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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 www.therosarianlibrary.co.uk 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.