Nine hundred and forty books dedicated to the rose.

Is this the total number of book titles, solely about roses and printed in the English language that are sitting on our library shelves waiting to be read? I am sure there are one or two still in hiding but hopefully the majority are now discovered. (I said this a month or so ago when I listed 760 but they keep appearing when least expected!) This list does not include the many editions of the same book nor does it include all the annual publications by the various rose societies. I have included only one each of these with the date range of publication.

The Rose by Brent Elliott
One of the oldest ‘The Rose Amateurs’s Guide’ (1840) Thomas Rivers and one of the newest books in the library.

I have collected these titles from a range of sources, largely from the Lindley Library (RHS) and the British Library. As their data bases have to be searched using key words it is not possible for me to ensure that all have been identified. Just typing in ‘roses’ is not sufficient as subjects such as ‘Guns and Roses’ emerge and all the books of fiction with ‘the rose’ in their title. I have typed in as many sensible phrases I can think of such as ‘Rose cultivation’, ‘Rose Growing’ and ‘Rose Gardens’ in the hope that I have sought out all the books dedicated to the rose. The list of old book sent to me by The Royal National Rose Society proved valuable and the published bibliography by Joanne Werger and Robert E. Burton ‘A Bibliography of Botanical, Horticultural, and Other Works Related to The Genus Rosa’ (1970) was invaluable for those books printed before that date of publication. I have also used many of the Bibliographies of the 268 books that are in The Rosarian Library and have scoured websites such as Amazon and Ebay.

Some of the Victorian and pre first World War books in The Rosarian Library.
Some of the Victorian and pre first World War books in The Rosarian Library.

The very first rose book written in Britain, as opposed to a catalogue of roses of which there were several, seems to be ‘A Collection of Roses from Nature’ by Mary Lawrence written in 1799. To the end of the reign of Queen Victoria my list includes 41 books of which 31 are British with the remainder being American. It seems that it was not until 1920 that the first book about roses was printed in the Antipodes. This was ‘The Australian Rose Book’ by R.G. Elliott. Some of these books are now out of print and virtually impossible to purchase. Facsimiles of a number of these, however, are now being printed by such companies as ‘Forgotten Books’ and ‘Oxford World Classics’, which at least allows us to read the content if not feel the atmosphere!

Painting by Beatrice Parsons
A painting by Beatrice Parsons, several of which illustrate ‘Roses and Rose Gardens’ (1914) Walter P. Wright.

I love how some of the history of printed books can be learned from looking at these older books. Obviously in the beginning there were no photographs and my very oldest book by Thomas Rivers printed in 1837 does not even have a line drawing. The line drawings were the first illustrations to appear followed by black and white photographs and then early coloured photographs which differ greatly from those in our modern books. Some early rose books were illustrated by beautiful prints of paintings. I believe the ‘Genus Rosa’ by Ellen Willmott to be the best example of this with all the botanical paintings by Alfred Parsons. Sadly, I only have Part 14 of this tremendous book which was published in 25 parts over a four year period. I console myself with a book of the paintings which illustrated it, which is far more easily attainable. In the library there are one or two stunning books which include some colourful prints of paintings and some early black and white photographs. These include ‘Roses and Their Cultivation’ by T.W. Sanders, the first edition of which was printed in 1904 and ‘Roses and Rose Gardens’ (1914) by Walter P. Wright. In some of the early books, also, you can see how the pages had to be cut before you could read them. Some survive without being cut totally. My part of ‘The Genus Rosa’ is totally uncut and I hesitate to cut it knowing that, for me, some of the character will be lost. In the early days too the printers excelled with their gold lettering on the covers and occasionally impressed paintings of roses.

Shirley Hibberds Rose Book
A great front cover on Shirley Hibberd’s Book 1894 (1874)

The majority of the early books about roses focussed on rose cultivation and rose varieties available at the time. One or two such as ‘The Rose Garden’ by William Paul first published in 1848 included sections on the history of roses and some poetry featuring roses. During the Victorian era showing roses for competition grew in popularity so a number of books include information about this aspect of rose growing. At this time it seems that the books were written by two very different sets of authors: first, those involved with rose cultivation such as William Paul (‘The Rose Garden’), a nursery man from Cheshunt and later Waltham Cross and Thomas Rivers (‘Rose Amateur;’s Guide’) who had a nursery at Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire or secondly, the dedicated amateur rose grower who loved the rose as a beautiful flower and who often were men of the church such as Samuel Reynolds-Hole, Dean of Rochester (‘A Book About Roses’) or Reverend A. Foster-Melliar, Rector of Sproughton, Suffolk (‘The Book of the Rose’). I must not leave out Shirley Hibberd and his ‘The Rose Book’, a favourite of mine who was neither but purely an amateur rose grower who loved roses.

Book about Roses
Dean Samuel Reynolds Hole. This books has undergone more than 26 reprints.

As we travel through the years the subject matter of rose books does not shift greatly. You may say that this is not surprising as all the books are about roses which is a well defined subject in itself. Throughout the twentieth century there were hundreds of books written which focussed largely on rose cultivation and I wonder why we need so much repetition when the C19th rose growers did such a good job and little of the basics seem to have changed. It is easier to understand why there are many books which focus on rose varieties, with lists of roses included, as these were constatntly changing with new roses being bred and introduced. However, on e of the comprehensive rose encyclopedias such as that written for the RHS covers this ground well. As we move further through time the books could describe ‘the old rose varieties’ as there were newer varieties such as the Hybrid Teas, Polyanthas and Floribundas coming on the garden scene. Books about rose gardens were also coming to the fore. Here too, however, there are many books which often repeat or contradict each other.

