Love old roses? This Sunday’s 31st Celebration of Old Roses in El Cerrito will have hundreds and it’s free
I’ll be in rose rhapsody this Sunday at El Cerrito’s 31st annual Celebration of Old Roses…it’s a yearly trek I make along with a number of other old rose devotees from all over California where we can see, smell and talk old roses with other addicts. The annual spring event is sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group and takes place at the El Cerrito Community Center from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The concept is simple—complete old rose immersion. Old roses or antique roses are varieties that date from 1860 or earlier. Their attractiveness grows from their wonderful rich and varied fragrances, graceful growth habit which makes them ideal for the garden and diesease resistance. The celebration in El Cerrito works like a old-fashioned country fair—visitors walk along and encounter a wonderful menagerie of mason jars filled with freshly picked old roses which have been organized by class—gallicas, centifolias, damasks, mosses, hybrid chinas, bourbons, portlands, chinas, teas, eglantines, floribundas and others—all in glorious states of bloom. There is ample opportunity to explore the nuances of each variety—fragrance, color, size, petal count, foliage and growth habit– and there are educational rose books, light refreshments and a proliferation of rosy knick-knacks. The event also includes a silent auction for old roses . And, of course, there are old rose vendors from all over (Vintage Gardens from Sonoma County) who will be selling rare old roses, most of which are own root roses.
I was seriously hooked on roses about 20 years ago when I was working as a journalist in Bulgaria and wrote about rose attar and the world famous annual rose harvest festival in Kazanlik. After encountering acres and acres of richly fragrant damask roses, I too wanted a piece of the action. From there, it’s been a joyous ride, that first required me to put down some roots of my own. Now, settled in the country Sonoma County and growing about 100 old roses on two properties with differing microclimates, I am living out my rose dream…but there are NEVER enough roses.
When our local Sebastopol rose gurus, Gregg Lowery and Phillip Robinson, went exclusively mail order with their revered antique rose nursery Vintage Gardens, we lost one of the best hands-on rose education experiences to be had in Northern, CA. All the more disappointing, they won’t be having their annual open garden showcasing their fabulous collection of some 3,600 rare and old roses (all labeled). Old rose events like the one in El Cerrito have to sustain those of us who are hungry to see rare roses and to road test the extensive knowledge we’ve gleaned from late-night reading and dog-earring of our rose books. My bible is the Vintage Gardens Complete Catalogue of Antique and Extraordinary Roses. This must-have catalogue gives an utterly riveting blow by blow accounting of the properties of nearly 3000 old and very rare roses, the largest list of roses offered by any nursery in the world today. Consulting rosarians like Gregg Lowery will in be El Cerrito on Sunday, answering questions and identifying old roses at the “mystery” table. This is the chance to have any roses from your own garden identified—just put a complete cutting ( full bloom, bud and some foliage) in a jar and bring them to the event and the experts will try to identify them for you.
Another fabulous aspect of El Cerrito’s celebration is the chance to try and buy some very high quality rose products. Last year, I purchased some delightful “Rose Embrace” rose eau de toilette from Healdsburg perfumers Jan and Michael Tolmasoff who run the Russian River Rose Company. The Tolmasoffs are the real-deal–they grow hundreds of damask roses and harvest their own petals to make their own unique rose scents. They also offer hands-on rose harvest tours at their Healdsburg rose ranch where they have over 600 roses.
Rose shows require extensive planning, organization and support. The Heritage Roses Group, formed in 1975, is a fellowship of those who care about old garden roses, species roses, old or unusual roses – particularly those roses introduced into commerce prior to the year 1867. The group’s purposes are to preserve, enjoy, and share knowledge about the old roses.
Details: El Cerrito’s 31st annual Celebration of Old Roses, Sunday May 15, 2011, El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane, El Cerrito. 11 am to 3:30 p.m. There is no admission charge.
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