Monthly Archives: May 2008

Great Rosarians Blog Has Moved

Thanks for checking in!  I have moved this blog to a self-hosted site at

This new site will be linked from the Great Rosarians of the World website at

Thanks for checking in!  Please visit the new site and bookmark it.  Lets work together to start building a community of worldwide rosarians.


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Twenty-five Years and a Big Surprise!

This blog is about the Great Rosarians and is not supposed to be about me, but here I go again.  This year The Huntington Rose Garden celebrates its Centennial and January 1st I celebrated my 25th anniversary at The Huntington!  As one person put it, “it has been a momentous year!”  January was consumed with the installation of the rose exhibit and the next three months the exhibit itself took over my life.  Now in May the Rose Docents and Volunteers put together a surprise anniversary party and to say they surprised me is an understatement.

The plot was hatched in the Rose Garden one day when Judy Polinsky, Myriam Hu, and Priscilla Wardlow (all RG volunteers) started planning for an event.  They eventually put together a Byzantine plot to trick me into meeting friends for lunch and then going back to the gardens to give our friends a tour of the Rose Garden. Now realize I am usually clueless, and it doesn’t take a complicated ruse to get me out of the office to lunch! But I was truly surprised to the point of being nearly speechless!  No easy task in itself.  As we came back from lunch and approached Banta Hall (the main entrance to the Botanical Center and my office) everyone suddenly fell back and the doors parted and all I could see was a table of food and cake and I’m told, something like 80 co-workers, Docents, Volunteers, and friends greeting me and demanding I say something.  I had to actually walk up and read what the cake said to understand what it was all about.

Judy and Myriam along with Martha Burkard produced the food.  Judy specializes in 18th century recipes and bakes authentic period cakes, cookies, and other goodies.  Her rose bundt cake, rose cookies, and rose biscuits were nearly gone before I could even make my way to the table!  Part of the problem was that we were a bit late getting back from lunch, well you drag me to one of my favorite local resturants and I’m not going to cut my lunch short!

Here Katarina Eriksson, the head gardener for the Rose and Perennial Gardens at The Huntington, is ladling out our secret rose punch.  Judy Polinsky, Emina Darakjy, and I came up with the idea for this unusual punch which is no more than ginger ale, ice, and our very secret ingredient, a commercial rose water, Sence Rare European Rose Nectar.  There are other rose waters on the market but Sence far exceeds them in flavor and elegance.  Mix three two liter bottles of ginger ale to two 250 ml. bottles of Sence.  Judy and Myriam also came up with the idea of freezing a red rose in a block of ice for decoration.  Freeze about an inch of water in the bottom of a clear quart cottage cheese container then place a red rose on top and fill the remaining space with water and refreeze.  Float the ice blocks in the punch and as the blocks melt the rose is exposed.

Little did I know that when I started volunteering in the Rose Garden in 1980 that I would end up becoming a full fledged rosarian and still be in the same job twenty-five years later.  The support of staff and and friends over the years has been gratifying.  I’ve had the great fortune to work with a group of supportive volunteers who love roses and The Huntington.  They are the ones who make me look good!

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Redouté Knickknacks


Pierre-Joseph Redouté is called the Raphael of flower painters but one thing is certain you can still see his art every where you look.  Reprints of his paintings decorate walls, note cards with his images give thanks and deliver get well messages, tea cups with Redouté roses decorate a luncheon table, Redouté calendars keep us up to date, and his images sell rose scented cosmetics.

In fact it’s hard to escape his illustrations even now more than 180 years after the publication of Les Roses! To help impress this idea into the minds of exhibit visitors we came up with the idea of presenting modern objects with his images in a case we called the Ubiquitous Redouté.

Over the months of the planning stage I and others collected household objects with Redouté images at discount stores like TJ Max, Marshals, and Ross.  Over time we discovered a tea cup here, and a set of boxed note cards there.  One factor in this collecting is that I refused to spend more than $4.95 for any one thing, call me cheap but I have standards.

Jane Tsong (our show designer) discovered a set of inexpensive (cheap) cosmetics at one place and and over a number of months we built up quite a collection of knickknacks.  After price our other criteria was these objects should have a recognizable Redouté image prominently displayed.  So quite often when faced with a Victorian rose pattern china, even a quite lovely one, I had to force myself to reject it.

Jacqueline Dugas, the Art Division Registrar for art exhibits, and known on campus for her love of maroon fabrics, noticed our growing collection and asked about it.  She then volunteered to sew a pillow with a fabric printed with a Redouté image she had collected and donate it to the exhibit.  Her husband only insisted that she not bring it home after the show!

