Discovering Rebecca Ann Foster (1867- 1951)

“This story is an extract from a biography of Rebecca Foster currently being written”

The artist R A Foster came into my life quite by chance and for a frustratingly long time s/he remained just that, an artist or more specifically a painter named ‘R A Foster’. I had no idea whether s/he was male or female but I suspected from the style and subject of the paintings s/he may be female although one should never make stereotypical assumptions. After remaining nameless for months it was a eureka moment when I discovered, from an art auction site, that she was actually Rebecca Ann.  I was then able to start searching for further information in earnest knowing that I had a good chance of researching the correct person. I wanted to put a face to the name and create the real person called Rebecca Ann Foster.

The discovery of this name, this person who has come to mean so much to me, was inevitable. Being an avid collector of rose memorabilia and ephemera as well as rose books and paintings it is not surprising that I found the name ‘R A Foster’ on a postcard which showed a vase of colourful roses. I expect at the time I was looking for cards illustrating the rose paintings of  Catharina Klein which I collect. Klein’s cards are easily recognisable and collectible as she has painted over two thousand pictures of flowers and fruit for the postcard publishers. Her cards are from the early years of the 20th century and bring my love of this period of history, art and flowers together. Over time as I collected these cards I gathered together a chosen selection of other beautiful card paintings of roses by other artists. Cards with the name R A Foster seemed to emerge on a regular basis.

The more cards I found with the distinctive R A Foster signature the more I needed to find out about her as a person. I have discovered many more of Rebecca’s paintings on cards since that very first card while I have been researching into her history. Now I have quite a sizeable collection. This has instigated the catalogue of her cards at the end of this story about her flowers, which I hope will help any future collectors. I must admit although I have  come across several other artists  who were painting roses and other flowers for postcards there are few I like quite so much as hers and no other artists apart from Catharina Klein seem to have been as successful.

The more cards I found with the distinctive R A Foster signature the more I needed to find out about her as a person. I have discovered many more of Rebecca’s paintings on cards since that very first card while I have been researching into her history. Now I have quite a sizeable collection. This has instigated the catalogue of her cards at the end of this story about her flowers, which I hope will help any future collectors. I must admit although I have  come across several other artists  who were painting roses and other flowers for postcards there are few I like quite so much as hers and no other artists apart from Catharina Klein seem to have been as successful.

In the early years of the 20th century, after the printing of postcards allowed for one side to be dedicated to a picture, there was a boom in postcard publishing. When looking at the postcards that have survived from this time today it is evident a large proportion of the British public wanted to send short messages to friends and family, collect cards for their albums or send postcards to others for collecting. The surge in postcard sales was greatest before the first war but it continued into the 1920s to a lesser degree. It was only after the war that Rebecca sold paintings for postcards although evidence shows  she started painting professionally in 1898. Roses, at this time, were also very popular with new varieties being grown, rose shows that exhibited these new plants and the National Rose Society promoting the rose. It was steadily growing in popularity and being supported by a greater cross section of society. More  people generally were becoming interested in gardening and the growing of roses. It is not surprising, therefore, that many flower postcards were dedicated to the rose.

From 1898 Rebecca painted many works, all of flowers as far as I know. I have seen one or two pencil sketches of children by her but no finished works. From 1898, when at art college or soon after until her death in 1951 she painted avidly producing many works for exhibition both at local galleries and those further afield. In later years she painted for the postcard but she did not give up exhibiting her colourful flower paintings. Her paintings must be scattered far and wide adorning the homes of many who appreciate her work. I have a small collection of her original work which I cherish, some prints and many postcards. Further works occasionally come up for sale but not often and strangely they command quite a range of prices.

In this story about her life and her flowers I have tried to encapsulate a talented artist, a keen lover of flowers and a truly successful woman of her time who deserves to be remembered as such. I hope she would approve of what I have to say and to forgive me for any limitations. I have searched for detail from a number of sources but this did not take on a human perspective until I was contacted by her great granddaughter who has helped me with so much knowledge. Information from  ancestry websites, the Nottinghamshire Archives, galleries and auction houses remained specifically factual  until it was placed within a human context.

At the end of the booklet I have listed all the cards, of which I am aware,  that show her paintings. I hope that I have done this in a manner that the collector can tick off the ones s/he has and add any of the many I have not found.

Discovering Rebecca Ann Foster (1867- 1951) Read More »

James Hadley – thank you.

Has your eye ever been caught by the beautiful Worcester porcelain pottery covered with the old fashioned roses of yesteryear? I have often lingered by the shelves at the antique fairs and coveted many a pot pourri jar or tall elegant vase. I have  two small examples but the decision not to buy more has usually been influenced by the cost and the fear of breakage.

We have James Hadley to thank for these gorgeous rose designs painted on the fine pottery made in the 19th and 20th centuries. By 1870 James Hadley had become the principal modeller at Royal Worcester Porcelain but in 1875 he left to set up his own modelling studio. However, he was contracted to sell the complete output of his ornamental vases and figurines to Royal Worcester, with his name inscribed on the base of his master models.

A small piece in my collection painted by Millie Hunt.

A drop in demand for luxury goods at the end of the 19th century led to James Hadley’s contract with Royal Worcester being cancelled. Not to be defeated he rented factory space from an old friend, Edward Locke, before building his own factory in 1897. His early production focused on his distinctive decorative art pottery. Employing a team of young talented artists including William Jarman, Walter Powell, Arthur Lewis, Walter Sedgley, Albert Shuck, Kitty Blake and Mary Eaton, his beautiful roses were painted and immortalised. Other designs included peacocks and game birds.

The softly painted roses in full bloom became known as the Hadley Roses even though his team of artists were responsible for their painting. It was not traditional for a piece of pottery to be signed before 1900 but if you do have one signed by one of these painters you are truly fortunate. There are items painted by some of them dated well into the 20th century; each pottery piece has marks that allow it to be dated accurately.

The first piece of Worcester porcelain I bought.

In 1900 Hadley and Sons became a limited company but in 1905 James Hadley died and Royal Worcester purchased his factory. In 1906 all the workforce, moulds and designs moved to the main Royal Worcester factory. The letter ‘H’ was added to the Royal Worcester design number on the base of its pieces when they produced the Hadley designs. These changes can help date some of the pieces from around the turn of the 20th century.

As the century progressed new names were added to the group of talented artists painting these iconic rose masterpieces. One such artist Mildred ‘Millie’ Hunt is now very popular with collectors as her pieces portray very traditional Hadley Roses. Her pots range between 1926 and 1950.  Other names include James Llewellyn, Gladys Farley, Harry Austin and John Ansell.

A beautiful display at my local antiques fair. The piece with the tag is the second piece I bought. How wonderful to own one of the larger pieces. One day perhaps.

Changing fortunes led to a merger between Royal Worcester and Spode in 1976 and due to heavy competition from overseas the production was switched to factories in Stoke on Trent and abroad. Sadly from the year 2000 onwards the production of this historic porcelain continued to decline with the workforce shrinking. Finally the company went into administration in 2008 with the last production of Royal Worcester being in 2009. Having been founded in 1751, over 250 years of producing beautiful porcelain works of art came to a dramatic and extremely sad end with the closure of Royal Worcester. Another thread of our social tapestry lost for ever.

Portmeiron did acquire the brand name and intellectual property but 2009 saw the end of Royal Worcester Porcelain.

James Hadley – thank you. Read More »

Tracing Josephine’s Roses.

Historical literature tells us that Josephine Bonaparte (1763 – 1814), who became the Empress of France between 1804 and 1809 as the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, is remembered for her extensive rose gardens which displayed all the roses known at the time. Strangely there appears to be no list of the roses that Josephine grew. There also seems to be few records of her rose gardens or her desire to grow all roses. Could her beautiful and extensive rose gardens at Malmaison, outside Paris, be a myth.

Undoubtedly Josephine, inspired by her ownership of Malmaison from 1799 to her death in 1814, became interested in plants, trees and shrubs to the point of wanting to collect as many exotic species as possible. She gathered plants from across the world to grow in her gardens which she had designed in the English style by a Scottish horticulturalist Thomas Blaikie. The parkland style of Capability Brown suited the huge acreage of Malmaison well and, together with the huge orangery and greenhouses she had built, accommodated Josephine’s exotic trees and shrubs. Her plants such as eucalyptus, heathers and myrtles, hibiscus, phlox, camellias, geraniums, cacti, rhododendrons, dahlias, tulips and hyacinths were catalogued by Charles Francois Brisseau de Mirbel and illustrated and described by Pierre – Joseph Redoute and Ventenat respectively in ‘Jardin de la Malmaison’ published in 1803.

Josephine Bonaparte. (Bridgeman Images)

There are no roses recorded and according to Jennifer Potter, horticultural historian, visitors to the garden soon after her death such as the Englishman Seth William Stevenson noted a garden showing signs of decay with some roses growing with other flowers shaded by cypresses, willows and lilacs. A year later a group of Scottish gardeners visiting French gardens of interest do not refer to roses at all in the Malmaison garden only an estate slipping into neglect. These gardeners described the collections of roses on the drive from Paris and also in the Paris Luxembourg gardens. They also visited the nursery of M. Noisette, the famous rose grower but did not mention roses at Malmaison.

The many exotic trees and even a menagerie of animals including monkeys, a kangaroo, llama and black swans are documented but  no roses so from where has Josephine’s reputation for being a rose lover and the idea of her huge collection of roses come? Her love of gathering plants from across the world even when her husband was leading the armies in Europe became well known. She was able to make special arrangements for plants to be sent to her.  One such arrangement was with the London nursery of Lee and Kennedy who were able to send plants across the Channel during the battles with England. Lee and Kennedy were suppliers of roses as well as other plants and trees. It is known, as a result of Francois Joyaux, a French rose expert searching the National Archives that she imported some roses from them including R’ chinensis, R. multifloria ‘Cornea’, R. semperflorens (introduced into Britain as Slaters Crimson China) and the white moss rose R. centifolia ‘muscosa alba’ (known as Shailers White Moss). The new roses from China were  being imported by the British rather than the French and British nurseries were known to be hybridising them.

Malmaison. (istockphoto)

Joyaux has also been able to list some roses that Josephine imported from unnamed suppliers including R. pendulina, R, virginiana, three moss roses and a Centifolia rose known as ‘Unique’. Other roses have been named by the French Rose expert M. Auguste de Pronville who saw a Damask rose growing in the garden which he identified as R. damascene carnea. He also noticed a variety of Scotch rose R. spinosissima and R. berberifolia. It is thought Josephine may also have bought from the Parisian rose growers such as Cels, Boursault and Vilmorin but there is only evidence of her purchases from the amateur rose grower Andre du Pont. Bills show that he supplied her with large numbers of roses during 1808 and 1809 but not their names.

Had Josephine been developing her rose collection when she died so tragically from Diptheria? The people of France were saddened by her death; she had acquired a reputation for being such a kind and gracious lady who had suffered intensely when Napoleon divorced her. Is it possible that as roses were becoming more popular at this time  the two beauties became linked? A decade after her death Josephine was credited with igniting  in the French a passion for growing roses. J P Vibert, well-known in the rose world spread the word that Josephine had amassed a rich and varied collection of plants but ‘roses were a special favourite of hers’. Had other rosarians ‘jumped on the bandwagon’? In another two decades her reputation as France’s premier rose enthusiast was secure and the idea that she was growing all the known roses at Malmaison was embedded in the literature and remains so today. France’s love of roses certainly grew after her death.

