Category Archives: Roses

Some Roses from the Geffrye Museum

Rosa x alba ‘Alba Maxima’ (A) or the white rose of York in the 17th century garden on an arbour constructed of hazel poles in the 17th century garden

If someone asks me what my favourite plant is, my response will always be influenced by whatever’s in season at that moment.  Daffodil buds in March, or hawthorn in May have such powerful immediacy they overwhelm my memory of other flowers blooming at other times of the year.

But if I were to consider the question in terms of building a garden, the answer would have to be roses.  As well as providing summer flowers, their many forms and sizes from shrubs to climbers give structure to a garden, and also inform its character.  At Sissinghurst dozens of varieties, many with historic connections create a sense of abundance with their large, double flowers, whereas at Beth Chatto’s garden the smaller mostly single blooms harmonise with her naturalistic planting style.

Roses also have the ability to transport us back in time.  As a volunteer at the Geffrye Museum in 2016, I recorded these roses in the period gardens, all chosen as popular examples of roses typically grown in English gardens from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Major expansion works are currently underway at the Geffrye and until the gardens re-open again in 2020, this is a reminder of those extraordinary roses, with some notes about their names, and origins.

I should mention my bible for this research was the Ultimate Guide to Roses by Roger Phillips and Martin Rix (2004).  I also consulted John Gerard’s Herball or General Historie of Plantes (1597) available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (link below).

Rosa x alba ‘Alba Maxima’ (A)

‘The white rose hath very long stalkes of a woodie substance, set or armed with divers sharpe prickles’, says John Gerard in his Herball or General Historie of Plantes (1597)  He describes the leaves as ‘somewhat snipt about the edges, somewhat rough, and of an overworne greene colour.’

Rosa alba or the white rose from Herball or General Historie of Plantes (1597)

Rosa ‘Fantin-Latour’ (Ce) in the herb garden

Named after the French painter Henri Fantin-Latour around 1900.  With its large, pink, fragrant flowers it has the look of the well known centifolia roses that feature in 17th century flower paintings.

Rosa Rosa Eglantyne (‘Ausmak’) (PBR) in the Herb Garden

This rose is not Shakespeare’s eglantine – but a modern hybrid from the English rose breeder David Austin

Rosa Eglantyne (‘Ausmak’) (PBR)

Rosa ‘Felicite Perpetue’ (Ra) at the entrance to the 17th century garden

Rosa ‘Felicite Perpetue’ (Ra)

A rambling rose.  ‘Small, neat, fully double flowers in large clusters and a fetching name make this a favorite rose.  It has a good musk scent, and is a sister seedling of ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’, raised by Antoine  Jacques in 1827, and named after his daughters.’ from The Ultimate Guide to Roses Roger Phillips and Martin Rix 2004

Rosa gallica ‘Versicolour’ (G) in the 17th century garden

This rose with it’s sweet fragrance and splashed petals seems to epitomise the spirit of the 17th century garden.

Rosa gallica var.officinalis (G) The Apothecary’s rose, Provins rose, red Damask or the red rose of Lancaster

This rose, thought to be the red rose of Lancaster is also known as the apothecary’s rose in recognition of its supposed medicinal qualities.  In his Herball or General Historie of Plantes of 1597 John Gerard describes roses as ‘the most glorious floures of the world’, dedicating an entire chapter to them.   His recipe for conserve of roses, to be taken twice a day, is said to strengthen the heart and ‘take away the shaking and trembling thereof’.

Rosa centifolia ‘Muscosa’ (CeMo) The common or old moss rose in the Georgian garden

Moss roses were hugely popular in the Georgian and Victorian periods.  The flower stalks and sepals (covering the flower buds) are covered in slightly spiny green hairs which resemble moss.  These roses are strongly scented.

Rosa x centifolia ‘De Meaux’ (Ce) in the Georgian garden

A minature moss rose.