Myriam Hu who helped us with the fragrance displays, had visited Bulgaria a few years back and there had purchased a jar of rose scented face cream with a heavenly perfume.  You could even smell it through the case during the show.

We added two modern reprints of Les Roses to the case just for effect and Jane did an artful display of the various objects which did seem to catch the eye of our visitors.

At one point during one of the many openings for our member groups a very stylish lady confronted me an politely demanded that The Huntington Bookstore sell a squarish shaped coffee cup in the display. Unfortunately I had to inform her that I had purchased the cup in question recently at Marshals, a store I doubt she frequented, and that as well as I could recall they were sold out of them.  She took the news well enough but expressed her disappointment that she could not enjoy her daily cup of café au lait in such a cup!

Redouté who suffered under financial difficulties in his later life would no doubt have enjoyed the income from his work unfortunately artistic rights don’t extend quite that far back.  And I think his patron Joséphine would get quite a chuckle over the range of influence her court flower painter still holds sway today.


Filed under Rose Exhibit

La Rose Impériale

Maybe this is telling the story backwards, but my first exhibit La Rose Impériale:  The Development of Modern Roses came down last week after a three month run in the the Boone Gallery.  The exhibit was a huge part of my life from the planning stage and final installation in January through all the special tours and dismantling in late April.

Pictured above are our Rose Docents after touring the exhibit as part of their continuing education program. These dedicated volunteers daily greet visitors, answer questions, take photographs, and provide that missing human touch when visitors tour the gardens on their own.

The biggest shock was watching my “words of wisdom” being scraped off the wall and landing in random piles on the floor!  It isn’t easy on an author to see his words wadded up in a sticky ball.

Visitors were curious about how we produced the large wall panels like this “Genealogy of a Rose” chart outlining the ancestry of ‘Double Delight.’  The text panels were printed on self-adhesive vinyl strips and applied like wallpaper.  An effective and artistic way to present visual messages to visitors.  Jane Tsong, the show designer, designed the panels and matched the background colors to the paint she had selected for the walls by taking a light bulb from the Boone and comparing the color samples in a booth at the printers.

From the beginning when I started thinking about the exhibit I was concerned that we would be just displaying dusty old books in dusty cases.  The visual panels were a great way to set the stage for the books.  Jane and I developed ideas to present the story and bring visitors into the story including engaging them with scent and touch.

The books, like this second edition of John Gerard’s The Herball, or General Historie of Plants printed in 1633 with hand-colored illustrations, have been returned to the vault.  One fact that surprised visitors was that all the books in the exhibit were from The Huntington Library’s collections.  We did not borrow books, partially because we did not have the budget for loans and mainly because I wanted to demonstrate the depth of our library collections. The great majority of the books on display had not been exhibited in the 25 years I have been at The Huntington.  It was a great honor being asked to curate the exhibit and seeing visitors enjoy our efforts was equally gratifying.  

Now that the books are safely back in the vault it looks like the exhibit may have an extended life.  The Huntington has asked me to write a book on the exhibit and the rose garden centennial and the exhibit may travel to the Chicago Botanic Garden next summer.  They have made an informal request and are now looking into the practicalities of moving the exhibit to their institution. 



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I love that the world of roses is so diverse.  Those of us who consider ourselves “Rosarians” often are totaly ignorant of the broader world around us.  Who knew that there was a world of rose pastries?  

While in New York for the Great Rosarians East lecture in early April, Priscilla and I had breakfast with an artist friend of Priscilla’s.  For those not acquainted with my life, Priscilla is my house mate and someone who is very important to me.  

Carol is an artist who specializes in painting French pastries and has a blog entitled Paris Breakfasts.  Carol, lives in New York, and travels frequently to France to explore the streets and bistros of Paris for subjects to paint.  She specializes in French pastries, yes it is a niche, but she fills it with élan.

Priscilla and I met Carol at Artie’s Delicatessen around 83rd and Broadway on the upper East side.  Artie’s is one of my favorite places to have breakfast. Try the bagels and lox.  We had a great conversation that morning and Carol directed us to a number of places to visit on our free day in the city.  But the important   thing for this blog is that Carol, who paints pastries, and I discovered we shared a connection over roses and specifically the rose ‘Ispahan.’  Go figure, who would have thought that a rosarian and and a Francophile pastry artist would make such a connection.  Carol shared her recent Paris adventure and it became evident that we had much in common — rosewise.

Her blog, Paris Breakfasts is a charming stream of consciousness on her trips and experiences in Paris exploring the world of French pastries.  In search of her art, Carol explores and samples the art of French baking and then renders her subjects in water color…consuming the product once it is rendered to paper.

