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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.