Rosa ‘Irene Watts’ (Ch)

‘Raised by Guillot in Lyon, France in 1895, with well shaped, fully double flowers throughout the season ..  The colour varies from salmon to pale pink or white tinged with pink.’   The Ultimate Guide to Roses Roger Phillips and Martin Rix 2004

Rosa ‘Irene Watts’ (Ch)

Rosa ‘Hermosa’ (Ch)

‘A China-Bourbon hybrid.  The flowers are cupped, plain lilac-pink, fully double, with firm petals, with a delicate scent.  The stems have few thorns, and he smooth leaflets are bluish beneath.  Raised by Marcheseau in France in 1834, probably  from ‘Parson’s Pink China’ crossed with ‘Mme Desprez’, a pink Bourbon.’  The Ultimate Guide to Roses Roger Phillips and Martin Rix 2004

Rosa ‘Madame Gregoire Staechelin’ (C1HT) also called ‘Spanish Beauty’

This rose is a short climber only flowering once – but such flowers!  They are followed by large orange hips.

Rosa ‘Alberic Barbier’ (Ra)

Another rambling rose from the 20th century garden – still popular today.  ‘This lovely rose, a cross between  R. luciae and the Tea ‘Shirley Hibberd’ was raised by Rene Barbier in Orleans, France in 1900.  The flowers are pale yellow in bud, opening white and very double, on reddish stalks; the leaves have shining, widely spaced leaflets.’  The Ultimate Guide to Roses Roger Phillips and Martin Rix 2004.

Further reading:

The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes

The Ultimate Guide to Roses (2004) by Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix
copies still available from Abe Books https://bit.ly/2RgmAVa

Vita Sackville-West on Twitter

Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968)

From accusations of election tampering to online bullying and damage to our mental health, social media companies are deservedly under pressure to take more responsibility for material that gets published on their platforms.  Thankfully, however, some social media is being used positively – educating us, entertaining us – and even bringing us garden history – in ways that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago.

One of my favourite Twitter accounts belongs to Vita Sackville-West, well known as the co-creator of the famous gardens at Sissinghurst, Kent (now managed by the National Trust).  From 1947 until 1961, a year before she died, Sackville-West wrote a weekly gardening column for The Observer newspaper describing the development of her own garden, explaining how to cultivate a wide range of plants, and responding to readers’ gardening queries.

Her column also exposes a larger than life personality with strong opinions about certain plants – especially roses.  In one memorable article she berates someone in a neighbouring town for planting a rose with luridly pink flowers (the variety is American Pillar) a rose she says ‘should be forever abolished from our gardens’.  It’s hard to imagine any garden commentator today being quite so forthright about a member of the public’s choice of flowers  – perhaps not least because of the backlash they would experience on social media.  But she is as tough with her own plant choices and quick to acknowledge mistakes, continually urging her readers to be ruthless and remove planting combinations that don’t work.

So who is behind her Twitter account?  It’s the project of former head gardener and greenhouse manager/propagator of the Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania.  Their motivation to tweet on her behalf is both out of admiration for her work as a ‘plantswoman and innovator, at least fifty years ahead of her time’; plus their enjoyment of the character revealed in the columns.  ‘She’s a hoot’, they say.

The tweets are taken from four anthologies of Sackville-West’s articles published in the 1950s, beginning with In Your Garden (1951) and now all out of print, together with Some Flowers (1937), Letters to Virginia Woolf (1923-41), Passenger to Teheran (1926) and Twelve Days in Persia (1928).  Photographs of the plants she discusses have been added to the text by the gardeners, which is immensely helpful in making the writing accessible to anyone who doesn’t know much about gardening.

One advantage of ‘drip feeding’ Sackville-West’s writing in a series of tweets is the constant reminder of her deep expertise about gardens which goes far beyond the cultivation requirements of individual plants.  The effect of light and the way it falls at certain times of year is considered, as is choosing plants for their form, scale and colour. I’d also forgotten an extraordinary episode about the placing and planting up of a Ming dynasty vase – a reminder of the class divide between Sackville-West and most of her readers.

Sharing their immense plant knowledge with great generosity, the gardeners of the Morris Arboretum offer afresh to a new audience this important testimony from one of England’s finest garden makers.

From In Your Garden, published by Michael Joseph, 1951

From In Your Garden, published by Michael Joseph, 1951

Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968)

Vita Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968)

Atmospheric photograph of the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle by Tony Hisgett, 2010 (Wikimedia Commons)

Further reading:

@thegardenvsw Vita Sackville-West on Twitter

Roses from the Bilderbuch für Kinder

Children’s books from the 18th and 19th centuries are endlessly fascinating – not least for what they reveal about adult attitudes towards children.  Today’s child-centered stories are very different to children’s literature from two hundred years ago, where the child reader is often assumed to be a miniature adult, with an adult’s outlook and sensibilities.