Pierre-Josephe Redoute. (public domain)

It is often thought that ‘Les Roses’ illustrated by Pierre – Joseph Redoute  and Claude Antoine Theory is a record of the roses grown at Malmaison but this is known to be untrue. After their first publication under the patronage of Josephine they continued with the publication of ‘Les Liliacees’ between 1802 and 1816 which recorded many of her exotics not only those of the Lily family. The idea of ‘Les Roses’ came from Redoute himself who loved roses. It is believed he and Thory searched the rose gardens of Paris, including those of Ms Thouin, Le Lieur, Dupont, Cels, Vilmorin, Noisette, Descemet and Bigulin, for suitable subjects and Redoute also painted roses from his own rose garden. He already had a number of roses in his portfolio, a number from the garden of M Cels and two from Malmaison, R. berberifolia and R. gallica purpurea veluntina. As he was employed to paint flowers for various publications and give lessons in flower painting the majority of the portraits in ‘Les Roses’ were completed in his own time. His biography ‘The Man who Painted Roses’ by Antonia Ridge suggests that he told Josephine he wanted to paint all known roses. ‘Les Roses’ containing 169 plates was released in instalments and published in three volumes between 1817 and 1824, some time after the death of Josephine. It is not known how many roses were painted from the Malmaison garden.

Redoute Roses. (public domain)

When recreating her garden Jules Gravereaux, nearly 100 years later, gathered together all the roses existing at the time of her death believing that she had them in her collection. In 1911 when 197 roses were planted at Malmaison it was a wonderful tribute to Josephine and the rose. Whatever the truth about her rose garden it is undisputed that she did love plants one of which was the rose.

Tracing Josephine’s Roses. Read More »

East meets West: the first rose revolution.

No one knows how long roses have been gracing the Earth but it is thought to be thousands of years. There is sufficient evidence to prove this in the form of fossils, archaeological finds and writings. It is also not known how many species of rose were the first ancestors of the roses we have today. What is known is that roses only grew in the Northern Hemisphere and they grew right across from the Far East through  Western Europe to North America.

It is now thought that the number of species roses was between 100 and 150 but only about 24 of those species roses were the ancestors of all the millions of roses we have in our gardens today.

Three species roses: R. alba, R. arvensis and R. canina

What is interesting is that until relatively recently, the middle of the 18th century, the rosarians of the West and the East had been growing and developing their roses without any knowledge of each other. Opportunities for travel and exploration were limited so the Europeans did not know of the glorious range of colours of the Chinese varieties and the Chinese did not know of the glorious fragrances of the European roses. Each followed their own course but it is fair to say that in the Far East, probably as a result of the fact that 85% of all species roses were indigenous to this area, the rosarians were ahead of the game as they were in gardening generally.

Throughout the centuries the species roses hybridised and in Europe we had the beautiful Gallicas, Centifolias, Damasks, Moss and Albas. The colour palette was limited as all these roses ranged from a creamy white through to a dark magenta. There were no yellows, oranges or reds. There is little documentation in English on the range of hybrids in the Far East to determine the extent of the range, but their roses certainly had a greater range of colours.

R. gallica: now thought to be a hybrid but was thought to be a species rose.
The famous damascena roses grown commercially.

Rosa mundi.

At the end of the 18th century there was the start of a ‘rose revolution’. One or two hybrids from China  began to creep into Western Europe but their origins were difficult to trace. The first of these were Slaters Crimson China, introduced in 1792, Parsons Pink China, introduced in 1793, Humes Blush China introduced in 1809 and Parks Yellow Tea Scented China introduced in 1824. Not only did the Chinas bring a greater colour range but they also had another useful attribute; that of repeat flowering, something that most European roses did not do. The roses from China also had fewer thorns and smoother leaves.

The China roses were, and still are, grown in Europe in their own right. However, there is evidence to show that they are in the parentage of many of our more recent old roses that came after the introduction of the Chinas, such as the Portland, the Bourbons, The Teas and the Hybrid Perpetuals. They are very much in the parentage of the first of the modern roses, the Hybrid Teas but sadly because rose breeding was left largely to chance and parentage could not be accurately recorded it is difficult to prove parentage of many of our early roses. Fortunately another ‘revolution’ in the rose world took place towards the end of the 19th century but that is another story.

The Chinese roses have allowed us to develop bright yellow and orange roses.

Two of our modern roses.

East meets West: the first rose revolution. Read More »

Henry Bennett and the second rose revolution .

It took the skills and common sense of one man to revolutionise the rose world. This man took chance and luck out of rose breeding and replaced them with science and integrity. From the time that Henry Bennett started to apply his knowledge as a cattle breeder to the breeding of roses there has been no concern about the parentage of a rose. He knew exactly who the two parents of his new roses were; there was no element of doubt. Nothing was left to chance; rose breeding became a scientific process.

During the 1850s and 60s Henry Bennett was a Wiltshire tenant farmer rearing cattle and growing wheat. Although he was successful he could see that as time passed it was becoming more difficult for a farmer to make a good living. Rather than bemoan his situation he realised that he must diversify. He was a man with a large family who relied on him as the breadwinner.


Henry Bennett – a farmer who became a rose breeder. (photo: public domain)

He could see that the nation was becoming besotted with roses. Since the introduction of roses from China in the late 18th century a greater range of roses could be grown; more colours, continual flowering, different habit of growth. Roses were becoming increasingly popular in gardens, for cutting and for showing. He began to realise that perhaps he could somehow link into this growing industry.

He started by growing a few roses, reading what he could and travelling to France as he could see that the roses he grew largely had French names so this is where he knew the knowledge must be. He visited several French growers but learned little. When they wanted to hybridise a rose all was left to chance – the wind and the rain and many roses actually self pollinated rather than cross pollinated. The seeds of these roses provided a lottery of resulting seedlings.

Disappointed but inspired by what he had discovered in France he set about ‘engineering’ a rose. He thought about the type of rose he wished to create, form, colour etc. and then decided on which two parents might make this possible. He then stripped the stamens and pollen from the rose he wished to provide the seed (the female) so that she could not fertilise herself and then transferred pollen physically and intentionally from the other rose he designated as the male. He then only had to wait until the female rose produced her seeds, hoping that one or two would produce a bloom similar to that he had chosen to engineer.

Sadly, he had little success as the majority of his seeds did not ripen and any seedlings were poor. He revisited France as he heard stories of success but found little evidence of scientific rose breeding. He became popular with the rose breeders of Lyon and the South to the point that they named roses after him. He must have been quite a personality. Although he returned with little factual evidence for the way forward he did return with some ideas.

Henry Bennett thought that one major problem may be the climate so he set up a heated greenhouse. The roses he chose as female parents were planted in pots and given heat. With the Tea-Scented roses flowering almost continually as a result of this luxurious treatment he was able to fertilise them over a longer period and they were able to carry many more seed pods. His problem of producing ripe seed was resolved. The glass house produced other benefits such as no wind or rain and few insects.

In 1879 he was able to introduce ten roses for all of which he was able to guarantee parentage and the fact that each was a cross between a Hybrid Perpetual and a Tea Rose. He called them ‘Pedigree Hybrids of the Tea Rose’ with the word pedigree referring to the reliability of their parentage. They were not heralded as the most fabulous of roses but they were recognised as being bred scientifically and other rosarians hurried to follow his methods. The French shortened the name to Hybrid de Thé and the Hybrid Tea rose was born.

A typical modern Hybrid Tea rose (Alex). Other classes of rose are now bred by the method used by Henry Bennett.

Henry Bennett and the second rose revolution . Read More »

Shakespeare’s Rose Garden.

‘The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odour which doth in it live.’

Sonnet 54

Shakespeare’s rose garden; an Elizabethan stage full of roses. This great playwright and poet uses the rose more than any other flower to illustrate his language and convey his meaning. How many times he refers to a specific variety of rose or roses in general I do not know. Depending on who you believe, it’s somewhere between 50 and over 70! Some even suggest 100.  I do know, however, that he relies on the rose many times to make his point and each mention is a joy to read. It seems he appreciated roses, their charm and fragrance and we can imagine a beautiful rose garden through his writing.

Roses were grown in the Elizabethan gardens not only for their beauty and fragrance  but also for their medicinal, culinary and cosmetic uses. Many of the larger houses would have a Still Room where roses would be used with other plants to create  fragrant items such as perfumed bags (sweete bags), potpourri, pomanders, rose water and incense burners. These would mask the odours of poor sanitation. A myriad of medicinal remedies to cure the minor ailments of everyday life would also be made by the diligent housewife and her servants.

Blooming in Shakespeare’s garden are several species roses and hybrids including: the Musk Rose – R moschata, the Damask Rose – R damascena,  R. alba, R. gallica, R. gallica versicolor (Rosa Mundi), the Provencal rose, the Eglantine Rose or sweet briar –  R. rubinigosa and the Wild Dog Rose – R. canina. It is likely that a collection of rose varieties also flourish but of course rose varieties in Shakespeare’s lifetime were not as numerous as they are today but were fewer and wilder in habit and growth but no less beautiful and fragrant. (These are grouped as species and hybrids here as it is not clear which are species and which are hybrids). Throughout this story the roses are referred to by their common  names as they were known by the majority of people in the days of Shakespeare.

R. arvensis

Shakespeare refers to “Cakes of roses” as part of the stock-in-trade of the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet and “Rosewater” in the prologue of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. The Gallica Rose, one of the most ancient of roses, was a favourite for drying and using as a source of fragrance. Although Shakespeare does not mention the Gallica Rose by name it is likely to be the ‘red rose’ in his writings. The Musk rose was also favoured for its perfume as it was the rose with immense clusters of blooms which perfumed the air and chosen by Shakespeare to adorn Titania’s bower.

From war to romance; whatever Shakespeare’s subject he liked to enhance his meaning with roses, their beauty and particularly their fragrance. His knowledge of roses illustrates his poetic lines with the symbolism and imagery which allow us to picture the beautiful rose blooms in his garden.

The Gallica and Alba roses come into their own in the conflict between the houses of York and Lancaster in Henry VI parts one and two. Before the Wars of the Roses Shakespeare refers to the intention of the Duke of York to ‘grapple with’ the House of Lancaster.

‘Till Henry, surfeiting in joys of love

With his new bride and England’s dear bought queen,

And Humphrey with the peers be fall’n at jars;

Then I will raise aloft the milk-white rose,

With whose sweet smell the air shall be perfum’d

And in my standard bear the arms of York,

To grapple with the House of Lancaster,

And force perforce I’ll make him yield the crown,

Whose bookish rule has pull’d fair England down.’

Henry VI Part 2 Act 1 Scene 1.

The plucking of the red and white roses as imagined in a painting.

