A Garden of Rose Books

As each and every rose book in the Rosarian Library is about roses you could be forgiven for thinking that one book is very much like another. A closer glance at the books, however, reveals that they are as different as the roses that grow in a rose garden.

The Rose Book
A rose book with a unique cover illustrating a rose garden.

The old books of the early 19th century, written by the first rose nurserymen, with their detailed text about rose cultivation and few, if any, illustrations are as different from the glossy books of today as the old Gallica or Damask roses are from the modern shrub or bush roses.

Two rose books.
21st century and 19th century texts.

Time has moved forward; the books, like the roses have become more diverse with a far greater range from which to choose. Although roses have been blooming for many centuries it seems it is only within the last two centuries that nurserymen have focused solely on the rose encouraging a change in their habit, colour and fragrance until we have the thousands of varieties that are available now. Similarly with the books; although books with information about roses have been written for many years the first book written in Britain dedicated solely to the rose was printed in 1799 and throughout the ensuing two centuries the number and variety have escalated.

Rosarium Monographia
An illustration from one of the first texts dedicated solely to the rose ‘Rosarium Monographia’ John Lindley (1820).

From the five petalled species roses of the wild and the Old Roses which hybridised from them we now have the many classes of roses bred in the 19th and 20th centuries. Roses have developed not only in form but also from a limited colour palette of pink and white to the rainbow of reds, golds, yellows and purples of our roses today. Increasingly too their fragrance has developed from the old rose scent to a range of scents that include those of fruits, herbs, resins and flowers.

David Austin Rose Book
A modern book written by a well known rose breeder who developed a range of fragrances in his roses and also wrote many books throughout the last fifty years.

The rose books too have taken on a different guise. There is a huge range of genre from the horticultural texts that documented the ideas of those first writers right through to encyclopedias, history books, story books, bibliographies, art and poetry books, biographies, rose lists and coffee table books that are currently on the shelves. The books have become as diverse as the roses themselves. They also come in a range of sizes and formats which would challenge any librarian’s skills of display.

Popular rose book
A first edition of the most popular rose book written in the 19th century. (There were no protective dust covers in those days.)

Improving techniques of planting, budding, pruning, propagating, fertilising and hybridising have allowed our roses to be developed into the vast and diverse range that we now have whereas the improvements in illustrative techniques, printing, photography, technology and publishing have enabled the growth and diversity of the range of books that fill the Rosarian Library.

Illustrations used to be few in number; black and white woodcuts only. (In the 19th century any printed colour was often prohibitively expensive.)

The roses and the books have advanced hand in hand. With the developments in rose growing and the ever evolving number of varieties there is more to record, more to photograph and more to illustrate. With the advances in printing and publishing roses have been introduced to a wider audience. More people have become interested in and more confident in growing roses and there is generally a greater awareness and appreciation among the public, which, in turn, encourages more books to be written. This seems a simple theory but to some extent it must be true. Of course there are other factors which have impacted on the development of roses and rose books but it is significant that during the last two centuries they have both developed in range and number at a similar pace.

Colour photographs of roses
Colour photographs or paintings are now found in many books about roses.

In the Rosarian Library there is a range of genre written by a range of people. It is this diversity (or eclectic mix) that makes the Library a useful resource and the books interesting to collect. Currently the number of individual texts, of a variety of genre, dedicated solely to the rose is nearing 600; rising slowly but so too is the number of books to be collected. Sadly the definitive number is unknown; new and older titles keep emerging. I expect, like the list of roses it will never be complete.

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