Carol’s current facination with the world of pastry is Pierre Hermé, whom Vogue magazine called “the Picasso of Pastry.”  The topic of Carol’s most recent visit to Pierre Hermé is the Ispahan series of pastries. Her blog of April 11, 2008 explores in depth these delectable delights. Carol was as unaware of the rose ‘Ispahan’ as I was of Pierre Hermé’s pastries!  What a delight to learn and share our mutual experiences!

Do check out Carol’s blog Paris Breakfasts and explore Paris as few have experenced it and discover this hidden world of roses.  She also reveals a world of French florists that I had never seen and one we all can learn from.  The French have a way with flowers and these boquets bring a fresh Parisian charm to the table.

The next time you sit down over breakfast with a stranger don’t be reluctant to bring up your love of roses…you never know where roses will take you.


Illustrations by Carol Gillott.

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Into the Unknown

Face it, it happens to every gardener at one time or another, you order a rose from someone and it turns out to be something else.  Sometimes you recognize what it is and make the decision to keep it or ‘prune it with the shovel.’  But every now and then the unknown rose is just interesting enough and the detective in you just has to find out what this mystery rose is!

I am in just such a situation with a rose in the Shakespeare Garden, it was ordered years back from Canada, Pickering Nursery I think, as ‘York and Lancaster.’  ‘York and Lancaster’ is a rose that should be in every Shakespeare Garden (isn’t in yours?), it tells the story of how the Tudors came about to end the War of the Roses and combine the York and Lancaster clans in the dynasty founded by Henry VII and exemplified by his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I.  

The problem is that the rose I planted has single petaled, red flowers.  Decidedly not ‘York and Lancaster’. The mystery plant is tall, growing to eight feet or so, with reddish brown canes and small hooked, wicked prickles at the nodes.  The foliage is rough, with almost quilted ribbing and dark green.  The flowers appear in early spring and open to medium red, single flowers, with prominent yellow stamen.  They are lovely, but continue to elude identification.  

The closest I have been able to come to an ID is Rosa cinnamomea (R. majalis), the “Cinnamon Rose.”  The problem here is, that species should have red-purple flowers and this mystery rose is true red.  The “Cinnamon Rose” got its name not because of any fragrance of cinnamon in the flowers but because of the reddish brown bark of the canes.

Now, you may ask, why all the bother over a simple rose ID? Well, I work for a Botanical Garden and we are supposed to have our plants identified and correctly labeled.  In most cases a mystery plant like this rose would have been discarded long ago and replaced with the correct cultivar. It’s just this unknown is so lovely and generates a lot of interest from visitors that I can’t harden my heart and dig her up!

It’s not like I plan to exhibit this rose in a Rose Show and could only do so with the approved name.  No, but we do have a collections policy and at some point I do have to come to a decision to keep or discard.  So far I have leaned towards keeping her and planting the true ‘York and Lancaster’ in another part of the garden.  

Who would have thought a rose curator’s job could be so difficult?


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Digital Photo Workshop

This past Wednesday I met up with my friend Syl Arena at the International Rose Trials located in Rose Hills Rose Garden in Whittier, Calif.  We are both on the permanent panel and were not able to join our fellow judges for the first scoring of this year’s batch of roses.  The International Rose Trial is a two year program and this year’s crop is nearly 60 new cultivars from breeders from around the country and abroad.

I noticed several themes in this year’s crop:  more Shrubs than Hybrid Tea roses, and a significant increase in the number of tan or coffee colored roses.  The increase in the Shrub class entrants reflects the decline in popularity of Hybrid Teas and the rebounding popularity of disease resistant shrub roses for the landscape.  It will take some time to see if the new coffee color roses gain more than just novelty status.

Syl is an outstanding horticultural photographer who has an eye for roses.  As part of the celebrations around The Huntington Rose Garden Centennial this year Syl will be presenting a Digital Rose Photography Workshop at The Huntington on Sunday, May 18th.  

Workshop participants will spend two hours learning to develop their photographic skills and are encouraged to pre-submit up to five samples photos for in class review and comments.  After the classroom session Syl will be available for an hour in the rose garden to help participants hone their skills.

The workshop is limited to thirty participants and is filling rapidly.  To register email Clair Martin at or call at 626.405.3507.  Registration fee is $25.00 for Huntington members and $30.00 for non-members.  Entrance to the grounds is free to members, non-members will have to pay the additional entrance fee.

Syl has put together an information sheet on the class which you can view by clicking on this Link.

If we reach the class limit (and it now looks possible) we will open up a second session for that morning.  I will inform registered participants as soon as we reach that number and they can then chose either the morning or afternoon session.  

Digital cameras have opened up a whole new world of enjoyment for gardeners allowing us to record and instantly share our gardens and love of The Queen of Flowers with our friends and the world.  



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