In reality, the power struggle ignited around financial and social troubles after the 100 Years War, which, combined with the mental infirmity and weak rule of Henry VI, revived interest in Richard, the Duke of York’s claim to the throne. The Wars of the Roses were ignited, a constant battleground between the Houses of York, with an emblem of a white rose and Lancaster, with an emblem of a red rose.

Shakespeare creates a scene in Henry VI Part 1 where the opposing parties choose sides, represented by the red or white rose, before the battles begin:


‘Let him that is a true born gentleman

And stands upon the honour of his birth

If he suppose that I have pleaded truth

From of this briar pluck a white rose.’


Let him that is no coward and no flatterer,

But dare maintain the party of the truth,

Pluck a red rose off the thorn with me.

Henry VI Part 1 Act 2 Scene 4

Years and many battles later, culminating in the Battle of Bosworth, the victor Henry VII, after taking the throne, married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter and heir of Edward IV thereby uniting the two claims to the throne and bringing the roses together. The Tudor rose was formed, where the red rose surrounds the white. The rose has been the national emblem of England since that time.

Shakespeare gave Henry this final speech:

We will unite the white rose and the red:

Smile Heaven upon the fair conjunction

That long hath frown’d upon their enmity.’

The House of Tudor ruled England until 1603, with the death of Elizabeth I, granddaughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The white rose of York whether that of reality or Shakespeare is thought to be the Alba rose or Dog Rose and the red rose of Lancaster is more certainly the Gallica Rose.  The Alba Roses are a very old group and native to the western hemisphere. It is thought they were brought to Britain by the Romans and were used not only for their beauty and fragrance but also their medicinal properties. They can also be seen in paintings from the Middle Ages onwards.  It is generally agreed that they are a result of natural hybridisation between the Damask Rose and the Dog Rose. The Alba rose grows taller than the other old roses and was formerly known as the Tree Rose.

The Dog Rose is a native of Europe. It is likely that Shakespeare would have grown these roses in the hedgerows surrounding the garden rather than in the garden itself as the Dog Rose is a very pale five petalled rose with little to offer other than its delicate fragrance.

Gallica versicolor.

Shakespeare does not mention the York and Lancaster rose by name but this could be the variegated Gallica versicolor or Rosa mundi with its striped petals which has been known for centuries. It could also be the Damask versicolor rose which is not striped but has the occasional red petal amongst its white ones. He refers to this rose several times notably in Sonnet XCIX:

‘The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,

One blushing shame, another white despair,

A third, nor red nor white, has stol’n of both

And to his robbery had annexed thy breath.’

And Sonnet CXXX which gives weight to the Damask rose:

‘I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks.’

Turning to romance the story of Romeo and Juliet contains probably the most famous of Shakespeare’s references to roses. He relies on the fragrance of the rose to allow Juliet to explain to herself that she and Romeo can solve the problem of their opposing families. Sadly he does not name the rose but knows they are all fragrant and beautiful . . . . .


‘Tis thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

What’s Montague It is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

And for that name which is no part of thee

Take all myself.’

Shakespeare could have been referring to any of his fragrant roses here but in A Midsummer Night’s Dream he is more specific. When Oberon is looking for Titania so he can ‘streak her eyes’ with the juice from a flower that will make her fall in love with the first person she sees, he says to Puck

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine;

There sleeps Titania sometimes of the night,

Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;’

And when Titania wakes and falls in love with Bottom, who has been given an ass’s head by Puck, she says to him:

‘Come sit down upon this flowery bed,

Why I thy amiable cheeks do coy

And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head

And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.’

The Musk rose is a native of Southern Europe and North Africa but the Musk Rose of Shakespeare is likely to have been R.arvensis, a native of Britain and Europe. It still grows in many of our copses and hedgerows and flowers later than the Dog Rose. It has creamy white wide-open flowers and yellow stamens and is very fragrant. It is also possibly the ‘milk white rose’ found in Henry VI. The Musk Rose is very definitely more pink than creamy white and was only brought into the country in the reign of Elizabeth 1st.

R. arvensis

Eglantine is commonly called the Sweet Briar but was known as Eglantine in the days of Shakespeare. It is a beautiful wild, five petalled rose which is a delicate pink with a strong apple like fragrance. Whether in the hedgerows or the garden I am sure that Shakespeare appreciated these fragrant roses.

The Winters Tale, can be regarded as a comedy or romance and is a complicated play where Shakespeare chooses more roses from his Elizabethan rose garden. They are included in Act 4 Scene 4. Towards the end of the scene Autolycus enters singing:

Lawn as white as driven snow;

Cyprus black as e’er the crow;

Gloves as sweet as Damask roses.

He could not have a rose garden without a Damask Rose, which like the Gallica Rose dates back to ancient times. It is said to have been widely grown by the Persians and brought to Europe by the Crusaders. The Damasks are usually very fragrant and have been used to make rose oil for many centuries. It is known, also, that dried rose petals were often kept with gloves to keep them fragrant.

R. damascena being grown commercially for oil.

This mention of the Winter’s Tale is also likely to refer to a rose because roses have been propagated like this for many years and for a serious rose gardener the knowledge of propagation is essential:

You see, sweet maid, we marry

A gentler scion to the wildest stock,

And make conceive a bark of baser kind

By bud or nobler race: this is art

Which does mend nature, change it rather, but

The art itself is nature.

The main groups of old roses found in England before the introduction of roses from China, are all included in Shakespeare’s garden apart from Centifolias and Moss. These roses did not appear until the end of the 16th century and this was in Holland where they were being developed. The Gallicas, the Albas and the Damasks, together with several of the native species roses flower abundantly and freely in Shakespeare’s poetry and plays and enhances them with their beauty and fragrance.  There are further references to ‘blown roses’ ‘damask’d roses’, ‘buds’  ‘thorns’ and so on in a number of his sonnets and plays but we can already imagine both the beauty and fragrance of that Elizabethan garden.

Shakespeare’s Rose Garden. Read More »

The Commercial Appeal of the Roses of Catharina Klein (1861 – 1929).

You may not have heard of Catharina Klein or her roses but once you are aware of their beauty and distinctive style it is likely you will want to know more. Catharina built a huge following during her lifetime. Even now, over one hundred years later, her paintings sit well with the vintage style liked by so many people thus her popularity continues. A signature on a Catharina Klein painting identifies a work as hers. If there is no signature it is likely to have been painted by one of her students or avid followers. An underlined signature usually indicates an earlier work.

An early Catharina Klein postcard/painting.

Although Catharina studied painting in Berlin with her work being bought by the German nobility she also painted for book illustrations, advertisements and the then new craze of postcards that became so popular at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. At this time the commercial spread of her work saw no bounds. She had no problem selling her paintings to many publishers who then were able to use each one as they wished. They could adapt a painting to suit their needs or even sell it on to other publishers. This is how her paintings came to be printed in their thousands many with different formats or with differing backgrounds. Occasonally a piece was merged with another painters work, hence the need for her signature for identification of her true works.

Catharina often added baskets, vases etc to her work.

Catharina’s paintings, either in oil or gouache, were reproduced by chromolithography, a process allowing coloured printing rather than just the black and white processing of lithography. At the end of the 19th century this process had become widespread and enabled mass production of postcards, which were sent in their thousands. It enabled her paintings to become widespread with some of her best work appearing on the postcards of Meissner and Buch and Raphael Tuck and Sons. Roses were her most popular subject but she painted many flowers and later some fruits and birds.

A single woman who had to make a living, Catharina could see that the production of postcards was lucrative for her. She often painted from real life but would then use her creativity to fit the painting within the dimensions of a postcard.  She is reputed to have painted 1000 illustrations for the publishers Meissner and Buch alone. As they used good card stock and expensive inks many of the cards are in excellent condition today and allow rose enthusiasts to build extensive collections of her paintings.

Catharina is thought to have painted over 2,000 works.

It is her painting for postcards that has allowed her work to be so well recognized today as many of her original paintings were destroyed during wartime bombings.  It is not known where many originals survive. Painting largely for the commercial sale of postcards, however, detracted from her reputation as a serious artist and it seems she was never recorded as a painter of ‘fine’ art.

Two particular commercial enterprises added to Catharina’s popularity. Raphael Tuck and Sons published a postcard book for amateur watercolour artists. Each page had a chromolithographed Catharina Klein postcard together with a monochrome outline of the postcard for the owner to paint. Once completed both postcards could be detached and sent. Catharina herself developed an alphabet series for Meissner and Buch, each featuring a letter of the alphabet entwined with flowers. Several of these featured roses. It appears that this set was extremely popular when produced and even today avid collectors of her paintings will go to expensive lengths to complete the set.

One of her painting books.

Catharina, originally from the small town of Eylau (now Bagrationovsk)  just North East of the Polish border trained in Berlin. She then ran a studio there training young women to paint. In 1911 she published two short books, one on how to paint fruit and the other how to paint flowers. A number of her paintings were included in the books of others especially books of stories and poetry. The “Yearbook of American Authors”, written and compiled by Ida Scott Taylor had illustrations by Catharina and “Rubies from Byron” was also illustrated by her. 

This is the first postcard I ‘discovered’ painted by Catharina. I bought it because I have a painting very similar.

Although Catharina’s work was often regarded as too commercial for ‘official’ art notoriety she certainly had and still has her followers, perhaps more so than some of the artists who are recognised for their ‘fine’ art. She made a good living from her painting and helped others to paint as well. She still inspires many of us today who appreciate the relaxed and distinctive style of her paintings. We can only thank the postcard industry for keeping alive this talented painter’s work and allowing us to view so many of her roses.

(Since I wrote this article I have collected more information and many more images and artefacts relating to Catharina Klein. If you have further queries please ask.)

The Commercial Appeal of the Roses of Catharina Klein (1861 – 1929). Read More »

Maud Messel (1875 – 1960) – a collector of the beautiful old roses.

I first learned of Maud Messel when asked to do some research into her life and her rose gardens. I was captivated not only by the woman herself but the connections she had with some of my favourite people in recent rose history. I discovered she became a friend of Ellen Willmott, author of ‘Genus Rosa’ (1910-1914) who supplied her with roses for her garden at Nymans. She was also a great friend of Eleanour Sinclair Rohde who I admire so much for her academic research into roses and other horticultural subjects. Maud was also known by Graham Stuart-Thomas who visited her rose garden on more than one occasion and wrote about her love of roses.

The Messel family play a vital part in horticultural history. Maud will always be in the archives remembered for the beautiful rose garden she created at Nymans in the 1920s and loved and tended until her death in 1960. Although the garden has undergone changes throughout the years it still retains much of the integrity and dreams of this determined woman of vision.

The rose garden at Nymans during the early summer. (Photograph courtesy of The National Trust).

Maud Frances Sambourne was the daughter of Edward Linley Sambourne, the Punch cartoonist, and  Marion Herapath. In 1898, in her early twenties, she  married Leonard Charles Rudolph Messel after an indecisive courtship. She had resisted marriage for some time enjoying the luxury and freedom of dances and parties that were available to her class in Victorian London. She was a beautiful and sociable young woman who, like her father, was artistic and wished to pursue a career in this field.