On the surface, Bilderbuch für Kinder or the Picture book for Children, published in Germany in 1802, might be seen as a classic example of this ‘mini adult’ genre.  The vast range of topics discussed in this encyclopedia including animals, butterflies, birds, ships, national costumes, Roman ruins and volcanoes are serious adult subjects certainly, but here are presented for children in a way that represents the best in educational literature.  Somehow the book levels with the reader, addressing children in straightforward language they can understand, and never patronising them.  There’s an assumption everything will be of equal interest to both boys and girls, and the scope of the subjects discussed shows genuine ambition for readers to understand and take delight in the world around them.

Bilderbuch für Kinder was published by Friedrich Justin Bertuch (1747 – 1822) who, as well as being a publisher and translator, also had a business making artificial flowers.  His picture book was published in monthly installments (like a magazine) from 1790 to 1830 and there are twelve volumes in all.  Bertuch’s personal interest in natural history is evident, with dozens of beautiful illustrations of insects, minerals, plants and animals with information about them.  It’s interesting to see that each subject commentary appears in German, French, English and Italian.  Perhaps this was partly to maximize sales across the four countries, but it also seems appropriate to a project discussing European knowledge and culture in its broadest sense.

The entries about roses may well be an example of adults projecting their own interests onto children, but are fascinating today for anyone interested in the development of the garden rose over the centuries.  At this point, a limited number of roses were available, although this was all about to change later in the 19th century as breeding new varieties became fashionable.

I hope you’ll get a sense of the extraordinary quality of the Bilderbuch für Kinder from the illustrations of the roses below.  With two roses featured in each plate, the character of each rose is expertly conveyed, from the buds, to the texture of the leaves and especially in the velvety tones of the darker blooms.  Unfortunately, I cannot discover who the artist was (there might be a signature at the bottom of some of plates, but too small to make out).  I’ve included the English descriptions of the individual roses where I have managed to find them, for their clarity and detail of description.

There are links to some digital versions of Bilderbuch für Kinder I’ve found at the bottom of the post – do have a look for yourselves.

Fig 1. The red Centifolia (Rosa centifolia Germanica), Fig 2. the white Centifolia (Rosa unica) All images from Archive.org

Fig 1. The yellow Centifolia (Rosa sulphurea), Fig 2. The double purple Rose (Rosa holoserica purpurea)

Fig 1. The little Centifolia (Rosa centifolia minor) Fig 2. The French Rose (Rosa turbinata)

Fig 1. and 2. The half double purple Rose (Rosa holoferica purpurea flore semi-pleno) shown at different times of the day.

Fig 1. The basilica Rose (Rosa damascena Basilica) fig 2. (Rosa lutea simplex)

Fig 1. and 2. (Rosa semperflorens)

Fig 1. The Fire-Rose (Rosa punicca) Fig 2. (Rosa truncata virginalis)

Fig 1. (Rosa regina rubicans) Fig 2. Large moss Rose (Rosa muscosa major)

Rosa gemella

Fig 1. Rosa millefolia rubra Fig 2. Rosa pendulina inermis

Fig 1. Rosa Damascena communis Fig 2. Rosa versicolor

Rosa Damascena grandiflora

Further reading:
The Internet Archive has two digitised collections of rose illustrations (and some text) from the fourth and fifth editions of Bilderbuch für Kinder.  I’ve also included links to digitised versions of the longer versions of Bilderbuch für Kinder as they are a delight and well worth dipping into.

Rosenbilder Vierter Band
Rose pictures with text in German and French (1802)

Rosenbilder Funfter Band
Rose pictures with text in German (1805)

Bilderbuch fur Kinder
This version at archive.org has the text about some of the roses in four languages – but no pictures of them.

Bilderbuch fur Kinder
This version is at the University of Heidelberg

Bilderbuch fur Kinder
Another version from the Hertzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek

Friedrich Justin Bertuch

Robert Sayer’s Drawing Books

From The Artist’s Vade Mecum being the Whole Art of Drawing

Taken from a mid-eighteenth century drawing manual, these choice flowers arranged in baskets include roses, tulips, carnations, anemones, clematis and morning glory.  But plants are just a small part of The Artist’s Vade Mecum being the Whole Art of Drawing published by Robert Sayer in 1762.  Aimed at the amateur artist, Sayer explains techniques for drawing everything from the human figure, antiquities and landscapes to natural forms including birds, animals, and shells.

