Curating a Historic Rose Collection

Lost in a collection of more than 3000 old roses, and ever striving to find his way, this curator shares the world of roses he knows and loves, the inhabitants he has met and come to cherish, and the efforts of a small band of volunteers to preserve our plant heritage in one small world where roses bloom.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rain, Roses and Rescue

 Nature rules the lives of gardeners. A week ago the challenges in the face of nearly 10 months of drought had posed a complete revision of my plans for the roses here. Friends continued to laugh at me for the weeks of work I spent rebuilding the drainage channel that runs along an area where roses are to be grown in containers for some time to come. Indeed I wondered if I would ever see water running off into the watershed below.

Then came the rains...and they continue...and continue. In the course of one week we may have been provided a third of our low normal rainfall for a year. Everywhere over 2 1/2 acres there are waterspouts, shooting up with the excess rain that can no longer be absorbed by what had been bone dry soil.

A few days before the great rain, in the dry brown landscape of Northern California, a friend came to visit the roses. Katsuhiko Maebara is as quiet and self-effacing as old rose lovers get. Yet his efforts on behalf of their survival are extraordinary! In the City of Sakura, Japan, Katsuhiko envisaged a garden of old roses. He looked one day at a forest of timber bamboo long lost to the careful control that traditionally kept a balance in the landscape. And, he saw a rose garden, and he brought it into being. The City of Sakura in 2012 hosted the World Federation of Rose Societies' international conference on old roses, with the Sakura garden as the centerpiece.

Built on the gifts of old rose lovers around the world from China to Italy to California, the Sakura garden is one of the great collections of old roses now in existence. Found there are some hundreds of roses sent from the collection of The Friends of Vintage Roses, including many rare found roses from the gold fields and from waysides up and down the California coast. Despite the bleak brown winter, Katsuhiko saw in our dormant collection of roses the names of beauties he had only heard about. Some of these will go one day soon to add to the beauty of the Sakura rose garden.