While I'm off on a garden book tangent, I am pleased to show you one of the many reasons why I browse secondhand book stores and visit every Half-Price Books store that crosses my path. Last week, I ran across what I think is a first edition of Roses by Jack Harkness, published in 1978 by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Roses is a catalog of sorts, printed in the style of its era. None of the flashy full-color-photographs-on-every-page of modern book layouts, this one has two inserts of color plates, 16 pictures in each insert chosen from the hundreds that Harkness described. I bought it, not for the photos, but for this famous rose breeder's prose regarding the hundreds of roses. Summarizing this excellent work, Harkness wrote, "I could truly claim that this story has no end, an obscure beginning, and a heroine who is forever changing."
Each individual rose description is marvelous for their collective gold mine of personal insights. Take, for example, what he writes about my personal favorite, 'Madame Hardy'; "...one of the most wonderful roses, provided its lax, ungainly growth may be forgiven...a further pardon is required in case the weather sweeps away its intricate flowers. I do so pardon it....a bloom like that is remembered all your life."
He was not as complimentary of 'Mme Isaac Pereire' and her sport 'Mme Ernst Calvat': "These two are generally applauded...as examples of the beauty of old garden roses. I cannot see why....if 'Mme Pierre Oger' is Cinderella, these two are the Ugly Sisters fortissimo....long branches are clad with dull foliage, nasty little thorns and mildew...flowers, revolting in color, frequently ameliorate that sin by failing to open at all" Grudgingly, he finishes his description of these widely-acclaimed intensely fragrant Bourbons with "...to give the devils their dues, they are both fragrant."
I certainly agreed wholeheartedly with the opening of his description of 'Blanc Double de Coubert': "This rose has been praised too much...the petals are thin, easily spoiled by rain....If one wants a double white rose, I see no point in planting this one." And his paragraph about 'Charles de Mills': "I have had little joy from this variety, which the experts describe as tall....(it) does not grow tall when I plant it and I do not admire its short buds...(but)it improves on opening."
I especially admired and noted the book's dedication "To Betty Catherine Harkness. I met her in 1946, had the extraordinary sagacity to marry her in 1947; and we have lived happily ever after, thanks mainly to her." Should I ever write another book, I must remember to follow his lead and provide some recognition for the long-suffering Mrs. ProfessorRoush. I believe she also exhibited "extraordinary sagacity" to accept my proposal of marriage, even though she might submit some trivial examples to suggest otherwise during our 32 years together.