If you've spent any quality time among gardening people, you know that they come from all walks of life and exist in all spices and flavors. Even after several years of association with a much varied group of Extension Master Gardeners, I would be hard-pressed to name five common traits among the various personalities. I believe, however, that I have identified one characteristic that all gardeners seem to have in common; generosity. Whether we're digging up starts of daylilies for a passing stranger, handing out flower seeds at garden shows, or just plain sharing our knowledge of our hobby, gardeners are generous to a fault. Well, to be completely honest, except in those few occasions where we've got a new plant that no one else is growing. In that case a little one-up-man-ship is certainly excusable as a very human failing.
I was the recipient of grand gardening generosity recently when I received a surprise package from a reader just after Christmas containing two marvelous DVD's. Knowing of my rose passions, this thoughtful individual sent me a DVD of Louise Mitchell's 2012 documentary of the preservation of the roses in Sacramento's Historic Rose Garden, and what appears to be a bootleg copy of Roger Phillip's 1993 six-part series for the BBC titled "Quest for the Rose."
I've enjoyed both immensely, initially diving quickly into the Cemetery Rose documentary, for a fascinating story of the collision of passion and opportunity among old rose lovers. Lately, however, I've spent time again and again with Roger Phillips on his travels. That six-part documentary is not only great entertainment, it's highly educational, and a perfect companion to Phillip's book of the same name. With his friend and coauthor, Martyn Rix, popping in and out of the series, Roger Phillips travels the world following the development of modern roses, from the first 35 million year old rose fossils found in Colorado, to Turkey, to China, to France, to Britain, and to America. Along the way he visits Josephine's Malmaison and Alcatraz, he has a British museum expert write the word "rose" in the scrawl of ancient Babylonia, and he follows Petrie to the monasteries of China, traveling in cars, boats, bikes, and on foot. We meet rosarians who are all old friends to us through their writings: Graham Stuart Thomas, Peter Beales, Fred Boutin, Miriam Wilkins, Ellen Willmott, and Clair Matin, among others. To hear the real voices of these people, several now dead, strikes me as deeply as listening to John Kennedy's inaugural or Neil Armstrong's first moon steps. Phillips, himself, comes off as one of those eccentric rose fanatics we're all familiar with, inseparable from a really hideous orange pair of reading glasses, and bounding up mountains in France in search of a wild rose whose location is known only from notes in a 100 year old book. The scene of an ecstatic Roger Phillips dropping to his knees on a steep hillside to sniff a wild R. gallica will be with me forever.
I can't thank my benefactor enough for my Christmas gift, this entertainment that has sustained me through the winter, but as you have probably noticed, I am keeping the source unnamed here lest he/she be hounded by hordes of salivating rose lovers seeking copies of their own. I have, however, in gratitude, passed on a copy of Phillip's series to another rose nut, another link in the chain of a passion passed on from enthusiast to fanatic, zealot to fellow addict.