The Garden Gate: Romance of roses enjoyed from beginning of time

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By Ellen Probert Williamson

Probably the most popular flower in the world is the rose.

The most beautiful member of the Rosaceae family, the rose originated in Asia Minor.

This marvelous flower is one of the oldest in cultivation. It was considered a very old bloom 5,000 years ago, when it was featured in the royal gardens of ancient Asia and Africa.

Roses have been symbols of poetic fantasy since the dawn of civilization, perhaps even before written history.

From the biblical Rose of Sharon in Song of Solomon to this day, they have been symbols of love.

The Persian poets of the 13th century praised the beauty of the rose. Roses grew in mythical gardens of Semiramis, Queen of Assyria, and Midas, King of Phrygia.

In all mythology, the rose is the symbol of beauty, youth and love.

The Greeks gave credit to several deities for the beauty of roses.

Chloris, goddess of flowers, Aphrodite, Zepherous, Apollo and the three graces, argued that so beautiful a flower must have been their concerted effort, as it could never have been produced by one deity alone.

Other gods and goddesses presumed to have had a hand in the creation of the rose were Eros, god of love, and Dionysius, god of wine who contributed to the fragrance.

In time, the rose also became the sign of secrecy and silence. In ancient times, a rose suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber was a sign that everyone was sworn to secrecy, or “subrosa,” under the rose.

The plaster rosettes that decorate many ceilings today are a development of that practice.

The rose became one of the more popular heraldic flowers in history with the Wars of the Roses (1455-85).

The wars were fought between the House of York, whose emblem was the white rose, and the House of Lancaster, whose emblem was the red rose.

These wars established the Tudors on the throne of England. The Tudor rose, which combines the red and white, is the modern flower emblem of England.

The rose is an ingredient in perfumes, ancient and modern, and has undying popularity.

Attar of rose, rose water, and ointment of rose oil and honey were the most lavishly used cosmetics in ancient Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

The more one thinks about roses, the more associations come to mind. What about the origins of words like “rosary”? Rose is a popular color in household furnishings and dress.

Rose shades are the most popular ones in lipsticks and sunglasses.

In the Victorian Era, the most popular wood for furniture making was rosewood, a Brazilian cabinet wood with a reddish color and faint fragrance.

We toss rose petals in the paths of brides and use them to make potpourris and rose-flavored syrups, as has been done for thousands of years to make rosewater.

Rosewater is used to this day in the Middle East to flavor foods, as a scented hair rinse, and sprinkled on carpets and drapes as an air freshener.

We have so many sayings, songs, references and ideas about roses. We almost unconsciously say things are coming up roses, or we are looking at things through rose-colored glasses.

Dozens of songs are about roses: “The Rose of Tralee,” “Second-Hand Rose,” “Mighty Like a Rose” are a few.

The Victorian Language of Flowers lists 27 meanings for roses of different colors and varying degrees of bloom or bud.

The rose is important even in the field of nutrition. Rose hips, or seed pods, are marvelous when made into jam.

They contain more vitamin C than oranges, and roses are both decorative and tasteful in salads.

Candied or crystallized rose petals are easy to make and are glamorous decorations for wedding cakes, birthday cakes and other desserts.

As any rose enthusiast knows, early morning is the best time to tend and gather roses. But what if you had a 4-acre rose garden with about 2,500 rose bushes in it, and you gathered some 1,000 or so roses every morning, starting at 5:30?

Would you have enough containers to hold them all? What would you possibly do with so many?

Jacob Maarse Florists does this every day.

Maarse supplies florists all over the country with cut roses. (A good-sized wedding can consume up to 18,000 roses.)

Mr. Maarse might well say there is much sense in the popular saying, “Take time to smell the roses.”
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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.