Leonard, who was accepted finally, was the son of Ludwig Ernest Wilhelm Leonard Messel (1847-1915) and Annie Messel. The marriage of Leonard and Maud was a long and happy one. The couple had three children, Linley in 1899, Anne in 1902 and Oliver in 1904. Leonard’s father, Ludwig was from a German Jewish family, who settled in England and became successful as a stockbroker. In 1890 he was able to buy the Nymans Estate, a house with 600 acres on a sloping site overlooking the High Weald of Sussex. This estate features very prominently in the lives of Leonard and Maud Messel.

Maud with her two eldest children. (Photograph courtesy of The National Trust).

After their marriage Leonard and Maud bought 37 Gloucester Terrace in London and Balcombe House in the country not far from Nymans. When Gloucester Terrace became too small for their growing family they sold and bought 104 Lancaster Gate. Leonard and Maud led a busy social life while in London but escaped to Balcombe or holiday destinations for at least six months of the year.

At Balcombe Maud and Leonard made a beautiful garden. The flowers of the garden were very much the province of Maud who had always loved them both in the garden and as cut blooms in the house. In particular the soft petalled, highly scented old roses suited her romantic style and at Balcombe she cherished them even though they were regarded as going out of fashion at this time. Maud found a friend in Ellen Willmott, the well-known rosarian of Warley Place in Essex. Without this friendship and the devotion of a small group of enthusiasts, many of the old roses which are valued today would have been lost.

 In 1915 Leonard, now Colonel Leonard Messel, succeeded to the Nymans estate, the gardens of which had been a passion of his father and his gardener, James Comber, who had been inspired by the influential garden writer William Robinson. Maud and the children were not pleased at having to leave Balcombe for Nymans as they were very comfortable in the current house. Leonard compromised by promising to rebuild the house at Nymans in a style to suit Maud. A year or two after their move Leonard, together with ideas from Maud, had the nondescript Regency House replaced with a picturesque stone manor designed by Sir Walter Tapper and Norman Evill.

Leonard and Maud extended the property and during this time subscribed to seed collecting expeditions in the Himalayas and South America. These were possibly inspired by Harold, the son of James Comber the head gardener, who had become a globe-trotting plant collector bringing exotic plants back from the Himalayas and Tasmania. Leonard was a great collector of plants preferring to concentrate on the varieties of a few species. Nymans became famous for its Rhododendrons, Magnolias, Camelias and Hydrangeas with Leonard and James Comber working together to develop these. Leonard also began to collect horticultural books, especially herbals. In the new house a fine library was included to house these. By the end of the 1920s Nymans was known to have one of the best horticultural libraries in the world only surpassed by the English libraries of The British Museum and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

Part of Nymans as it is today. (Photograph courtesy of The National Trust).

It was during the 1920s that Maud, started to fulfil her dream of having a romantic garden of the older roses. A major plant collection began and the layout of the garden, designed by Maud was planned. Under her direction the old yard, with a well at its centre, was remodelled and planted with old-fashioned roses.

Maud could never be an active gardener because she suffered from an arthritic back but she was able to instigate a great collection of roses. There were many roses at Nymans already but the collection was greatly enhanced when her favourites were brought over from Balcombe. Maud, together with her husband, sought the now often rare roses from far and wide. Friends, nurseries and other rose enthusiasts contributed to their collection. Many were given to them by the rosarians Ellen Willmott and Edward Bunyard. Others Maud searched for in Europe especially France. Graham Stuart Thomas, who visited Nymans during the period before the war reports:

 “The old varieties were especially treasured by Mrs Messel and hours were spent turning the pages of Redoutés great volumes trying to identify some of the roses that had reached the gardens from various sources”.

Graham Stuart Thomas also noted some of the roses in the garden at this time notably the ‘Blush Noisette’, He comments that although he had seen this rose here and there in old gardens through the south of England he had not met anyone before, or since, who had an inkling of its name and history. The gardener James Comber had recognised it from Plate 77 in vol. 2 of ‘Les Roses’ (1817-1821) by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Other roses he noted in Maud’s rose garden were ‘Aimee Vibert’ (1828) and ‘Fellenberg’ (1857), both of which combined the vigour and small clustered flowers of the Musk Rose group with the perpetual flowering habit of the China Rose.

The gardens reached a peak in the 1930s and were regularly opened to the public. Leonard became well known in RHS circles both exhibiting and judging. However, the Second World War had a disastrous effect on both the family and the estate. Three of Leonard and Maud’s nephews were killed in action and the garden suffered from a lack of attention due to a severe reduction of staff.

In 1947 a disastrous fire destroyed the house. All of Leonard and Maud’s treasured possessions were lost, including the contents of the famous library. It is difficult to contemplate the effect that this had on the aging couple, but they were fortunate to be able to buy Holmsted Manor only a few miles from Nymans. They retained some of their enthusiasm for collecting beautiful things and soon their new house reflected their impeccable taste.

 In due course, Nymans was partly rebuilt and later became one of the homes of Leonard and Maud’s daughter, Anne and her second husband the 6th Earl of Rosse. The plant collection was added to in 1949 and 1950 by Maud with the help of James Comber. Further developments were made by Lady Rosse in the 1960s, after the death of her mother, with the help of Graham Stuart Thomas. Lady Rosse took a particular interest in the rose garden adding many more old varieties. Nymans had been included in the gardens of The National Trust in 1953 in order to preserve the unique creation of the Messel family. This is the culmination of a long story, but it was the wishes of Leonard and Maud that this should happen.

Sadly Leonard died at Holmsted Manor on the 4th February 1953, a few days before his eighty-first birthday. Maud died, aged eighty-four, on the 8th March 1960, two months before one of her grandsons, Anthony Armstrong Jones, married Princess Margaret. The deaths of both Maud and Leonard left huge voids within a close family and also within the horticultural world. The obituary which appeared in The Times the day after Maud’s death included the following lines:

“In her later years Mrs Messel was more than the legendary great lady of an archaic past. Certainly her exquisite manner and presence belonged to a different age from ours. Her iridiscent, almost gossamer-like beauty was that of the tenderly nurtured exotic than of the wild hedgerow flower. Her sad and gentle voice, however, spoke from the depths of unfeigned compassion and understanding. And beneath her apparent fragility lay a strength of character, an invincibility of courage, and an insatiable fund of interest in all around her.”

She was much loved by her friends and family, especially her children and grandchildren and like her husband who died before her was sadly missed by many.

Michael Gibson in his book ‘The Rose Garden’s of England’ (1988) recalls many of the roses he found at Nymans including a rambler at the entrance to the rose garden ‘Princess Marie’, a possible sempervirens hybrid raised in France by Jacques in 1829, ‘Pauls Himalayan Musk’, a vast tree in a dell beyond the front of the house cascading down from about 12 metres, Kiftsgate,  R polyantha Grandiflora together with Gallicas, Damasks, Centifolias and Albas as you would expect to find in a Victorian Rose Garden. He listed a number of roses of special interest because they were rare and hardly ever seen: the American Van Fleet climber ‘Breeze Hill’, ‘Lady Curzon’, ‘Sissinghurst Castle’, ‘Rene Andre’, a Wichuarana Rambler, ‘Cerise Bouquet’, ‘Honorine de Brabant’, ‘R rugose Rubra’, ‘The Chestnut Rose’, ‘The White Rose of York’  and ‘Maidens Blush’ both Albas.

In the 1990s the rose garden was again redesigned and when complete was officially opened by Lady Frances Armstrong Jones, Maud’s great granddaughter. Although Maud’s plan to restrict her garden to the roses of old has not been strictly followed I am sure she would like to know that it still thrives and that there are over 600 bushes of 115 varieties. In June, the fragrance of the roses can be smelled before they are seen.

(Since writing this story I have acquired ‘A Garden Flora’ by Leonard and Muriel Messel which lists the roses collected by Maud Messel and which were in the garden at the time. I also have found an article, written by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde in a Royal Horticultural Society Journal which lists many of the books that were in the famous horticultural library of Leonard Messel).

Maud Messel (1875 – 1960) – a collector of the beautiful old roses. Read More »

The Dream

My dream of creating a rose library, gallery and museum has been with me for several years. Before, I grew many roses but gradually it was their history, fragrance, colour and the inspiring ways they have been used in art and literature which took hold. There are fortunately many beautiful collections of roses in the world which can be visited but if only there was somewhere I could indulge my passion for all the rose stories I know exist. The Rosarian Library was born.

Of course, I could not aspire to the dizzy heights of the numerous and exquisite artefacts gathered together by Jules Gravereaux at the end of the twentieth century at La  Roseraie de l’Hay near Paris. Perhaps though I could work towards the more compact and personal “House of Roses” that was lovingly collected by Jean Gordon in the 1960’s in the small town of St Augustine in Florida.

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An old postcard showing inside the museum of Jules Gravereaux.

It was the ambition of Jules Gravereaux, on his retirement from the chain of Bon Marche Department Stores in France, to indulge his passion for roses. In 1892 he bought the property at L’Hay, Paris and started to gather together as many of the species and varieties of rose that he could find, contacting collectors of botanical gardens all over the world. As the collection began to outgrow its allotted space he commissioned the landscape architect, Edouard Andre to design a special rose garden. As well as being able to boast a vast collection of roses he also wanted to display them in as many ways as possible for maximum effect. He succeeded; La Roseraie de l’Hay is still one of the most beautiful rose gardens in the world.

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A Rose Tunnel at Roseraie de l’Hay (from a French magazine dated 1900)

By 1900 he had over 3,000 different roses, with the number growing  to 8,000 in 1906, 500 of which were wild or species roses. The species roses he called his ‘ Collection Botanique’ and the varieties, i.e. the cultivated roses his ‘Collection Horticole’. I am lucky to have in my library a Catalogue dated 1900 listing the 3,000 species and varieties he had collected by this time. This little catalogue also has many black and white photographs of the gardens showing the delightful structures many of which still exist today.

As his garden grew so did his collection of rose artefacts. His house as well as his garden was full of roses and rose memorabilia. He had an office and laboratory housed in a building in the centre of the rose garden where he kept an ever increasing collection of books, drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, pottery, porcelain, stamps and coins. How tremendous it must have been to see this in its day but sadly the collection is no longer as the majority was stolen in 1980. Fortunately there survives a list ‘La Rose dans les Sciences dans les Lettres et dans les Arts (1906) which catalogues all his fascinating collection. I have to satisfy myself with a reprint; an original is extremely rare!

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Jules Gravereaux. From a painting which hung in his museum.

Conversely Jean Gordon’s Museum in Saint Augustine has been reopened. Jean, an  author and rose historian, founded the Rose Museum in 1956 and ran it from her home until 1966. It was only after her second marriage and widowhood that she began to write about roses and to collect a vast array of rose memorabilia. She wrote several books dedicated to the rose including ‘Immortal Roses’ (1959) where I originally learned of the existence of her Rose Museum, ‘Pageant of the Rose’ (1953) and ‘The Art of Cooking with Roses’ (1968).

An article in ‘Immortal Roses’ describes her museum:

“To mention a few of the displays there are: stamps incorporating a rose design from many nations, English coins showing the Tudor rose, desert or rock roses, a gold metal rose from France and a spray of wrought iron roses from Germany, and antique rose-shaped wooden butter molds. In addition, there are six complete exhibits featuring the Rose in Symbolism, Religion, the Orient, England, France and America. Wall panels display pictures that show the use of the rose in medicine, art music; the fascinating genealogy of the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ rose, and rose fossils estimated to be 35 million years old.”