Sayer’s introduction reminds us that our appetite to record and preserve images of the world is not a new one.  Before photography, which we take for granted today (and more accessible than ever before via our mobile phones), the most convenient way to make images of people and places was to draw them, and this was a highly desirable skill to possess:

‘Drawing of Landscapes, Buildings, &c for a Gentleman, is the most entertaining and useful in the whole Art: To be able on the Spot (as is before observed) to take the Sketch of a fine Building, or beautiful Prospect of any curious Production of Art, or uncommon Appearance in Nature, or whatever else may present itself to view on our Journies or Travels, in our own or foreign Countries, maybe thus brought home and preserved for our future Use, either in Business or Conversation: and is the best Method of bringing to Mind again those Beauties that have once charmed us.’

For the beginner Sayer advises drawing items from the natural world first, arguing these are easier to draw than the human figure (which makes up the majority of his manual):

‘The drawing (of) Flowers, Fruits, Birds, Beast, and the like, might be the Subject of some of your first Attempts, not only as it is a more pleasing Employment, but as it is an easier Task than the Drawing of Faces, Hands, Feet and other Parts of the human Body, which require not only more Care, but greater Exactness and more Judgement.’

Vignettes shown as examples of composition for students to follow reveal some gardens, rural scenes and people using the outdoors as recreational space.  There are a variety of ruins framed by trees, a fountain and a group seated on furniture which looks as though it would normally belong in a dining room.

Robert Sayer (1725 – 1794) was a successful seller of prints, maps and charts, based in Fleet Street, London.  He collaborated with artists (including Zoffany), arranging for engravings to be made of their paintings and publishing prints of these.

Sayer’s Wikipedia biography makes no mention of the educational books he published, for both adults and children.  However, we can see from his 1775 stock catalogue this was a significant element of his business.  It lists ‘Two Hundred and Twenty-four‘ books about drawing and painting (more than twenty of these concern plants), alongside dozens of titles about writing – from alphabets and handwriting to instructions on drafting invoices and other correspondence.  There are also publications about architecture and furniture.

Another of Sayer’s books, The Florist: containing sixty plates of the most beautiful flowers regularly disposed in their succession of blowing (1760) was re-discovered in the library of the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2017.  They believe it’s an early example of a colouring book – see a link to an article about this below.

Illustrations in The Florist reveal the continuing popularity of double flowers, such as hollyhocks, anemones and even almond blossom, and for the striped or flamed tulips prized in the seventeenth century.  There are more unexpected plants too, like mezereon (Daphne mezereum) a scarce UK native shrub, hellebores and persicaria.  The book is arranged following months of the year so that the artisit, or gardener, can enjoy a succession of blooms.  The invaluable cultural insights into mid eighteenth century English taste contained in these books make them fascinating reading – links to digitised versions below.

from The Florist: containing sixty plates of the most beautiful flowers

Further reading:

The Whole Art of Drawing (1762)

The Florist (1760)

Robert Sayer

Missouri Botanic Garden – library discovery

Sayer and Bennett’s Enlarged Catalogue 1775

Children and Gardens

Shepherd and his flock pass by a cottage garden from Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823 (printed and sold by John Marshall, 140 Fleet Street, London (NB. Text on frontispiece actually notes date of publication as 1800.)

Gardens belonging to the general public are rarely as well documented as the grander gardens of the wealthy.  So it was a happy surprise to find how frequently gardens of middle class (and some working people) are described and pictured in a sample of children’s literature from the early 19th century.

While the gardens mentioned in these stories might not always represent actual places, the images and descriptions provide vivid glimpses of how gardens looked and were used by their owners and visitors.  We also sense some tension in the relationship between children and gardens.  Although gardens are viewed as positive places for children to play and learn about plants, they are also places of potential danger.  A genre of books teaching moral conduct show the pitfalls that await reckless children out of doors, such falling out of trees, drowning in open water or being attacked by bees.

The books I’ve consulted, many written by women, are from the Internet Archive’s Children’s Library, made available by various US universities (see links at the end of this post).

Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil (1823) is a picture book designed for young children, using hand coloured illustrations and bold text suitable for children learning to read.  A series of household objects and plants are discussed, including a crocus and a moss rose.  The characteristic mossy growths on the sepals of the moss rose are clearly visible in the illustration of this fashionable plant.  Mary’s visit to Tatton Park where she sees deer for the first time is also recorded.

