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The Rose Garden

Great Rosarians of the World Annual Lecture Series

Each year on the fourth Sunday in January rose lovers from across the United States and beyond come together at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, to honor one of our own at the Great Rosarians of the World Annual Lecture Series.

Since the inauguration of the series in 2001 we have honored some of the world's preeminent rosaqrians, men and women whose hard work and dedication have significantly enriched our understanding and love of growing roses.

The Great Rosarians of the World program was conceived as a forum allowing a broader audience of rose growers to celebrate and honor the accomplishments of these preeminent rosarians.

Previous Great Rosarians of the World honorees include:

2001

Peter Beales, nurseryman, hybridize, lecturer, author, and President of the Royal National Rose Society.

2002

Ralph Moore, hybridizer, nurseryman, and the father of the modern miniature rose.

2003

Miriam Wilkins, founder of the Heritage Rose Group in the United States, whose influence has spread worldwide with the founding of similar groups in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, and France.

2004

Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, known to gardeners worldwide as the authors and photographers of nearly thirty books on roses and all phases of Gardening.

2005

Peter Harkness, talk about "English Roses" Peter Harkness has contributed so much to our love and appreciation of the rose! The Harkness family has been active in producing the best "English Roses" on the market since the 1870s. He has been actively involved with the family nursery right up to his retirement and now is an international recognized speaker and lecturer on roses and their history.

 

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2006

Great Rosarians of the World VI

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Viru and Girija Viraraghavan

Viru Viraraghavan fell in love with roses at age 18 when he saw a beautiful shrub of 'Julien Potin' in full bloom, at Sim's Park (a government botanical garden) in the hill station of Coonor, which is in the Nilgiri (Blue) Mountains of South India. Coonoor is very near the more important hill station of Octacmund (Uthagamandalam) which used to be the summer capital of the Madras Presidency ( a vast state which has since been divided into smaller states) during British colonial days. Viru's father was in the prestigious Indian Civil Service and so every summer the family would move to Octacamund (called Ooty for short).

Roses became his passion right through school and college, where he did his Masters in Chemistry. He passed the premier government administrative service, called the Indian Administrative Service in 1959, a worked in various senior capacities, including Director, and Secretary, Agriculture and Horticulture Departments, Government of Andhra Pradesh, which is a state in central India. He voluntarily retired in 1980 to concentrate on rose breeding. He had been growing roses in his various gardens right from 1955 (both his father and he, being in government service, were subject to transfers from place to place.

In 1980 , Viru and his wife Girija settled in Kodaikanal, a hill station (2200 meters elevation) to the south of Coonoor and Ooty, as he felt the climate there was more conducive to rose breeding. He began by trying to raise roses in unusual colors, and in the 'hand-painted' strain. He has released over 60 roses, some of which have been registered with the IRAR. A few of his roses are: 'Sunlit Snow' ('Annapurna'), 'Magic East' ('Boddhisatwa'), 'Coffee Country' ('Coorg'), 'Nefertiti', the thornless 'Orient Silk' ('Ahimsa'), 'Orient Spice' ('Rajni'), 'Southern Sunset' ('Tamrabarani'), and 'Magic Medley'.

Viru and Girija felt they need to breed roses which would do well in warm climates (India is mostly tropical and sub tropical). His breeding goals were given a boost when, fortuitously, they learnt of the existence of the only tropical rose species in the world, Rosa clinophylla, which exists in three forms, according to the location it is found in. They have been able to procure all three forma and are still on the hunt for other forms in different places in the country.

In 1990 the couple read about the Indian form of R. gigantea and made an expedition to northeast India where at Ukhrul, on the Burma border, on Mount Sirohi they found huge specimens of this species. Being January there were no flowers, but they collected seeds and cuttings, and have raised seedlings and now have literally gigantic specimens scrambling up the trees in their home garden.

They are now concentrating on breeding with R. clinophylla and R. gigantea and are currently on their fifth generation down this line. They have also crossed the two species and have started this new line of breeding too. Clinophylla is a water loving rose, they grow plants in their lily ponds, and gigantea has the hugest sized flowers. Their clinophylla and gigantea seedlings are still under trial, but hopefully soon they will be releasing some.

Their ultimate aim is to extend rose growing to the warmer parts of the subtropics and even the tropical parts of the world, areas which are rapidly developing, but without roses. A special emphasis is on producing roses with evergreen foliage so that the rose becomes a plant beautiful even when not in bloom and thus able to compete effectively with the spectacular foliage of tropical plants.

In order to evaluate their warm climate roses better they have a farm 400 kilometers north of their home where they test their roses. The go there for a few days every month to check on how the seedlings are faring.

Girija, who has a Masters in History and a Bachelor in Education, is researching the history of the rose in India from ancient times.

Viru also hybridizes rhododendrons, there are wild species in the hills around their home, and the couple grow camellias, magnolias, and a host of other trees and plants. They love to travel, visiting rose and other gardens, when it is possible to leave their garden.

Both have held positions of Vice-Presidentship in the Indian Rose Federation, the all-India apex body of rose societies. Both are also Editors of the Indian Rose Annual, since 1985, published in time for the annual National Rose Convention held in different cities each year. They are also ardent environmentalists, being founding members of a conservation society in their home town, Kodaikanal, which being a tourist center, has all the attendant ills of a 'touristy' place. Kodaikanal is located in the Palni Hills, part of the Western Ghats range of mountains, and has a pristine environment and ecosystem with may rare, endangered, and unfortunately many extinct, species of flora and fauna including the very rare R. leschenaultiana.

Viru and Girija will divide the Great Rosarians program, with Viru speaking on his breeding work developing roses for sub tropical and tropical climates and Girija sharing her research into the history of the rose in India.

 

 

 

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