Taken from ‘Immortal Roses’ (1959) by Jean Gordon.

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Jean Gordon’s Rose books are in The Rosarian Library and I gain inspiration from them regularly. There must be other museums like hers that have been in existence or continue to be in existence now. I cannot be the only person with this dream.

I know little about the Rose Museum in Beijing apart from the facts that it was completed in 2016, is very large, covering an area of 30,000 square metres and is made from stainless steel complete with perforated rose designs. Its opening  coincided with the day that the World Federation of Rose Societies Convention 2016 opened in Beijing. It is apparently very technologically advanced and has a number of displays dedicated to the history of and current state of rose breeding. Although I am piqued that it is heralded as the world’s first Rose museum; I feel that accolade should go to Jules Gravereaux and his wonderful collection, I would very much like to make a visit!

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My dream continues and in a small way it has become reality. I have a small but beautiful library of hundreds of books dedicated to the rose which includes many of the earlier 19th century British, French and American texts. These are supported by an additional library of books that have chapters and sections about roses and rose gardening. The total amounts to over two thousand. I have much rose information in the form of annuals, catalogues, articles, cards and other paper ephemera. On the walls are many rose paintings by both professional and amateur artists alike. In my studio there are also many rose fabrics and ceramics collected lovingly over the years.

I am surrounded by these beautiful things but do not have the space to share them with the general public so I do this through my website where I offer also to undertake rose research for anyone who needs particular information. The website gives a taste of the library, gallery and museum. It is not ideal but it is fulfilling a little of my dream.

The Dream Read More »

A List of Lists

The title ‘A List of Lists’ does not conjure the most thrilling of reads but after buying the catalogue listing the postcards of Catharina Klein at auction recently I realised how many lists relating to roses there were in the library. I love them and have purposely collected lists of roses, books, people and even rose gardens. I also make my own lists for the library which include lists of rose artists, rose bibliographies, biographies and, of course, the rose books.

Catharine Klein Postcard Catalogue
Postcard Album

Let us start with lists of roses and the dedicated rose historian Brent C. Dickerson who in his book ‘Old Roses: The Master List’ listed every old rose known to the Western World. In the second edition published in 2007 he lists 23,355 which is an increase of 1,603 over the first edition. He admits that this list took more than a quarter of century to compile. A work of dedicated research. Others have attempted it but not as successfully.

Brent Dickerson Rose Books
Two of Dickerson’s many books

There are a number of rose lists to be found which catalogue personal collections such as those grown by Jules Gravereaux in Paris, in his beautiful rose garden Roseraie de L’Hay and published in his catalogue in 1900 or the list of roses grown in the garden at Nymans compiled by Leonard and Muriel Messel and published in their ‘Garden Flora’ in 1918. The early catalogues published in the 19th century, by rose growers such as Thomas Rivers or William Paul list many of the roses they grew for sale and give us a wonderful record of the development of rose varieties. Throughout the years of the National Rose Society they published regularly ‘A Selected List of Varieties’ which was of use to the amateur rose growers of the day.

Yellow rose illustration
A page within an 1880s catalogue of William Paul.

Lists of roses for sale in catalogue form have been published for over 200 years and remain popular today. In one or two cases they resemble sizeable books which gives some indication of the thousands of rose varieties there are available. It is doubtful whether any attempt could be made to list all roses that have been grown during the last 100 years as so many thousands have come in and out of production.

Rhododendron illustration
Leonard and Muriel Messel compiled a list of all the plants and trees in the gardens at Nymans. Alfred Parsons provided the illustrations.

The lists of books are the most obvious lists to be found in the library. Not only is there a list of all known rose books published since the first in 1789 and the list of those books which are in the library but there are also several bibliographies of rose books published at various times during the last century which have been compiled by enterprising people such as K.L. Stock or Werger and Burton. The lists of rose books include those compiled by William Paul and Jules Gravereaux mentioned above and Claude Anthoine Thory who wrote the text for ‘Les Roses’, the book of paintings by Pierre -Joseph Redoute. These lists of books are interesting to read especially when you realise you have collected many of them.

Botanical Literature Book
There can only be one rose book in this Bibliography!

Rose bibliographies are central to the library lists but as a result of the nature of rose research and the collecting habit of the librarian other bibliographies have found a place on the shelves. Bibliographies of Herbals, Horticultural and Gardening Books, Botanical works and even a list of books that were in the extensive library at Nymans before the dreadful fire which destroyed the library and much of the house in 1948.

Magnificent Botanical Books
Nearly as good as a bibliography of Botanical books is this Sothebys catalogue produced when they sold the library of Robert De Belder in the 1980s.

It is not surprising that lists of people feature too. Jack Harkness wrote his very readable book, ‘The Makers of Heavenly Roses’ in 1985 and Brent Dickerson once again published a well researched ‘Roll Call: The Old Rose Breeder’ a gazetteer of Breeders, Introducers and their roses up to 1920. Surely it will not be long before a modern list is published. A number of rosarians have had their biographies written so it will not be surprising to know that a collection of these has been made for the library and a bibliography written!

A few biographies and an autobiography.
A few biographies and an autobiography.

It has been possible to compile a list of over 100 professional rose painters, past and present, for the library and collect several published dictionaries and compilations of flower painters and illustrators. During the tedium of the last few months it has been enjoyable researching the early rose postcard painters and collecting information about their lives so a list can be produced for a publication which includes the early 20th century rose art postcards and their contribution to the horticultural and social history of the rose. This brings me back to the beginning of this article as Catharina Klein is one of these artists. Her list of paintings is over 2,000 long!

A List of Lists Read More »

Two rose lovers: one painting

I have been inspired to find out about one of my lovely rose paintings by watching the short daily talks given by Philip Mould OBE, the art dealer, researcher and writer, on youtube about the paintings he has in his home. I cannot aspire to owning similar valuable paintings but research into this particular rose painting and the painter behind the picture is something I have wanted to do for a while. It is a painting that I purchased at the time I bought the library of the Royal National Rose Society but I have never been able to read the signature. Recently, however, a very kind gentleman from Bonham’s auction house was able to get it identified for me. The artist was well-known in her day and her paintings occasionally come to auction. The story behind the painting (the reason I love Philip Mould’s talks) is worth more to me than the sale value but, as is often the case I have only uncovered part of the story.

The painting of Roses by Anna Van Heddegham.
The painting of Roses by Anna Van Heddegham.

Anna (Alice) Van Heddegham loved to paint flowers. Being Dutch but living in central London, away from her homeland, in the early 1900s she would venture to Covent Garden flower market each morning to find the seasonal flowers of England, Italy or France that she could bring home to study and paint. It was said that she “carried her dreams into her home with her flowers”. She avoided the exotics and stiff stemmed flowers preferring the garden roses that she could capture in their casual glory. She would paint these scattered over a ledge or tumbling from a vase. She did not uphold the view that a flower painting should be a still life as did her previous generations but that her paintings should be natural without uniformity and the need for props and artefacts.

Presentation plaque on the frame of the painting.
Presentation plaque on the frame of the painting.

Alice exhibited in London and throughout Britain during the years 1906 – 1927. She exhibited at some of the most prestigious galleries of the time including the Royal Academy, the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, the Abbey Gallery that was in Westminster and Baillie Gallery, formerly in Baker Street. At some point in time this particular painting by her was bought by another lover of roses and was presented by him to the National Rose Society on his departure from its presidency during the two years 1961 and 1962. Ernest Royalton-Kisch M.C., a lawyer by profession and a recipient of the Military Cross for bravery in World War 1, dedicated many years of service to the Rose Society being on several committees prior to becoming the society’s president.

'Wild Roses in Two Vases' by Alice Van Heddegham. Another example of her work.
‘Wild Roses in Two Vases’ by Alice Van Heddegham. Another example of her work.

Ernest Royalton-Kisch must have liked the glorious painting by Alice Van Heddegham just as I do. As his retirement from the presidency of the Rose Society coincided with its move from Westminster to St Albans he possibly thought that it would be a fitting gift that could grace the walls of the Society’s new ‘home’. Where the painting was prior to that date I do not know but between the early 1960s and 2017 it was in the headquarters of the (Royal) National Rose Society and since 2017 has been looking beautiful in The Rosarian Library where it will stay for the time being. Thank you Alice Van Heddegham for painting these roses a century ago and Ernest Royalton-Kisch M.C. for your symbolic gift to the society.

Signature on painting
Now I know the name it is easier to make out the signature.

Two rose lovers: one painting Read More »

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde; a spiritual friend

Eleanour Sophie Sinclair Rohde (1881-1950) is one of the most interesting women I have met through the pages of my library. How I would have loved to sit down to tea with her and perhaps her friend Maud Messel or even her acquaintances Gertrude Jekyll and Ellen Willmott to discuss the roses of the day. These women must have been a force to be reckoned with in the horticultural world at this time and I know their love of roses was a driving force in their lives.

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde. (Courtesy of The Mary Evans Picture Library)
Eleanour Sinclair Rohde. (Courtesy of The Mary Evans Picture Library)

Eleanour must have lived and breathed horticulture; the thirty books she wrote in the thirty-five year period bewtween 1913 and 1948 surely prove this fact. Strangely only one of these ‘Rose Recipes from Olden Times’ is dedicated to the rose but the chapter ‘The Old Roses’ from her book ‘The Scented Garden’ is the piece of her rose writing I love so much. It makes up for the rose books she didn’t write!

Another piece of her writing I am so grateful for is the article she wrote for the September 1933 edition of ‘The Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society’ about the Garden Library at Nymans. Knowing this library burned down in 1947 her article is the nearest thing to a bibliography of all the books it contained.

Some of Eleanour's horticultural writings.
Some of Eleanour’s horticultural writings.

It is not surprising that Eleanour used her education from Cheltenham Ladies College and St Hilda’s Hall Oxford together with her love of herbs and flowers to write about horticultural issues which interested her. Her career began with a number of articles about gardens and gardening in magazines such as The Field, The Queen and My Garden. She also wrote for The Cornhill Magazine and the RHS Journal among others and became the president of the Society of Women Journalists.

Eleanour was an innovative gardener and grew and tested old and obscure flowers, herbs and vegetables in her garden at Cranham Lodge in Reigate, Surrey where she lived most of her life. On several occasions she collaborated with friends to design herb gardens, notably for the Chelsea Flower Show in 1919 and for Lullingstone Castle in Kent. Herbs were a major interest for her with ‘A Garden of Herbs’ being one of the first books she wrote in 1921.

Painting of old roses by Patricia Dale taken from 'The Scented Garden'.
Painting of old roses by Patricia Dale taken from ‘The Scented Garden’.

