Peter E. Kukielski has been growing and working with roses for many years. I first met him when he was the curator of the New York Botanical Garden Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden 12 years ago. He gave me the full tour and told me about all the other roses that were scheduled to be added. I asked him how the garden could possibly hold any more roses. The garden was so full and so beautiful. He leaned towards me and whispered, “I plant them closer together.”Kukielski has taught us gardeners many things. I was quick to read Roses Without Chemicals, when it came out and act on his recommendations.
His newest book, ROSA – The story of the rose (Yale University Press $30.) is not about planting, pruning or fertilizing. ROSA begins with a list of the Botanical Nomenclature of the Rosaceae family. There are also photographs of each in the different family, but I was stunned to see that there are native rose families (note the plural!) in China, Europe, North America, and all regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Peter takes us back to the Oligocene and Miocene Epochs (33.9 to 5-3 million years ago) which provides us with fossil evidence of the presence of roses. Of course, I’ve known that roses have been around for a few hundred years, but I was stunned to see roses grown and used in the BCE eras.
Rose water, for beauty rituals, was being made and used in 3500 BCE. Confucius (551-479 BCE) wrote of the rose’s importance to Chinese culture. The rose was everywhere.
It is a reasonable question to ask – why were roses so important that they were used in those BCE days and right through to now when new roses are being created every year. As ROSA takes us through the eons we learn about the ways roses were used is almost every corner of our world. There are beautiful illustrations throughout the book showing the different ways roses were used through the eons.
Roses were important to kings and the wealthy for eons. Confucius (551-479 BCE) wrote of the Royal Gardens in China where roses were planted for hundreds of years. China and Persia were growing fragrant roses, roses in different shades of pink and gold, roses that could be used for making rose water and other perfumes.
The fascinating and long story of the book is divided into short sections. Roses were important to the Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists the Mughals, and the Sufis. Wreaths of roses were used for Egyptian funerals, Greek coins were found marked with a rose.
Writers wrote about roses. The Greek Epicurus, Herodotus and Sappho wrote about roses. So did the Greeks including Virgil and Pliny the Younger. Nero, and other wealthy rulers held bacchanalian events where wine and roses were both essential.
Peter brings Religion and the Rose to us in the fifth major chapter. There are gardens, and roses adorning the Madonna and Christ Child. There are different rose symbols for the different religions. The rose is used in the Islamic hajj and Rumi, the Islamic poet often uses the rose as a motif in his work.
By 1350 roses were important in the secular world. Roses of red and white declared the players in the War of the Roses. Elizabeth I, Queen of England never married and the white rose was hers. Roses were important in the arts, in paintings of fruits and flowers, and in paintings of miracles. We continue right on to roses in modern art and modern movies.
I am inclined to go on an on, but I pass on those pleasures to you. I am a devotee of Peter E.Kukielski and his gardens. Three years ago he designed a beautiful garden for the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario that included 3,000 roses and 18,000 perennials chosen as insect-attracting companions. He is not only devoted to avoiding poisons, he understands the importance that insects are not only important to our gardens, but to our environment.
ROSA – The story of the rose (with its 140 beautiful illustrations) by Peter E. Kukielski is a gem. I love roses and Kukielski has given me an even greater understanding of their history and beauty.