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

From Little Mary; or, the Picture-book by Sabina Cecil 1823

The Little Visitors: in words chiefly composed of one and two syllables by Maria Hack (1815) is designed to encourage older children to read and to inform them about the world.  This atmospheric narrative takes the form of a visit by Ellen and Rachel to their aunt.  Almost the first thing they do when they arrive is to tour the garden, with their aunt as their knowledgeable guide.

Their aunt went first, and opened the glass door in the hall, and then led them down the stone steps into the garden, which they saw was a very handsome one.  There were four large beds of flowers in the front, and fine tall trees and shrubs at the further end.  The children were much pleased with the rose trees, on which were great numbers of flowers, some full blown, and some only in bud.

Their aunt left them, and went into the house to fetch a knife.  She soon came back, and began to cut the stalks of some of the flowers.  She gave each of the little girls one full blown rose, and two nice buds; three fine pinks, a large tulip, a pretty bunch of sweet peas, and a white lily, and then she cut two handsome pieces of sweet-brier, to place at the back of each nosegay.

Later on they take a shady route through the garden, rest on a seat ‘made of branches of knotted wood, painted of a green colour’ and visit a shell grotto;

On turning a winding corner of the path, they saw a little door before them, with ivy growing round it.  The inside of this place was very small, and made of knotted branches of trees.  .. All at once they came to a very handsome light grotto, with spars and shells on the walls, and the windows were made of glass of many colours.

On another visit to a friend of their aunt the girls are delighted to see goldfish for the first time.  (Goldfish are so familiar to us now, it is easy to forget that two hundred years ago they were more unusual).  The illustration below shows the two girls at the edge of the goldfish pond, with the two women observing them at a distance.

This garden was a very large one, and they went some way before they came to where the fishes were kept: at last they walked through a narrow path, with high rows of laurel on both sides, which led to an open spot which had rock all around it, with ivy and moss growing over it and mountain flowers blooming on its sides.  The tops of the trees rose above the rock, and cast a pleasant shade over the scene beneath.  On one side was a fountain, that cooled the air as it foamed into the basin below, and ran into the little fish-pond, which was at some distance, where Ellen and Rachel bent their steps.  There were a great number of fish.  They threw in crumbs of bread, which the little creatures soon eat up.

From The Little Visitors: in words chiefly composed of one and two syllables Maria Hack (1815)  Ellen and Rachel arriving at their aunt’s house.

From The Little Visitors: in words chiefly composed of one and two syllables Maria Hack (1815)  Feeding the goldfish

We catch glimpses of a smaller, plainer garden through the window of Mrs Clifford’s house in Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse: a moral tale by Catherine Parr Strickland (1822).  This is the saga of a family of mice (an example of a genre of children’s literature using animals as characters).  The garden is separated from the surrounding countryside by a high hedge, which contains beds divided by pathways.  There are a pair of bee hives at the end of the garden and we can see a trained vine on the wall of the house.  Here is the narrator’s description of the garden:

situated .. on a beautiful sloping green bank, under the shade of a fir tree, not many yards from a nice white brick house, the front of which was covered with vines and wall-fruit; there were pots of balsams and geraniums, placed on the beds opposite the windows and glass door. 

From Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse: a moral tale by Catherine Parr Strickland (1822)

From Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse: a moral tale by Catherine Parr Strickland (1822)

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, caluculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

The potential dangers of playing out of doors (as well as inside) are spelled out in graphic detail in The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed, published anonymously in 1819.  With its disobedient children, acerbic parents and satirical tone these stories anticipate Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children, or Roald Dahl’s children’s stories.

In The Climbers, a story about the dangers of climbing trees, little Henry is berated by his father for causing the accident, despite being quite badly injured.  In the chapter entitled The Bees, William thrusts a stick into a hive to get some honey, and is horribly stung.  Here’s a flavour of the prose:

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

The Accidents of youth: consisting of short histories, calculated to improve the moral conduct of children, and warn them of the many dangers to which they are exposed (1819)

More tales from the Georgian Garden in a future post – in the meantime, here are links to the various texts at the Internet Archive:

Little Mary; or, the Picture-book

The Little Visitors

Little Downy, or, the history of a field-mouse

The Accidents of Youth