It is known that Eleanour often visited the Messel family at Nymans where Maud had her rose garden and I believe it to be the garden to which she is referring when she wrote

” . . .If you do not grow the old roses, look at their beauty as depicted in the paintings of the old Dutch flower painters; or look at those glorious roses portrayed in the three great rose books of a century ago – Redoute, Andrews and Miss Lawrence. In their masterpieces, the beauty and the glorious colouring of the living flowers of over a hundred years ago are immortalized. But best of all, see them as I see them now, loved and tended in a secluded enclosure. This garden is famed, yet only a minority of those who come to see the treasures it contains visit the rose garden, which is filled with the beauty and fragrance of the old roses. This morning I got up very early to see what is surely one of the fairest sights in the world – the roses ‘spreading themselves towards the sun-rising’.”

The Scented Garden (1931).

Eleanour dedicated this book and at least one other to her friend Maud. It is likely that she used the library at Nymans for some of her research and perhaps her book ‘The Old English Herbals’ (1922) was inspired by Leonards great collection or at least she possibly used his library for research for this book. It is known that Leonard Messel proof read some of Eleanour’s work for her. It was possibly this friendship with the Messels and her knowledge of the library that prompted the RHS to commission Eleanour to write the article about the Garden Library at Nymans. Whatever the reason thank goodness they did; no record of the library at all would have been devastating. A 1973 reproduction of the book.

Although comparatively little of her writing is about roses I have a great admiration for her work. To write thirty books in as many years is a feat in itself but the nature of some of her books would have meant hours spent in research in various libraries and a tremendous amount of dedication. Not only did she write the bibliography of ‘The Old English Herbals’ but also a bibliography of gardening books through the years ‘The Old English Gardening Books’ (1924). These must have taken many hours to compile. Even ‘Rose Recipes from Olden Times’ would have meant considerable research in old texts. Other titles are ‘The Story of the Garden’ (1932), ‘Shakespeare’s Wild Flowers’ (1935) and ‘Herbs and Herb Gardening’.

Book by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde
A first edition.

I have a good number of Eleanour’s books because I admire her dedication, her intelligence and her life. To live through two wars cannot have been easy but I do not know how they affected her personally. As with all my research there is always so much more to be done and this brief story about Eleanour is no exception. As far as I am aware there has been no autobiography written.

Eleanour Sinclair Rohde; a spiritual friend Read More »

A great addition to the list

I love treasure hunting; searching for Rose memorabilia for the library. This time, at an antiques fair, the treasure discovered was a postcard album; a collection of stunning paintings, in a very full but disintegrating album. It appeared to have been collected with love and care by a cartologist during the early years of the 20th century. Not famous paintings but ones that had been commissioned by the postcard publishers of the day. The hundred plus paintings revealed many of the Cornish coast by H.B.Wimbush, portraits of old Scottish characters by H.J.Dobson, a number of unattributed still lifes of flowers and fruit and among others a few glorious paintings of roses and rose gardens.; the reason I bought the album.

A postcard painting from the album.
A postcard painting from the album.

Two of the stunning rose paintings I had not seen before. They obviously belonged together, featuring a similar subject, individual rose stems and buds and showing the same colour tones. Whenever I buy a postcard I like it to have the name of the artist or at least the publisher. If there are neither it has to be a really beautiful card. In this case there did not appear to be an artists’ name but the publisher was Stewart and Woolf, a company who produced cards between 1900 and 1940. The series number was 468. I soon discovered that my two cards had been published in 1906 or before but still did not know the artist.

The matching postcard painting from the album.
The matching postcard painting from the album.

I searched each card under the scrutiny of my magnifying glass and saw large blurred lettering to one side of one of the cards, ‘M Nyl’. I recognised the name from a set of postcards I had seen previously on a publishers website, not Stewart and Woolf but TuckDB. I returned to the website and found the set entitled ‘Fragrant Flowers’; six different cards, two of vases of roses and the remaining four, vases of other flowers. Beside each vase of flowers there were individual flowers that had fallen to the shelf. It was then I realised why my signature was large and blurred, the two paintings were a small part of a larger work. They were not part of either of the two paintings in this set and I have yet to discover from which paintings they were taken.

A painting from the postcard set 'Fragrant Flowers' published by TuckDB
A painting from the postcard set ‘Fragrant Flowers’ published by TuckDB

They could have been taken from one or two of many because Marie Nyl-Frosch (1857-1914) was a well known German painter of flowers. She was born in Munich and seems to have spent most of her life there, dying there too. One can only speculate why she died at the age of 57 in 1914 as I cannot find out any further information about her life and work. I know that her paintings, many of which are of roses, have been sold at auction houses, including Christies, throughout Europe and command prices between one and two thousand euros. They are beautiful works, usually roses or other flowers in a vase or container of some kind with additional detail around the base, either fallen flowers or ornaments. Two additions I have seen are a small framed silhouette and a model elephant.

The second postcard painting from the set 'Fragrant Flowers'.
The second postcard painting from the set ‘Fragrant Flowers’.

This brings me to the reason for the title of this article. During my rose journey I have been compiling a list of professional artists who are known for painting flowers, particularly roses. This list now includes 115 artists. Although I know little about Marie Nyl-Frosch I have seen images of many of her paintings, which I adore, so will include her on my list. (She will be company for Catharina Klein, another painter for postcards from the same period who worked in Berlin. I wonder whether they knew of each other.) It is always good to discover another great artist who appreciates or appreciated the rose. I will continue to try to find out more about her and her work.

Another beautiful painting by Marie Nyl-Frosch (1857-1914).
Another beautiful painting by Marie Nyl-Frosch (1857-1914).

A great addition to the list Read More »

A tatty but inspirational pamphlet

This is one of the reasons why I love collecting rose books and memorabilia. While sorting through my catalogues and annuals, in prepararation for a possible further intake, I nearly discarded a nondescript pamphlet covered with a bulb advertisement. By chance I looked inside; to find the programme for the 1909 National Rose Society (NRS) Summer Rose Show. Not only is there a plan of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Regents Park showing the siting of the marquees etc but also the list of entrants and judges. To cap it all there is an article written by ‘The Late Rev. H. Honeywood D’Ombrain VMH’ entitled ‘The Life History of the National Rose Society’. I think perhaps I am missing the cover of the programme, unless of course, they wanted it to exist incognito, but I doubt it!

Plan of Royal Botanic Gardens
The siting of the NRS Summer Rose Show in the early 20th century.

Having recently bought a ticket for the Chelsea Flower Show I began to wonder about the history of the NRS national rose shows and what had happened to them. I knew the very first national show had been organised in 1858 by a group of rosarians, including the Rev. Samuel Reynolds Hole, Thomas Rivers, Charles Turner and William Paul. It had taken place in St James Hall, Westminster. The show continued annually at various locations under the auspices of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) until the late 1870s.

William Paul
William Paul – a rose grower and writer who helped organise the first rose shows.

At this time it was considered that the rose was at a low ebb and the shows were not flourishing. One rosarian, namely the Rev. Henry Honywood D’Ombrain decided that it was time to act. He had a vision of a National Rose Society which could promote the rose, its popularity and exhibition. He called a meeting of all the rosarians he knew and, on the day, waited with trepidation to see who would respond to his invitation. He could not have been more pleased at the turnout and “when Canon Hole came in most of those present felt the day was won.” (A quote from the article mentioned above. He continues by listing all those present at the meeting.) The society was formed to encourage the cultivation of the rose and to promote national exhibitions of the rose in London and the provinces.

Rev. Samuel Reynolds Hole
Rev. Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean of Rochester – influential in the rose world – joint founder of the first rose shows and the first president of the National Rose Society.

In the Rosartians Yearbook of 1886 the Rev. Honywood D’Ombrain reported on the success of the first rose show ” . . . as it was, every available space in the large conservatory at South Kensington was filled with roses and crowds of visitors thronged around the stands all day.” The NRS shows continued to flourish in both London and the provinces. Queen Alexandra became Patroness of the Society and attended the London Show Annually. Thousands of blooms were exhibited both growing and as cut roses.

At the turn of the century the shows were still flourishing. A description of the 1907 London show appeared in the September issue of ‘Journal des Roses’ of that year. (It was translated from the French for the 1908 edition of the NRS annual).

“Several large tents, 5 or 6 measuring perhaps 50 to 80 metres long and 20 to 30 metres wide are entirely decorated with cut roses and rose trees. All these tents (except the groups of roses in pots and the accompanying stands of cut flowers in vases, hidden with moss, and placed on the ground itself) are arranged with tables either set against the sides of the tents or placed by themselves down the whole length of them. There are also generally in each tent three large central tables, as well as tables running round each side of the tent. Many nurserymen and innumerable amateurs show each year at this great competition in separate classes.”

The author, Ms Turbat, then goes on to explain how the English way of doing things encourages amateur rose growers to become involved which allows for greater popularity of the rose among the people.

National Rose Society Flower show luncheon menu
There was always a good lunch on offer!

For many years the summer annual rose show flourished in the botanical gardens, Regents Park. It was only in the 1970s that it was held at the gardens of the Royal National Rose Society (RNRS) as a rose festival where it continued for a number of years. In the intervening years the shows travelled via the Royal Hospital Grounds, Chelsea and the RHS halls in Westminster. Currently the nearest event we have to a National Rose Show is the Rose Festival which is incorporated into the Hampton Court Flower Show.

National Rose Society Programme of Music
At the early shows they enjoyed a brass band.

The Chelsea Flower Show, the Hampton Court Flower Show and the other shows presented by the RHS have abundant roses on display. The rose is still a popular flower in Britain but the dreams of those rose pioneers in the late 19th century have come to an end. There is no national show dedicated to the rose.

This is a sketchy and unsatisfactory history of the rose shows and needs more thorough research to be done. The information needed should be in the Rose Yearbooks and Annuals, a full set off which are in the Rosarian Library. A report of each show is usually included in each edition.

To think that one little tatty but invaluable find could spark such interest but this is one reason I collect.

Rev. Henry Honywood D'Ombrain
Rev. Henry Honywood D’Ombrain. A founder member and first secretary of the National Rose Society.

A tatty but inspirational pamphlet Read More »

The garden painters as illustrators

Imagine a warm summer’s day early in the 20th century. You are sitting in the sunshine under a parasol, gazing at a glorious rose garden. The fragrance of the roses is in the air and you know that with your skill and paints you are going to recreate this amazing, colourful scene on paper. You do not know, however, that a century later your paintings will still be giving pleasure to many rose enthusiasts, gardeners and artists; that they will still be admiring ‘your garden’ on a chilly January day over a century later.

Painting from Roses and Rose Gardens
“Dorothy Perkins over Trellis Work” Ernest Arthur Rowe. Taken from ‘Roses and Rose Gardens’ (1911) Walter P. Wright.

A small number of rose and gardening books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were illustrated by garden artists. In this way their paintings have been preserved for a wider audience other than the individual owner. The development of photography, however, made the widespread use of painting gardens for illustration unnecesary and the increasing number of rose books feature the cheaper drab monochrome photographs. The colourful beauties from the painters ceased within a few years. Fortunately the enterprising authors and their few dedicated illustrators can still be appreciated.

Rose Garden painting by Beatrice Parsons
“Evening Light in a Rose Garden” Beatrice Parsons. Taken from ‘Roses and Rose Gardens’ (1911) Walter P. Wright.

