Gregg Cook, Rosarian

When I imagine the rose flower I see its beauty and smell its fragrance.  I know that a gifted bouquet conveys love or friendship or caring and that they can brighten up the home or garden.  Beyond that I haven’t thought much about roses until I met my neighbor and now good friend, Gregg.    

By Jason Laurenzano  | October 23, 2020

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"Crazie Dottie," miniature rose

The Rose

 

Rose [rohz] noun: 1. Any of the wild or cultivated, usually prickly-stemmed, pinnate-leaved, show-flowered shrubs; of genus Rosa. From the Latin rosa; akin to the Greek rhódon.


Rosarian [roh-zair-ee-unn] noun: a person who is fond of, develops or cultivates roses.

Roses are Gregg’s PASSION. In this Profile in Passion I explore his relationship with roses and his community of local and national rosarians. Along the way, I share some interesting facts and information about roses and rose societies.


Stroll past Gregg’s home and you’ll likely stop to enjoy the vibrantly colored palette of show-quality rose blooms and their fragrances.  You might see Gregg pruning, feeding or otherwise tending the bushes.  He’d gladly chat with you about roses or most any other topic that comes up.     

A recently retired bank executive, Gregg lives a full life.  He and his husband are wine club members of a Napa Valley winery, patrons of the local symphony orchestra and museum, and cruise ship travelers.  He speaks fluent Spanish (from time spent in Uruguay).  Perhaps above all it is his passion for roses that sets him apart.  It is deeply rooted, one could say!

Royal Rosa

During the Roman Empire, Emperor Nero lavished rose petals upon his palace floor during special dinners.

During the 17th Century roses were in such high demand that royalty considered roses or rose water as legal tender, and they were often used as barter and for payments. 

Gregg grew up in a small farming town in California’s agricultural Central Valley where everyone knew everyone else’s business, the gossip flowed like wine.  Gregg played the flute in the school band and theater orchestra, acted in a school play, and played the guitar at the graduation commencement.  Disinterested in athletics or the 4-H Club, while outdoors he enjoyed roller skating with friends near the community pool or rolling to the candy store.    

 

His interest in horticulture came accidentally.  Other than mowing the lawn, Gregg’s family had no interest in horticulture and landscaping.  But, there was that one special rose bush.    

 

“My mom’s Aunt Jean was hospitalized and had been given a potted rose bush, a polyantha.  Eventually my mom took it home and planted it.  The only care it got was watering.  Seventy years later that rose bush is still there!  I prune it every winter.” 

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The "Aunt Jean" 70 Year Old Polyantha

As an adult Gregg obtained his first rose bush through a “Plant of the Month” club membership.  He didn’t know how to properly attend to it.  

“I read in the newspaper that the local rose society was giving free pruning instructions at the public rose garden.  I figured that I might as well learn how to do it right.  They were the nicest, most helpful folks that you could ever meet.  I joined the East Bay Rose Society right then and have been a member ever since. That was in 1989.”

A Passion was born.  

Passion [pash-uhn]


A strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything.

Gregg is the current president of the East Bay Rose Society.  He enters his home- grown roses in competitions and has won multiple trophies and ribbons.  He also judges rose competitions in and around Northern California.   More on that later.

 

I wanted to know about how he experiences his passion.  Does he enjoy one aspect more than the others? Is it the selection of rose bushes and their arrangement in his garden?  The growing and tending? The exhibiting of rose blooms? The competition? The judging?  And, do these activities impact other aspects of his life? 

The Bards' Favorite

"Of all flowers, methinks a rose is best." (The Two Noble Kinsmen)

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." (Romeo and Juliet)

– Shakespeare

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." (Sacred Emily)

– Gertrude Stein

I’ve learned that even hobbyist rosarians can be regimented and structured in the manner in which they choose and then arrange rose bushes.  I asked Gregg if he has any preferences.  

“I’m not very particular about colors, though I do tend to favor pinks and pink blends.  

 

Some folks are very particular about their roses.  They want their garden to look just so, with roses in very particular shades that complement the other roses.  So, it’s not just a pink rose, but a particular shade of pink.  And the pink rose should only be located next to the white rose bush, that sort of thing. I respect that style but it is not mine.  I imagine that some of the color combinations in my garden might drive some rosarians crazy, but I don’t care.  I love all the colors.”

During the growing season the tending of the bushes and the rose blossoms can be time consuming and maybe not the favorite aspect for many.  For Gregg it is relaxing, even meditative.  It empties his mind of clutter and negative thoughts. He does his best creative or productive thinking while among the roses bushes in his quiet backyard.

   

“When I’m tending the garden I listen to music or podcasts or sometimes I let my mind wander.”

It’s often less private when tending the bushes in the front garden, but that’s a good thing.  It can provide another element of enjoyment.  

“When I’m out front people with stop to chat and comment on the roses.  I like to watch them enjoy the colors and fragrances.  Some who have a rose bush or two might ask for advice and others might ask general questions.    

I especially like when parents involve their young children. It teaches the little ones to appreciate and enjoy nature even in an urban neighborhood.     

I enjoy hearing neighbors share a rose-related memory.  It might be a childhood memory, or a celebration of some kind, or a family memory such as a grandmother’s love of roses.  It’s very satisfying.   

