D'Ombrain, Henry Honywood
- Peter D. A. Boyd
D'Ombrain, Henry Honywood (1818–1905), Church of England clergyman and gardener, was born in Ebury Street, Pimlico, London, on 10 May 1818, the son of Admiral Sir James D'Ombrain (1793–1871), inspector-general of the Coast Guard in Ireland from 1819 to 1849, for which he was knighted in 1844, and his wife, Mary, née Furley (d. 1864). His family was of French Huguenot descent. Brought up in Ireland from early infancy, he attended Trinity College, Dublin, where, in 1838, at the age of twenty, he helped to found the Natural History Society of Dublin of which he was secretary until 1841. He graduated BA in 1839 and was ordained in the Church of Ireland in 1841. He served as curate of Bray (about ten miles from Dublin) and Dargle between 1841 and 1847. Before leaving Dublin he presented a collection of taxidermy specimens of Irish birds to the Natural History Society. On 11 July 1840 he married Mary Matthews (1814–1850) of Dublin. After twenty-eight years in Ireland, he returned to England and became curate of Christ Church, Ramsgate, Kent, from 1847 to 1849 and perpetual curate of St George's, Deal, Kent, from 1849 to 1868. Following the death of his first wife at Deal, he married second, at Rochester, Kent, on 28 April 1852, Catharine (1826–1912), daughter of George Acworth, solicitor. They had a daughter. In 1868 he became vicar of Westwell, Ashford, Kent, where he remained until his death; he restored the church in 1884.
D'Ombrain's love of flowers dated from his childhood in Dublin, where a bed of Persian ranunculus made a deep impression on him and, as a young man, he came to know enthusiastic growers of carnations, tulips, auriculas and other ‘florist's flowers’. The cultivation of such plants remained a passion. However, auriculas (which had been fashionable while he was growing up) were particular favourites. Gladioli and roses, for which he became best known, came later. He initially gardened under difficulties on top of a cliff at Bray, and his garden at Deal was a slice of field. Learning how to grow plants under less than ideal circumstances gave him practical experience that stood him in good stead and which he was keen to share.
D'Ombrain began to contribute articles to the Cottage Gardener while he was at Deal, writing under the nom de plume D., Deal and continued to write under that name after moving to Westwell. He became a prolific contributor to the horticultural press. He edited the Floral Magazine from 1862 to 1873. Samuel Reynolds Hole (first president of the National Rose Society) later commented, 'he writes as he talks, pleasantly, freshly, as he thinks and knows' (Mawley). He was considered particularly good at writing for novice amateur gardeners, always aware of the difficulties that accompanied their first attempts.
Although he had written many articles, D'Ombrain's first book, though a small one, was The Gladiolus: its History, Cultivation, and Exhibition (1873). In some respects it is more interesting than his later book on roses because it includes a detailed account of the history of a group of flowers that had only been ‘improved’ and developed by growers in the previous twenty years or so.
D'Ombrain was an active popularizer both through publication and by encouraging the formation of societies. He had done this in Dublin with natural history, and during the 1860s he established the Metropolitan Floral Society. This was not a success but, later, he played a part in the establishment of the Horticultural Club, which did flourish. He was the first secretary of the National Rose Society, founded in 1876, and retained that role for twenty-five years. He also edited the Rosarians' Year-Book of the society from its first volume in 1879 until 1902.
From the 1860s onwards D'Ombrain had regularly visited the great rose nurseries at Lyons and elsewhere in France and Belgium to see and acquire new varieties. His Huguenot ancestry seems to have given him a particular interest in roses bred in France. In 1887 he published Roses for amateurs: a practical guide to the selection and cultivation of the best roses, for exhibition or mere pleasure, by that large section of the gardening world, the amateur lovers of roses. In this book he shows his penchant for the new varieties:
when I allude to the history of the Rose, I have not the slightest idea of taking my readers back to ancient days, to give quotations from books that I have never read, or to affect a folk-lore knowledge that I do not possess … what I have to do with is the history of the Rose in our own days.
He had little interest in the single-flowered species or the old double roses that only flowered once a year and had begun to go out of fashion by the 1840s. He favoured the newer repeat-flowering hybrid perpetuals and hybrid tea roses. Later, in their turn, many of the rose varieties that he loved went out of fashion to be replaced with newer cultivars. Both his favourites and the old roses or species that he dismissed later enjoyed renewed popularity. His Roses for Amateurs was very successful; it went to many reprints and two editions during his lifetime, and there were further editions including revisions and updates by other authors after his death. The books remained in print in the early twenty-first century. D'Ombrain's slim volume played an important part in popularizing rose growing, despite the publication during the nineteenth century of more significant and comprehensive rose books, such as The Rose Amateur's Guide (11 edns, 1837–77) by Thomas Rivers and The Rose Garden (10 edns, 1848–1903) by William Paul. He was also one of the authors of The Amateur's Handbook on Gardening, with a Calendar of Garden Operations for Each Month in the Year, published in 1894.
In 1897, when the Royal Horticultural Society established the Victoria medal of honour, D'Ombrain was one of the first recipients of the new award. He died at Westwell on 23 October 1905, survived by his wife and daughter, and was buried in the churchyard there. The Rosarians' Year-Book was succeeded by the Rose Annual in 1907, the first article in which was an appreciation of D'Ombrain.
- H. H. D'Ombrain, Rosarians' Year-Book (1879–1902)
- E. Mawley, ‘The Rev. H. Honywood D'Ombrain, founder of the National Rose Society’, Rose Annual (1907), 25–31 [repr. in Rose Annual (2006), 125–9]
- Gardeners' Chronicle (4 Nov 1905), 328
- K. L. Stock, Rose books (1984)
- census returns, 1861, 1871
- private information (2009) [J. Toogood]
- m. cert. 
- photographs, repro. in Rose Annual, 25-31
- portrait, repro. in G. Holyoake, Deal: sad smuggling town (2001), 119
Wealth at Death
£1631 15s. 0d.: probate, 20 Dec 1905, CGPLA Eng. & Wales