Many individual roses have been painted as illustrations in the rose books but rose gardens are much fewer in number. It was fashionable in Victorian and Edwardian times to have ones beautiful garden painted by an accomplished artist and a good number of these have been used to illustrate various publications but rose gardens in the books at this time were few. This reflects the nature of garden design and the subject matter of rose books at this crucial period. Penelope Hobhouse and Christopher Wood explore the painters and their commissions during that period in their book ‘Painted Gardens: English Watercolours 1850 – 1914’. The painting of gardens professionally as opposed to landscapes now seems to have gone out of fashion.

A climbing rose painting
“A Climbing Rose” by George Elgood. Taken from ‘A Book about Roses’ (1901 18th edition) Samuel Reynolds Hole. There are several paintings by Elgood in this book but sadly they are all monochrome.

Most illustrations of gardens for books have been contributed by three artists: Beatrice Parsons (1870-1955), George Samuel Elgood (1852-1943) and Ernest Arthur Rowe (1862-1922). These three have the joint accolade of being regarded as the best garden artists of their day. Beatrice Parsons painted glorious gardens, often with roses; six of these illustrate ‘Roses and Rose Gardens’ (1911) by Walter P. Wright. In this book there is also one painting by Ernest Rowe. George Elgood illustrated the later editions of ‘A Book About Roses’ (1869) but sadly these have been produced in monochrome which does not do them justice. Their paintings can be seen in a number of other books of the period and, of course, their works were sold to art collectors of the day, often the aristocracy including royalty. The interesting lives of these three artists are partly documented and it is likely they may appear in future articles. There is a biography ‘George Samuel Elgood: His Life and Work (1995) by Eve Eckstein. This includes many of his paintings.

Alfred Parsons postcard.
Painting by Alfred Parsons. Taken from a postcard; courtesy of TuckDB.

There is a short list of other garden artists of the period; two others to be noted for painting Rose gardens are Alfred Parsons and Helen Allingham. Alfred Parsons was a prolific painter of gardens and landscapes, later becoming a garden designer. He is well known for the 132 meticulously executed roses for the publication Genus Rosa (1910-1914) by Ellen Willmott but does not appear to have received the fame he deserves. Helen Allingham is virtually a household name with her exquisite paintings of Victorian Life some of which feature roses in the cottage gardens she loved to paint. Two books in the Rosarian Library collection are ‘The Happy England of Helen Allingham’ by Marcus B. Huish and ‘Helen Allingham’s England’ by Ina Taylor. Both books, especially the latter are beautifully illustrated by Helen Allingham herself. There is little formal documentation about the life of Alfred Parsons but recently a thesis written in the 1990s was located which gives many leads for further research. A painter well worth investigating.

Painting by Flora Pilkington
A garden painting by Flora Pilkington. Courtesy of TuckDB.

Paintings of rose gardens feature on early 20th century postcards, many of which are stunning works of art and very collectible. Beatrice and Albert Parsons (no relation) contribute to these but there are other artists worthy of note: Flora Pilkington, Sidney Shelton, W.G. Addison, Ellen Warrington and Annie Pressland are a few. There seems to be little known about these artists apart from their signatures on the bottom of the cards. This needs to be remedied as such skilful artists should be remembered.

The Rose Walk painting
‘The Rose Walk, Finchcocks.’ W.G. Addison. Courtesy of TuckDB.

(All postcards are in the Rosarian library.)

Spring and rose garden visiting time will soon be here but in the meantime it is great to know that these colourful, attractive gardens can be ‘visited’ by looking at books and postcards. Sitting in the sunshine painting was not and still is not a lucrative career but thankfully some people had this vocation all those years ago allowing us to appreciate and enjoy their work. Although there were relatively few professional garden painters they contribute significantly to the story of book illustration.

A painting by Sydney Shelton
A beautiful painting by Sydney Shelton. Courtesy of TuckDB.

The garden painters as illustrators Read More »

Into 2020

220 years have passed since the very first book was published in English dedicated to the rose. In the first half of the 19th century there were few books published: rose varieties were few in number, their popularity was limited and printing was less accessible. As the decades passed, numbers of rose varieties increased, more people had disposable money for gardening and printing developed. The numbers of rose books increased reflecting the growing popularity of roses. During the 20th century roses became increasingly popular with more books about roses being published each decade apart from the 1940’s war years. The peak of rose book publication was the 1990s when, according to the library calculations, 20% of all books dedicated to the rose and written in English were published.

Victorian Rose Books
A few rose books from Victorian times.

Rose research and information gathering continues across the world. There have been and continue to be serious scientific studies, into the growth and nature of rose plants, in a number of academic institutions. There is much learning being gained from the hybridisation, propagation and growth of roses within the rose nurseries across the world. There are also people, like me, who wish to make the full story of the rose known by researching her history, exploring her fame and documenting the stories they discover. The accumulation of all this information has created a vast range of published works documenting the rose.

19th Century Rose Books
A number of the 50+ 19th century rose books.

However, in the two decades since the millenium it is evident there has been a decline in the number of rose books published. Perhaps this is not surprising as the rose is having to hold her own among the myriad of other glorious plants that are easier to grow or take up less space in our smaller gardens and less time in this busy world. During the 20th century the ‘Queen of Flowers’ was at the peak of her reign; could it be time for her to relinquish the throne. She will never leave the court; there are too many supporters wishing to keep her notoriety alive by growing roses in their gardens, exhibiting at rose shows or buying cut roses for the house. The rose is also a useful commodity in the perfume industry.

Flower illustration
Could any flower ever dethrone the rose?

The Rosarian Library is working towards collecting the complete set of all the rose texts, written in English, from the last 220 years. The detail, accumulated to date about the rose, must be gathered together and preserved in one library. Although there must be many copies of each text on shelves throughout the world it is clear that some of the books are proving difficult to find and when they are found they are expensive.

A rare and expensive rose text.
A specimen part of a rare and expensive text.

It does not seem possible that any one flower could take the place of the rose but it may be that the 21st century will see the rose’s glory fade a little. Rose research will become more important than ever. It is hoped that scientific research will continue, documenting information for horticuturalists, botanists and other scientists. The Rosarian Library and others will continue non-scientific research which covers a huge field of both historical and contemporary detail which contributes to the commentary on our social history. Whether it be the roses of the Greek and Roman Temples, the English Monastery Gardens, the early 20th century rose gardens of England or the roses of Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Rachel Ruysch or Albert Williams the research is crucial and should be recorded.

Rose of Heliogabalus
The Roses of Heliogabalus an 1888 painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema depicting a Roman banquet.

As with most research the Rosarian Library research has led to more books being collected, not only those dedicated to the rose but also a wider collection of horticultural, art and literature books. The Library now has a growing separate horticultural section. A shelf of Bibliographies seems to have accumulated and a group of Biographies together with a stack on art and illustration. All the texts by various authors such as Eleanour Sinclar Rohde and Gertrude Jekyll are creeping in. They loved the old roses which are still popular with many rose lovers today.

A chapter on Old Roses in Eleanour Sinclair Rohde's
A chapter on Old Roses in Eleanour Sinclair Rohde’s ‘The Scented Garden’ (1931)

The Library will certainly play its part in keeping the rose alive and flourishing. A book of short stories will be published portraying the rose and hopefully giving a flavour of the library itself. A more serious text about the British books dedicated to the rose is being researched and hopefully will follow soon after. Lists of rose books, rose artists and rose gardens will be printed to add to the publications already available; a leaflet about the library and a booklet detailing 19th century literature. Of course a second edition of rose stories is being researched.

British Rose Literature
A Library Publication.

The Rosarian Library is a significant resource in its specialist field. In 2020 the intention is for this to continue and for the library to grow. The numbers of books will be increased, further knowledge discovered and more information shared. Regardless of what happens with the popularity of the rose the ‘Queen of Flowers’ will always reign supreme here.

Painting by Albert Williams

This painting by Albert Williams was used to illustrate a Christmas card by the Royal National Rose Society. I will use it to say Happy New Year.

Into 2020 Read More »

A Rosy Coincidence

Do you like visiting second hand book shops as much as I do; I love it even if I do not have a particular book in mind except, of course, a different rose book. This time my visit was unusual; I wanted a specific book, a copy of the poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. I had always thought that his poem ‘Maud’, which inspired my favourite Waterhouse painting, began with the line ‘Come into the garden, Maud’ and ended after a romantic message with the line ‘And blossom in purple and red’. How wrong was I? As some of the more literate readers among you will know this is only a very small vignette of a much larger story.

The soul of the rose
‘The Soul of the Rose’ (1908) John William Waterhouse.

Strangely I had discovered this previously unkown to me fact when I was researching ‘The Soul of the Rose’ by Waterhouse. I needed to find out more about the painting because it and others by Waterhouse feature on my website and will also be included in the anthology of rose stories ‘The Soul of the Rose’ which I am collating. I always knew that it had been inspired by the line from Maud ‘ And the soul of the rose went into my blood,’ just as other of his paintings had been inspired by the poetry of Shakespeare, Keats and Herrick but little realised the length of the poem, so I felt the need to read the whole poem.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
One of two paintings by J.W. Waterhouse entitled ‘Gather Ye Rosebuds while Ye May’ (1909) and inspired by the line from ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ by Robert Herrick.

I looked on line for a copy of Tennyson’s poems but they all seemed glossy, new reproductions. These are not my style; I like the old and tactile with an interesting front cover if possible. What a good excuse to go to my favourite book shop where I may be lucky enough to find a gem. The shop did not let me down, I found what I wanted; not Victorian as I would have liked but very pretty and inexpensive, first published in 1954 and including the whole of ‘Maud’ together with some of his other poems. He was a prolific writer so I had to make sure that Maud was in the book I bought.

Poems of Tennyson
A bargain at £4.00 and just what I needed.

Job done but after a decent lunch and an invigorating walk by the river the antique warehouse beckoned, which inadvertently triggered this story. One of the first things which caught my eye was a book ‘Pre-Raphaelite Portraits’ and on opening I found a sketch by Rossetti entitled “Maud” 1855 of Tennyson reading ‘Maud’. He had apparently drawn it while Tennyson was reading the poem at the house of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. What a coincidence! It is true; I have a witness.

Painting by J W Waterhouse
The second painting by J.W. Waterhouse inspired by the line from John Herrick’s poem.

Within the book there are also sketches of several of the beautiful models featured in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. John William Waterhouse, who was born at the end of the Pre-Raphaelite era, was known in his later paintings to embrace the Pre-Raphaelite style. I don’t believe the model in ‘The Soul of the Rose’ is known by name but to me she looks very much like Alexa Wilding who modelled for Rossetti fifty years before. Looking at some of Rossetti’s work there is definitely a similarity between the graceful woman in Waterhouse’s painting and Rossetti’s auburn haired model.

A painting/sketch (1879) of Alexa Wilding by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
A painting/sketch (1879) of Alexa Wilding by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

After reading the many pages of the poem and looking once again at my favourite Waterhouse paintings I cannot believe how my love of roses has forged this particular link between art and literature; it is inspirational for me. My research into the rose brings me joy and satisfaction daily. I will definitely leave the cultivation to others and focus on the intriguing stories that I have yet to discover. The rose is mentioned frequently through Tennyson’s ‘Maud’ and is featured in a number of Waterhouse’s paintings. They must, like me, have wanted to celebrate the rose.

