Sean so I signed up for the luncheon. When I entered the banquet room, the only available seat was at a table near the front of the room. I sat down and soon discovered that was where Sean was sitting! At the table were also many of the officers of the ARS. I think I was the only person there who was not known within the rose world. I was quite tongue-tied and I have no memory of what we ate. We could have been eating anything in the world. I told Sean that I had come to meet him and he seemed genuinely touched to hear me say that.
Sean McCann and the author. 'Swansong', a McCann rose
A river boat cruise was offered at the conference and Sean and I both attended. I asked if I could later have a picture taken with him, and he agreed. As soon as I sat down there was a whisper in my ear. "Can we get that picture now, before I get just a wee bit drunk?" We had the picture taken then so he would not have to worry about having to do anything more for the night.
Sean and I exchanged e-mail addresses and we have become what I call "E-pals", writing to each other often. He tells me bits and pieces of his life in Ireland, and I relate to him about my life in Texas.
I have learned that family is very important to Sean. He is married to a lovely woman, Sally and he has 5 children who are all grown and married and have children of their own. There are 12 grandchildren and they have given Sean the name of "Magic Man" because of all his wonderful roses. A beautiful rose is named 'The Magic Man' for him.
'The Magic Man' 'Looks Like Fun' 'Kiss'n'Tell'
'Fair Eva' is named for one of his granddaughters Sean and his family The McCann grandchildren
I think Sean is very soft-hearted. A hybridizer of roses often has hundreds or even thousands of seedlings. Usually, only the seedlings that show promise are kept and allowed to grow; the others are destroyed. Since Sean hates to kill any rose, he has been known to take them out into the countryside and plant them. Once he went back to check on them and discovered a beauteous orange colored rose. He took it home and named it 'Bloomsday' to honor James Joyce, a favorite of the entire McCann family. (Bloomsday is celebrated in Ireland on June 16, the date when the events in James Joyce's novel "Ulysses" occurred.)
I have added several McCann hybrid roses to my collection, and they have all done well for me. They do not seem to have much of a problem with black spot and they generally have a very nice fragrance.
Ashdown Roses carries a number of Sean's roses, and they are authorized to sell McCann roses in the United States. They have also been collecting many roses that were considered to be lost (Sean gave away many of his earlier miniature hybrids.) Re-assembling the collection has been a labor of love (and some frustration) for Trish Walsh at Ashdown. Ashdown now has about 70 of Sean's hybrids. They usually have at least four McCann roses available in their inventory, and I encourage anyone to try growing a McCann rose.
The photos were supplied by Sean McCann and used with his kind permission.
About Melva Wheeler
I live in Texas, but my heart is in Florida, where I was born. I am married.
No kids, unless my cat is counted, which he should be. I also have a tortoise, Graham.
I have always been a gardener. I have grown vegetables, herbs, and Roses! They have become a passion.
I have very few modern roses. It is the antiques, that appeal to me.
My interests are photography, reading, cooking and some traveling, so I can be excited to come home again!