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MEETING REPORT: March Meeting Report

By Lynn Langley.

John Bagnasco absolutely loves roses. He has travelled extensively in pursuit of this passion, visiting many of world’s great rose gardens. He is also one of the hosts of the weekly radio show Garden America, airing on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. on KPRZ 1210 AM. At our March meeting, John discussed his efforts to “save the rose” by preserving rose genetics for future generations.

Roses have long been an important part of American horticulture. George Washington grew roses, naming one after his mother, Mary Washington. Ronald Reagan proclaimed the rose the national floral emblem of the United States on November 20, 1986. Roses were not only available from local nurseries, but also through a large group of mailorder companies offering a bewildering number of rose varieties. Unfortunately, this has changed over recent years. A majority of the mail-order firms have gone out of business. Rose varieties are disappearing as availability has decreased. Many varieties now only exist in a single rose garden and are in danger of becoming extinct.

John has joined in the efforts of other rosarians to try to protect these roses. He says it is important to get cuttings of rare roses into nurseries and people’s gardens. For example, John spoke about one particular garden in Italy. Begun in 1967 by Professor Gianfranco Fineschi on his family’s estate in Tuscany, the Fineschi Rose Garden (Roseto Botanico ‘Carla Fineschi’ Cavriglia) eventually grew to be the world’s largest private rose garden with nearly 7000 distinct varieties of roses, 300 of which were the last in the world. Beginning in the 1970s, Fineschi established a relationship with the director of the Europa-Rosarium Sangerhausen in East Germany. In an effort to safeguard against climate and other threats to the survival of the roses in both gardens, Sangerhausen and Fineschi exchanged specimens over the years.

In later years, attempts were made to further spread the Fineschi cache of rose specimens for preservation purposes, including an effort to acquire cuttings in Los Angeles. Because roses can’t be shipped directly to the United States from Italy, 150 cuttings were first shipped from Denmark and then to Los Angeles. Sadly, the cuttings were mislabeled on their way to Los Angeles, and by the time they arrived at their destination, only ten of the cuttings had survived.

In the United States, there are several rose gardens of note. John mentioned the Wyck Rose Garden in Philadelphia, planted in the 1820s, which is the oldest rose garden in the United States that has retained its original plan. It contains the rose ‘Lafayette’, the only one of its kind and reputed to have been planted in honor of the Marquis of Lafayette’s visit to Wyck in 1825. John also mentioned Columbus Park of Roses in Ohio (once home to the American Rose Society), the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, and Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge. During renovations in the early 1990s, Descanso Gardens planned to discard many aging and diseased Japanese roses. Given that (as with Italian roses) Japanese roses cannot be shipped to the United States, it was fortunate that volunteers were allowed to take cuttings from the Japanese roses and many of these are currently in private collections.

Internationally, several gardens work to ensure the preservation of rose diversity. Two of these gardens are the Roseraie du Val-de-Marne outside Paris containing roses from the early 1900s and the aforementioned Europa-Rosarium Sangerhausen, currently the world’s largest rose garden with 9000 varieties.

Another source of rose diversity is amateur breeders. They are creating an incredible variety of beautiful roses, but, because these often are not registered and put into production, they disappear. John mentioned several people he calls rose rescuers who are actively working to preserve rose genetics. He also shared a list of eight companies currently selling roses in the United States. The California Coastal Rose Society, where John is currently president, has a rare rose auction in Carlsbad every year. He encouraged people to help CCRS continue their important work of preserving rose genetics by donating or becoming a member (

Many thanks to John for sharing his insights and for his efforts to preserve rose genetics. Also, thank you to our raffle donors, Ausachica Nursery and Multiflora Enterprises, and to member Ray Brooks for sharing the beautiful bowl he created.

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