Book Review: Chasing the Rose
By: Emily Shirley, Adv. Master Gardener
Chasing the Rose
Because people that know me know that I love to read, I am often asked “What are you reading?” At the moment, I am reading a book titled “Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside
This book is Andrea di Robilant’s quest for the name of a rose that grew on his family’s former estate near Venice. His journey took him from the wild overgrown park on the estate that had left his family decades before, to Eleanora Garlant and her rose garden, the largest in Italy with 1500 roses, as well as tales of his great-great-great-great grandmother Lucia with her love and knowledge of roses, the Empress Josephine and the histories of many individual roses.
For centuries people have considered the Rose a romantic flower, inspiring poets, artists and rose hunters who dared the treacherous and distant mountains of faraway China. Di Robilant’s researches are a romantic quest in themselves, and while his explorations and discoveries are fascinating to a rose gardener and lover, there is an enchantment in his travels, captured by Nina Fuga’s simple and graceful watercolor illustrations.
“When I planted my first old fashioned roses I chose Madame Hardy, Comtesse de Murinais, Konegin von Danemark and Madame Plantier and other lady roses who were famous enough or loved enough to have a rose named in their honor. When I walked past these roses early in the dewy morning I imagined us all primping and preparing for the day together. My reaction to the roses is very similar to di Robilant’s in Signora Galant’s garden. “When I saw the ‘Empress Josephine’ spread out against Eleanora’s corner pergola, I inevitably conjured up the real Josephine. And so it was with the other roses arrayed around it. I was no longer simply walking along a path looking at the roses on display; I had stepped into a crowded, lively room filled with roses that were looking at me.”
Although di Robilant sometimes writes of the gardens of the wealthy, it is the stamina and resilience of these old roses that fascinate him, and me. I was moved by the amazing story of Pierina, a teacher who married a civil engineer and followed her husband to Irkutsk in Siberia where he was overseeing the building of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. There she continued to teach school, and wrote about conditions for labor organizations. She survived the Russian Revolution and many other trials until at age 74 she walked to Vladivostok, and from there made her way home – and continued to teach! Stamina and resilience. Signora Galant named one of her new hybrids Pierina.
This is definitely a book for anyone that loves roses. I almost felt as if the roses discussed were people that I got to know through the book. Would I recommend this book to others, especially gardeners, and especially to rose gardeners? YES!