Old Roses - Book review

Read the review of out book Old Roses from the Natal Mercury.

ROSES came to South Africa with the early Dutch settlers. In November 1659, Jan van Riebeeck recorded in his diary that he had picked the first Dutch rose at the Cape.

During the restoration of the Castle, friezes decorated with roses were discovered under layers of whitewash. The renowned Gwen Fagan then investigated whether any of these original roses still survived 350 years later.

She is just one of many contributors to this beautifully illustrated book on old roses. The cut-off date used to define old roses is generally 1900. Many have now been found and identified, but then roses have an amazing tenacity to survive, overcoming drought, fires and ice or being eaten down to their stumps by goats and sheep.

The 1820 settlers brought rose cuttings with them as a living memory of their English homes and families. One, the “Grandmother Wiggill 1820”, was brought by Elizabeth Wiggill in a screw-top glass jar. It survived the three-month sea voyage and can today be found from the Eastern Cape and Free State to KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

Each time the Wiggill descendants moved, they took a cutting of this fragrant rose with them.

Rose lovers will delight in this book. The revival of old roses seems assured with the creation of the South African Rosarium at Bedford in the Eastern Cape in 2012. There, an old rose sanctuary is being created which, like this book, will inspire South Africans to cherish these historically significant roses.