Is there so much repetition because there are so many discrepancies and varied beliefs and each author believes s/he can improve on that said before. Sometimes I feel there have been authors who have or still are ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and have little additional information to offer. Even their own books can repeat heavily their previous books . Is there a competition to see who can write the most books or is it a money making exercise?

Some larger books
Some of the larger books in the library.

Norman Young in ‘The Complete Rosarian’ (1971) makes an interesting comment which adds to this discussion. He says”It has been said, and with some degree of truth, that the literature of the rose comprises seventy-five percent folklore, twenty percent personal prejudice and five percent fact.” So when it comes to establishing a body of knowledge about roses is it necessary to read many books to acquire a few truthful facts or is it the nature of the subject that we can believe very little.

Books often now celebrate the rose with photographs to the extent that the text seems to be immaterial and I wonder by how many it is read! These books are beautiful but limited with regard to new information; I suppose there is little wrong with that if you are looking for a ‘coffee-table’ book and appreciate the beauty of roses. Perhaps it may be a good idea if todays writers restricted their ideas to one aspect of roses and offered something new and truthful rather than a wide range of detail on several aspects that is purely repetetive and offers little.

I must admit that I am biased and rose cultivation to me is not the only subject in my study of roses. From that which I have read rose growing seems largely to be common sense; grow the plants appropriate for your climate and soils and keep them healthy with appropriate nutrients and pruning. This information cannot really change over time so let us preserve the good books that have been written on the subject. I am not going to dare to suggest which they are as I am not an authority on growing roses, as you can see from my comments! My suggestions above for cultivation are a little flippant to say the least but I believe, in their limited way, accurate.

Graham Stuart Thomas Rose book

The books I love can be divided into two groups: those which I feel contribute to the body of knowledge about roses and those which are a little more frivolous and focus on the wider stories about ‘The Queen of flowers’. Those which I would place in the first group include: ‘The Complete Book of Roses’ (1981) by Gerd Krussmann, ‘The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book’ (1994) by Graham Stuart Thomas, ‘The Rose’ (2010) by Jennifer Potter, ‘The History of the Rose’ (1983) and ‘The History of the Fragrant Rose’ (2004) by Allen Paterson. I particularly include these two because many books about roses have a preliminary section about the history of the rose, saying much the same things but the books by Allen Paterson really do, in my opinion, have a great deal to contribute to this subject area. I should mention here the informative books by the American Historian Brent C. Dickerson, especially ‘Old Roses: The Master List’, which as its title suggests lists all the old roses which he has been able to discover, and there are many.

The Heavenly Rose by Jack Harkness
(1985) I loved reading this book.

The books focussing on the wider stories about roses are relatively few and one or two are so captivating they make good bedtime reading! The great characters in Jack Harkness’s book ‘The Makers of Heavenly Roses’ (1985) are brought back to life by the author’s superb story telling. Thomas Christopher recounts some great adventures in his ‘In Search of Lost Roses’ (1989) and Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello provide a wealth of interesting detail surrounding the naming of many roses. Two interesting biographical works by Antonia Ridge are well worth a read by anyone but particularly a rose lover. ‘The Man who Painted Roses’ (1974) details the life story of the botanical painter Pierre-Joseph Redoute and ‘For the Love of a Rose’ follows the Meilland family as they create the famous ‘Peace’ rose. I have found one or two tiny books of poems and paintings, the most notable being ‘Roses: A Celebratiion in Words and Paintings’ (1993) selected by Helen Exley but nothing really noteworthy in this area. Two books about rose painters are of interest ‘The Life and Art of Paul de Longpre’ (2001) by Nancy C. Hall and ‘Fantin Latour’ (1977) by Edward Lucie-Smith. There must be other similar books which, as yet, I have not discovered.

In search of lost roses

Recently I came across a book that I thought was really going to satisfy my need for a book celebrating the wonderful stories surrounding roses. It is entitled ‘The Book of Roses’ (2000) and has been translated into English from its French original. It certainly has some stunning photographs and one or two great stories but sadly for me it has been written by an interior designer Sylvie Girard-Lagorce and focusses too much on this aspect. A lovely book, however, and I am pleased to have it in The Rosarian Library.

I am hoping that there will soon be a serious book written about the fragrance of roses which contributes to the body of knowledge in this area. After a brief spell when fragrance was forgotten in the euphoria surrounding colour and remontancy in the early twentieth century it has once more come very much to the fore and is one of the rose’s greatest attributes. There could also be a book about colour. After I listed at least twenty different shades of pink from one book only, one of which was ‘face-powder pink’ it seems that we may need some comprehensive order in this area! There are also so many interesting stories surrounding roses that I hope there will not be many more books providing a repeat performance but there will be some new facts and ideas presented to us. I read that the rose is going out of fashion because many growers find it difficult to keep them healthy. They are now often planted with companion plants rather than in dedicated beds but to me it is not a question of fashion it is a necessity to be surrounded by roses, all the year round.

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