Another painting by J.W. Waterhouse that features roses, 'The Shrine' 1895
Another painting by J.W. Waterhouse that features roses, ‘The Shrine’ 1895

A Rosy Coincidence Read More »

‘Liquid Gold’ from the Valley of the Roses

This scenic valley, about 100 kilometres long and up to 15 kilometres wide, in the centre of Bulgaria, provides the world with more rose otto (rose essential oil) than any other nation. The huge perfume industries of France, the United States and Japan absorb the majority of the oil which is of the highest quality.

One type of rose is the ‘queen’ in this story; the beautiful pink damask rose R. damascena trigintipelata. Virtually alone, row upon row, she fills the hectares of land between the mountains of Stora Planina which hold back the cold North winds and Sredna Gora which check the hot and dry air from the Aegean in the South. The tonnes of petals from this ideal landscape fill the stills which conjure this amazing ‘liquid gold’ as if by magic.

The Valley of the Rose, Bulgaria
The Valley of the Roses – Bulgaria. The famous rose fields in the Tracian Valley near Kazanlak, Bulgaria

The towns of Kazanlak and Kordova provide the nuclei around which the fields have steadily extended and continue to extend. The town of Kazanlak has given its name to the region, to the valley and to the rose. The R. damascena which in Bulgaria has become R. damascena ‘Kazanlik’ was introduced to the region in the 17th century from the Middle East. As a result of the favourable soils and drainage, the ideal climate of moisture and warmth and the enterprise of the local people, with their unique propagating methods, the roses introduced have become an independent type of their own. R. damascena ‘kazanlik’ produces the high quality, fragrant oil which has made the area world renowned.

Damask Rose
A beautiful damask rose similar to ‘Kazanlik’.

There are over 7000 varieties of rose worldwide yet only a few are recognised as oil producing. These can be found in quantity in Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco, France and Iran. There are only a handful of regions in just the two countries, Bulgaria and Turkey that provide the ideal conditions to grow roses in quantities large enough to produce rose otto on a commercial scale.

Rose otto is acquired by the distilling process and requires three kilograms of rose petals to make just one millilitre or twenty drops of rose oil. A second method of obtaining oil is used in other countries by liquid solvent extraction of the oil from the rose petals. This results in a rose absolute rather than in rose otto and is not of such high quality although it too is used in the perfume industry.

Postcard of rose harvest, Bulgaria
Roses have been harvested in Bulgaria for many years.

For a period of about three weeks around the beginning of June the roses are gathered from 4am through to 9am before the sun becomes hot as the oil in the petals decreases as the temperature rises. The roses have to be processed in the stills almost immediately to prevent any oil evaporation from the petals. Regular checks are kept on all the rose oil, its quality and quantity, by the Research Institute in Kazanlak so that Bulgaria can remain the leading producer of the best rose otto in the world. It is of extremely high quality and it is important to Bulgaria that it remain so.

Since 1990, after a long period of state ownership, there are now independent land owners and distillery owners who are keen to improve their methods, increase their production and extend their fields. Rose production is thriving. The perfume houses of Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Jean Patou, Givenchy, Kenzo, Gucci and the like have little to fear if they continue to use natural and organic rose oil in their perfumes.

‘Liquid Gold’ from the Valley of the Roses Read More »

Provins and the Provins Rose

How I would love to be transported back in time to find myself in the centre of the medieval fair town of Provins, not in medieval times but in the 16th century. I would be surrounded by bustling businesses trading in scented sachets, candied rose petals, medicines and balms and other products made from the flowers grown in the surrounding acres of rose fields. The main street of Provins was dominated totally by the men and women who traded in rose products.

The rose used was Rosa gallica ‘officinalis’, a highly aromatic rose that had been appreciated for its scent and beauty since Roman times and is still recognised by those who continue to grow it for its fragrant and colour retention qualities even after the petals have dried. It is still grown throughout Europe where it is an important item of commerce in the pharmaceutical, perfume, liquor and soap industries.

Rosa gallica 'officinalis'
Rosa gallica ‘officinalis’

Though we seldom consider the use of roses in modern medicine, this species does contain tannin, oils, sugar, wax, cyanin and quercetin. As a result it has astringent, bactericidal, bile-removing, and anti-inflammatory properties which were thought to ease headaches, control vomiting, help dysentery and fever, heal wounds and act as a restorative, a tonic for the liver and as a mild laxative. Cures for many ailments but which I understand are grounded in scientific fact.

The double form of Rosa gallica 'officinalis'
The double form of Rosa gallica ‘officinalis’ is more popular for commercial use.

From this rose, which became known in France as the Provins Rose the people of Provins throughout the years have made a number of products including medicinal syrups, skin lotions, jams and sweets and sachets of dried petals. Through several centuries until the 19th century there were more apothecaries on the main street of Provins than any other type of shop. Outside each a rose was planted at the entrance. The druggists dispensed remedies that reportedly aided digestion, sore throats, skin rashes and eye maladies. Women believed that rose petals would reduce their wrinkles! The fresh petals were also strewn in abundance during religious celebrations. It is believed that when Marie Antoinette stayed in Provins she slept on a bed made entirely of roses.

Dried rose petals
Background of dried rose petals as herbal tea

Provins lies approximately 60 kilometres South West of Paris and is today a World Heritage Site enabling the preservation of the medieval buildings that were standing in the 12th and 13th centuries when it was a well-known trading centre of up to 80,000 people. It was at this time that legend suggests that Thibault 1V, the Count of Champagne, brought back from the Crusades in the Middle East a rose bush that was to become the ancestor of all the roses which have bloomed in and around Provins for centuries. This rose, Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’ often called the Apothecary’s Rose, has featured prominently in the trading prosperity of this now small town and is a significant part of its heritage.

A view of Provins today - a well preserved medieval town.
A view of Provins today – a well preserved medieval town.

Provins has many visitors each year who are attracted by the medieval architecture and its commercial heritage. In addition, now there is a 3 hectare garden which features many beautiful roses. Rose jam is still made in Provins as well as honey perfumed with rose petals and rose candy but sadly there is not the bustling high street where all those wonderful rose products are sold!

Map showing Povins

Provins and the Provins Rose Read More »

Roses – Deltiology

I didn’t know what it meant until I added to the library postcard collection after a recent visit to a local antique shop and then decided to write this article. Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards. According to Wikipedia the world’s third most popular hobby. Can you guess the first two? (Clue – they involve small items!) I didn’t regard myself as a collector until I realised two albums full of small but beautiful rose art, mostly picked up inexpensively at antique fairs or in antique shops, probably meant just that. As with the rose books and paintings I can’t help myself when I see a rose work of art.

Rose postcards
A few of the postcards in the library – mostly paintings which are sadly not signed by the artist.

Of course, I have only ever collected the rose postcards I like and realise many of these are by the artist Catharina Klein so I have dedicated a separate album to her. This is not full so there is a good reason to hunt! I have written about Catharina before as there is a copy of one of her paintings in the gallery. Her art work is unique, largely dedicated to flowers, specifically roses. Fortunately her signature remains on the postcards. Many other artists’ works are unattributed sadly but I do have one or two that are signed e.g. R.W. Bates, Madeleine Renaud and T. Corbella.

Catharina Klein postcards
Some of the Catharina Klein postcards in the library. Many more can be seen on the library Pinterest Board ‘Rose cards’.

Some rose postcards feature reproductions of the great painters such as Manet and Fantin-Latour. I would like to find more of these, especially from the early 20th century but they seem to have been published later. One or two precious cards do not feature roses at all but are early photographs of rose related subjects. My most prized postcard is one featuring the inside of the now non existent rose museum at La Roseraie de l’Hay which, although it bears no date must be from the early 1900s. Another shows a view of the rose fields of Bulgaria in the early 20th century.

Inside the Rose Museum
As the postcard says, the museum at La Roseraie de l’Hay.

As well as rose paintings rose photographs became available from the end of the 19th century.. First there were the black and white photos which have often been tinted or painted and gradually coloured photographs appeared as the 20th century progressed. The popularity of postcards declined, however after the first war as the telephone became more widespread. The years between 1902 and 1914 are known as the golden age for postcards with thousands being issued bearing a huge array of messages. Next day delivery was guaranteed! The number and range of cards to be found is still huge and occasionally it is possible to see the same rose with a different background or even a different colouring. Who knows what antics were played by the printers and publishing houses!

These are some of the cards which feature black and white photos that have been painted.
These are some of the cards which feature black and white photos that have been painted.

Apparently some collectors confine themselves to one publisher of which there were many. The two most notable publishing the older cards I have found to be Meissner and Buch and Raphael Tuck. Meissner and Buch was founded in Leipzig in 1861 but then opened offices in other European cities including London. They seem to have had the monopoly on publishing the Catharina Klein postcards I like so much. Raphael Tuck and Sons started in 1866 with a little shop in Union Street London selling graphic art printing which included chromo and black and white lithography. Sales included the Victorian greeting cards available at this time.

Photos or paintings of roses
I originally thought these were one or two of the first coloured photos but I am not so sure now. It is difficult sometimes to distinguish between a photo and a painting!

Dating postcards can be a tricky business because few of them have a date printed. Perhaps the best guide is by the stamps on them but not all cards have been used or the stamps have been lost. It was not until 1894 that British Publishers were given permission by the Royal Mail to manufacture and distribute picture postcards which could be sent through the post. These first cards were mostly of landmarks and scenic views. Cards with messages had been sporadically created by individuals since the beginning of the postal service in Britain (16th century) and the Post Office since 1870 had issued postcards without images which had a stamp as part of their design. The card recognised as the worlds oldest surviving postcard was sent in 1840 by the writer Theodore Hook to himself in Fulham London. It was a hand-painted design bearing a penny black stamp. In 2002 this card sold for £31, 750.00.

A card from before 1902
A card from before 1902 which only had space on the back for the address so the messages were written around the illustration. (Sadly no Queen Victoria stamp!)

My aim is to find a postcard depicting roses which has the head of Queen Victoria on the postage stamp, which could date it between 1894 and 1901. At this time cards had only space for the address on the back and no other writing was allowed so messages were written over the pictures. The divided back, space for the address and message, did not happen in Britain until 1902. Other countries soon followed suit. The cost of sending a postcard for some years was one half penny. I have compiled a list of dates, stamps and prices for my own interest but will not bore you with that here.

A postcard showing a black and white photo of roses.
A postcard showing a black and white photo of roses.

I have not collected many of these as I have not found them of much interest but that will change now as I have become fascinated by the early printing and publishing of rose books and other material. When looking for cards I have seen some great black and white photos of rose gardens from the early 20th century. It would be interesting to collect these and see if the gardens still survive today.

There is so much more to be said about old postcards, especially their contribution to our social history. The true deltiologist will be ashamed of me as I have only touched the surface when referring to my postcards of roses. So my apologies to them.

A more recent but very pretty card by the artist Mary Brown and published by the Medici Society Ltd of London.
A more recent but very pretty card by the artist Mary Brown and published by the Medici Society Ltd of London.

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