ASLA Oregon LANDbytes JUNE 2012 Feature:
The Rose Fiesta
By Rebecca Wahlstrom
I could recite a litany of dry facts about the rose; that there is evidence of the rose having been on this earth for 35 million years, or that there are about 100-150 different species of rose/Rosa, growing all over the world. The rose is the state flower of four states, and is also the birth flower of June, signifying love and beauty. Since 1907, the rose has served as the muse and symbol of the Rose Festival, a month-long celebration of Portland and the great state of Oregon. I could go on, but dry facts are not grabbing my interest this June. I wanted to dig a little into the history of this plant, which has gotten the reputation of maybe being a little stodgy and temperamental…not really being a well-rounded player in the garden. What I found was a past full of war, romance, and intrigue.
The blood that came from Aphrodite, when she was hurt while hurrying to help her beloved Adonis, was said to have turned the previously white rose, red. Legend has it that Cleopatra filled her rooms knee-deep with rose petals when wooing Mark Antony. In late 1300’s and 1400’s, factions warring for the throne of England, each took on the rose as their symbol (York/white versus Lancaster/red). Later on in England, about 1599, Christopher Marlowe writes in The Passionate Shepherd To His Love, “Come live with me and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove …And I will make thee beds of roses and a thousand fragrant posies…” If you think that reeks of romance, intrigues, and loveliness, just wait. There’s more.
There is another story involving the rose and this one is set here in Oregon. The International Rose Test Garden website tells the romantic tale of how the rose made its way to the northwest. Story goes that, in 1837, Jason Lee presented a rose bush to his new bride on their wedding day. This may seem a little lackluster in modern times, but as this was before local nurseries, overnight-shipping, or even transcontinental railroad service, it would be astounding. The rose was brought to the northwest, on a sailing vessel traveling around Cape Horn, as a gift of love in that rough and tumble era. Years after, John Minto found little left of Lee’s mission that was near Champeog, but he did find a rose. He transplanted that rose to his property, and then began giving cuttings of it to interested people around the northwest. The rest, as they say, is history.
When the Portland Rose Society first started to combine a party with their rose exhibition in the late 1800’s, the event was called the “Portland Rose Carnival and Fiesta”. Fiesta (!) and Carnival (!) sound like an appropriate response to this party girl of a flower. We may not use the tea and climbing roses much in our modern public spaces, but the more rambunctious native/shrub roses have gained popularity. Less maintenance and a hardy growing habit have made these a popular option to what we think of as the more traditional rose. We still can get the “fiesta” with a fraction of the work.
The symbol of love and beauty, the rose has caught the imagination and interest of people for hundreds of years. Shakespeare’s Juliet uses the rose in her argument that she loves Romeo regardless of his family name. Song lyrics involving the rose easily spring to mind. The rose is commonly used as a token of affection or regret; so the next time you gather, give, or receive a bouquet of roses, remember that along with the history and legends behind those soft petals and sharp thorns, there is a whole lot of love.