Number 38    September - October 2004


By Clair G. Martin
E.L. & Ruth B. Shannon Curator of Rose Garden
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
San Marino, California

The following is a reprint of the article that appeared in the June 2004 issue of pacific coast nurseryman & Garden Supply Dealer


Henry Edwards Huntington bought a ranch. By turn-of-the-20th-Century standards, it was a modest plot of land. Straddling both sides of the Raymond Hill earthquake fault like a lopsided saddle, the ranch covered just over 600 acres of alluvial-plain soil located immediately south of the burgeoning town of Pasadena in the San Gabriel Valley. But, in 1903, the scion of a famous railroad tycoon - himself a bastion of that enterprise - had begun his own equally ambitious plans for this golden little acre the previous owners had called "San Marino."

Henry had the existing house torn down so his architect and men would have a 'clean slate' on which to work. Plans were begun for an elegant and more worthy palatial mansion. Yet even before all that, Henry Huntington had equally ambitious plans for what would surround the house; what would fill the acreage, eventually, from one end to the other. One of those plans focused on roses.

Henry had his head gardener, an influential man by the name of William Hertrich, begin construction of the most exquisite rose garden he could possibly imagine in early 1908. The garden had been designed by the architect of his new home and was ultimately planned, built, and planted before construction of the Huntington home commenced.

The rose garden was devised, as were all the early gardens at what was to become The Huntington Library, for the enjoyment of just two people. Henry and his second wife, Arabella Huntington, seldom entertained at their generous home, but they did enjoy the quiet and beauty of the gardens. Quiet and beauty being paramount, the gardens were laid to retain an intimate feel, with small, inviting paths winding through both native oaks and plants and the ever-increasing numbers of introduced flora.

The early rose garden was planted as a display garden, with anywhere from 50 to 100 of each rose planted, interspersed with spring-flowering bulbs and climbing roses on steel pipe arbors draped with climbing "Sweetheart Roses": 'Mlle. Cécile Brunner'. A German nurseryman, Franz P. Hosp, first discovered the climbing form of 'Cécile Brunner', as it is now known, in his Riverside, California nursery in 1894. A very popular rose of the time, Huntington's staff searched nurseries up and down the state for large specimens to decorate the new garden.

After the rose garden was installed, Huntington commenced building his home and soon discovered that, to prevent removal of several of his beloved valley oaks, he would have to have his architect move the foundation a few degrees to the south; forever fouling the symmetrical, perpendicular layout originally intended between house and garden. Sometime in the early 1920s, the alignment problem was somewhat solved by removing the easternmost part of the rose garden and replacing it with the classically-inspired limestone Tempietto at its new head.

In 1930, the Trustees opened up Mr. Huntington's Library, Art Gallery, and Gardens to the public. Little was done to accommodate the large influx of visitors until much later in the century. In 1986-87, members of the Huntington staff and I, along with the Landscape Architect Ann Christoph of South Laguna, rethought and redesigned the rose garden to make it more accessible to our nearly 600,000 yearly visitors. Formal entrances and paved walkways were installed to make the rose garden more inviting and at the same time give a formality that the original installation lacked. Mr. Huntington's rose garden still maintains the feel of the original with a more open and inviting presence for our 21st Century visitors.

Beyond providing a beautiful and charming environment, the rose garden at The Huntington displays nearly 1,500 different cultivars of roses in the nearly three-acre garden. No longer planted as a display garden with large numbers of just a few roses, the rose garden can be best thought of as a living library of roses from the most ancient to the most recent. Currently, we blend a collection of antique and modern roses that do well here in our mild, Southern California inland valley climate. Our goal is to display as many important old garden roses (OGRs), historic modern roses, roses from important hybridizers, and modern shrub roses as we can fit into the space.

Selecting new roses for The Huntington Rose Garden is a process that consists of evaluating how well the cultivar adapts to our climate, flower production, historic context, and resistance to the more common diseases. We have chosen not to spray for problems unless there is no other solution and roses growing in our garden must adapt. We give a new rose three years to settle in and prove its worth. After that trial period a rose that does not produce is "pruned with the shovel." Our firm rule is perform or be replaced!

