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Musings » Botanica’s Roses
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San Diego, California
Laurel Glen Press 2000
Foreword by William Grant

The library owns a hefty paperback encyclopedia of roses, published under the imprint of “Botanica”. When William Grant, author of the foreword, gave a talk at the club a few years ago he generously donated a copy of his book to the library. Bill was also the chief consultant for the project and guided the distinguished writers who prepared the text. In addition he supplied some of the beautiful images which appear on every page.

This is a very fine compilation showing what roses were available in the United States more than 10 years ago. It starts out with the proper nod to science, examining the development of roses through history but quickly gets down to the meat of the issue: individual rose cultivars and their charms.

The total number of variations on a theme is astronomical, the more so as one considers how few “parents” have been used to create all this profusion. There are dozens of excellent species which have been barely tapped. One is R. rugosa, a tough old thing which can withstand the salt air and high winds of coastal gardens. Those of us who visited the Quarry Hill Botanical Garden remember a huge sprawling plant with fairly small glossy leaves, white flowers and forbidding prickles. In the past few years it has become more popular and is being used for more breeding experiments.

Grant indicates that there were about 40,000 cultivars in existence at the time. Even the great rosaria like Sangerhausen in Saxony can only house a small portion of them. No backyard gardener can grow more than a handful in the typical residential plot. This even supposes that that the soil and climate are suited to any sort of rose at all. Pat Hanson Thomson has a wonderful display of roses in her front garden over there right near the Golden Gate, a cold and windy place indeed. The saving grace is that the house itself acts as a buffer for the wind. So far I have been unable to keep roses alive on my terrace near the ball park. The wind brings every airborne pest known to man and simply destroys everything.

This encyclopedia offers a great deal of very practical advice about how to choose the correct cultivar and its culture. The authors point out that a good nursery understands the region in which it operates and stocks roses which should succeed there.

There is advice about seasonal variations, the best time to buy and plant a new rose and how to prune existing ones. One important note is that whereas the idea of roses used to conjure up those finicky Hybrid Teas and an army of under gardeners à la “Downton Abbey”, in the modern era the range has been widened to include ground cover roses, polyanthas, patio roses and climbers of several kinds. (That reminds me: why did Lady Sybil choose the chauffeur and not a gardener? Lady Chatterley made out with the gamekeeper.)