“A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives you roses.”
– Chinese Proverb
The past year has reminded us how much relationships mean in our lives. Nothing expresses this sentiment better than the rose, which has been a symbol of love and friendship for centuries.
Garden cultivation of roses began some five thousand years ago in China where they grew in the imperial gardens of the Chou dynasty. The Romans used roses to make garlands and crowns for celebrations. In Roman homes, petals were used to carpet the floors, to fill bathwater, and to drop as confetti at parties. It is said that Cleopatra covered the floor of her chambers with over a foot of rose petals to intoxicate her lovers and demonstrate her power.
One of the greatest rose gardens of all time was maintained by Empress Josephine at Malmaison where she cultivated more than 650 rose bushes and sent experts all over the world in search of new varieties. At the time of her death in 1814, the empress’s garden contained approximately 250 species and varieties of roses. The castle gardens still attract visitors to its important collection of exotic roses to this day.
In the 15th century, roses became a symbol of the dispute to control England. The white rose represented the House of York, and the red rose represented the House of Lancaster. Known as the War of the Roses, the conflict ended when Henry VII joined both flowers to create the Tudor Rose. This “Rose of England” remains an important national symbol, and it appears on the twenty penny coin. Elton John’s song “Candle in the Wind/Goodbye England’s Rose” celebrated the life of the late Princess Diana. In Hollywood, Joe DiMaggio sent six red roses to the crypt of his former wife Marilyn Monroe three times each week for over twenty years.
Mrs. Robinson’s Roses
Horticulture was a lifelong interest of Virginia Robinson, and as a dedicated gardener, she walked her garden twice a day. Ivo Hadjiev, her majordomo, was at her side as they inspected six and a half acres of exotic plants. The care of her garden was a priority, and her gardeners took great care never to let a water hose run across her path.
Roses were among Virginia’s favorite flowers. In 1958, Armstrong Nursery released a pink climbing tea rose named the Eiffel Tower Rose. It instantly became a mainstay in Virginia’s garden. It still grows in the garden today. Since it was pink, her favorite color, and it was very fragrant, she never went without at least one rose bush in the garden. When in season, a single bud 2/3’s the way open was cut and exhibited in a silver vase at her place setting at the dining room table. After Virginia passed in 1977, Ivo continued that tradition for 30 years in her memory until his passing in 2007.
Virginia maintained the cut rose garden with hybrid tea roses ranging from white, various pinks and reds to some yellow. These were picked for her party and would be matched to her dress to be worn that evening. Two of her other favorite roses still grow on the tennis court fence and are seen as you pass through the gate that takes you to the aviary. They are incredibly fragrant and are growing more vigorous every year.
The Tournament of Roses
The Tournament of Roses Parade began in 1890 as a promotional winter festival by the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club. The festival took off and became the premier New Year’s Day event viewed by millions worldwide. Many members of the Valley Hunt Club were former residents of the American East Coast and the Midwest. They wished to showcase their new California homes and mild winter weather.
Depending on the number of platforms and on-float arrangements, more than 60,000 roses come together to create a single large float in Pasadena's annual Rose Parade. Over 500,000 roses are used in the parade each year.
Categories of Roses
Species roses are roses as nature gave them to us. They are the species of genus Rosa found growing naturally throughout the northern hemisphere. They are vigorous, require minimum maintenance, and are usually hardy and disease resistant. Almost all are once blooming in early summer.
Old European Garden Roses represent the hybrid groups that prevailed in European gardens prior to the 18th century.
Modern Roses are those varieties bred after 1867. Unlike Old Garden Roses, which bloom once a year, Modern Roses bloom continuously. They also have a larger bloom size and longer vase life, but lack fragrance, and are less hardy and disease resistant.
Photos by Josh Johnston
Post by Joan Selwyn
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member
Founder of the Friends