In the adjoining Shakespeare and Herb gardens, visitors can discover some of the oldest roses still in gardens. As I note in my 1999 book, 100 Old Roses for the American Garden, the red flowers of the 'Apothecary's Rose' graced French gardens from at least the 12th Century CE. And the pink and exceedingly fragrant 'Autumn Damask' was first described by the Roman poet Virgil in the First Century BCE.



Unlike antique collectors, lovers of old roses can have a piece of an original in their garden for the price of a bareroot! Because rose cultivars are propagated clonally, a gardener can have a rose that a Caesar may have pricked a finger on or one that the Empress Josephine grew in her garden at La Malmaison!

Beginning in early 1987, after returning from presenting a series of lectures in Australia and New Zealand, I started amassing a collection of the then-new David Austin English Roses. Over the years, we have assembled one of the first and most comprehensive collections of these shrub roses on public display in the United States. We continue planting the new cultivars from Austin, as well as many of the new French hybrids from both Meilland and Guillot, as well as new American hybrids wherever possible.

Right off, it became apparent that the information on how these shrub roses grew in the United Kingdom wouldn't necessarily translate to our Southern California climate. This brought about the beginnings of my first book, 100 English Roses for the American Garden, published by Workman in 1997. Roses like 'Gertrude Jekyll' were listed as only growing to four feet or so, yet as soon as we planted them in our California garden, she reached up to over 12 feet in a single growing season! One of the best new English Roses in a while is the deep red-to-purple/red 'William Shakespeare 2000.' Heavenly fragrant and extremely remontant, Will is an outstanding garden rose that will grow to around four feet tall and spread out to around five feet in width. A rose well worth his soil!



The Rose Garden was one of the first gardens at The Huntington to be honored with a permanent endowment. Presented to The Huntington by Stan Avery in honor of his wife Ernestine, the Avery endowment ensures the longterm existence of the collection. Huntington Trustee Ruth B. Shannon and her husband Ed, endowed the position of Curator of the Rose Garden, similarly ensuring the permanence of that position.

The Rose Garden has a long history of educational outreach programs, for our over 23,000 members as well as our visitors. Along with yearly rose pruning classes, we also sponsor periodic classes on rose history and cultivation. This year, we are planning a Fall Festival of Roses for Saturday and Sunday, October 23 and 24, 2004. There will be many activities for families as well as demonstrations on pruning shrubs and climbers and even how to train climbing roses. Our Volunteers and Docents will be available to answer questions and give short tours of the Rose Garden both days. Check out The Huntington website at for more information on upcoming events and lectures.

For the past four years, the Rose Garden has sponsored an endowed lecture series, the "Great Rosarians of the World," held on the fourth Sunday in January. Each year, we honor an outstanding rosarian to present a program covering their work in the world of roses. Previous honorees have included: Peter Beales, hybridizer, author, and nurseryman from the UK; Ralph Moore, nurseryman from Visalia, California, and the hybridizer responsible for more miniature roses than nearly anyone else in the world; Miriam Wilkins, founder of the Heritage Rose Group, USA; and most recently, Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, authors, television series hosts, and photographers, also from the UK. We had nearly 400 people to honor and hear Phillips and Rix this past January. The "Great Rosarians of the World" lecture series is rapidly becoming the rose event of the year, after the Rose Parade on January 1st!

I count myself among the fortunate to have started out volunteering in The Huntington Rose Garden. In 1983, the position of Curator of the Rose Garden became vacant, and I was offered this position where I remain to this day. I work with a dedicated cadre of Volunteers and Docents who give freely of their time and talents helping to maintain Mr. Huntington's Rose Garden. Currently, we have nearly 100 volunteers and docents deadheading, pruning, and acting as both hosts and collection interpreters for our visitors.

The mission of the Rose Garden and its staff, both professional and volunteer, remains nearly the same as it was in Mr. Huntington's day: to provide a beautiful and aesthetic space for casual visitors and to interpret this outstanding historic and modern collection for those who want to learn more about the history and cultivation of America's National Flower.


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