It puts things into perspective for me.  While I might see a mediocre bloom form or a torn leaf or other imperfections, my neighbors see only pretty shapes and colors and sniff the fragrances.  I’m reminded that it is the enjoyment that matters, not perfection.”    

As I write this, I look out the window and see Gregg once again enjoying a neighborly chat among some of his rose bushes.

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The Quotable Rose

“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.”

– Alphonse Karr

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”

– James M. Barrie

“Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.”

– Oscar Levant

There are four subgenera within the genus “Rosa” and a very long list of distinct species, all starting with the Latin “Rosa”.  Apart from the scientific identifiers there are classification schemes adopted by formal rose societies in different parts of the world.

 

  • The American Rose Society’s taxonomic system classifies roses into three main groupings: Species Roses (i.e. wild roses); Heirloom Roses, aka “Old Garden Roses” (classes in existence since before 1867); and Modern Roses (classes created after 1867).  This classification system has become a world-wide registry.

    • Species Roses are bush-type that grow naturally in the wild, up to 20 feet in height. The flowers are simple with 5 petals, usually in pink, red or white and only bloom once a year.

    • Heirloom Roses or “Old Garden Roses” have blossoms that are big and fragrant and they are bred to have longer stems, therefore perfect as cut flowers.

    • Modern Roses have a more expansive color palette and they can bloom repeatedly in a growing season.

Here’s another thing that I didn’t know: roses are also given “common names” such as “American Beauty” (remember that movie?).  There are hundreds of them, some more notable than others: Bob Hope, Mr. Lincoln, Barbra Streisand, Chicago Peace, Classic Woman, Bacon, Sweet Surrender, Neil Diamond, Dick Clark, Never Enough Lovin', Movie Star, Forever Young, Checkmate, Sexy Red Rexy, and White Chocolate.  The names are assigned by the rose’s “hybridizer” (who genetically creates a new rose type) or by the marketer of the rose.  Gregg adds:

 

“Every ‘Henry Fonda’ around the world should look the same.  People have strong feelings for a rose and its name.  I know a woman who would never grow an ‘Ingrid Bergman’ because she believed the actress to have been immoral.”

 

I asked Gregg if he had a favorite common name. 

“My favorite rose name is Tipsy Imperial Concubine, a pink blend Tea rose.  Wouldn’t you have fun inviting your neighbor or pastor into your back yard to see a Tipsy Imperial Concubine?

I asked him if a rose’s common name has ever influenced his decisions on which to grow.  

“There are some roses named after politicians that I don’t want in my garden because they are a constant reminder of that person.”  

 

While discussing the practice of naming roses I told Gregg about a magnificent elm tree that I dubbed “Eleanor Roosevelt”.  Located in front of a home that we rented while visiting Evanston, Illinois, she is strong, majestic and stunningly impressive.  

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Eleanor Roosevelt

 

That prompted him to tell me that the former First Lady and social pioneer once had this to say: “I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered.  But I was not pleased to read the description in a catalog: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall!”

Symbolism

In 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making the rose the National Floral Emblem of the U.S.A. 

The rose’s popularity is world-wide and is broadly symbolized.  Roses are common features in religious symbols and art as earthly associations of deity and angels.

  • In Buddhism the shape of the rose bloom has spiritual significance.  The petals and the concentric configuration symbolize the meditation path to Nirvana.  As it blooms the petals are revealed in layers, representing how spiritual wisdom unfolds in people's lives.​

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  • The Wars of the Roses were a series of English civil wars for control of the throne of England (1455-1487).  They were fought between supporters of two rival branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, represented by a red rose, and the House of York, represented by a white rose.​​

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While I know that roses come in many colors I didn’t know that there is symbolism associated with the color of a rose: black, purple, lavender, pink, white, yellow, orange, “blue”, green and, of course, red.  The symbolism of the red rose is rather extensive.  [I invite you to review the Appendix to this Profile in Passion for elaboration.]

Even the number of red roses in a gift bouquet has meaning.  Who knew? 

  • A single stem of a red rose symbolizes love at first sight. For couples and lovers who stayed in love through the years, a single bloom simply means “You are still the one I love.”  

  • A pair of red roses symbolizes mutual affection and love.

  • For the 1 month anniversary, a bouquet of 3 red roses is a perfect gift. It also says “I Love You” in a romantic way.

  • A bouquet of 6 represents infatuation or desire.

  • A bouquet of 10 conveys perfect love and romance.

  • A bouquet of 11 signifies true and deep love.

  • A bouquet of a dozen red roses means “Be Mine.” [Two dozen red roses conveys the response: “I’m yours.”]

  • 15 red roses conveys your message of apology, especially when you can’t find the right words to say it.

  • 36 red roses – Some people give a bouquet of 3 dozen red roses?  -Anyway, if given it means the giver is head-over-heels in love with the recipient.  

  • A bouquet of 50 red roses symbolizes love without boundary. Q: Might THAT scare the recipient away?

  • 100 red roses symbolizes devotion.  OMG.

Rose “Thorns”?

 

The growths on roses are technically prickles, not thorns. Prickles come from the outer layer of the plant, the epidermis. Other members of the Rosacea family, such as blackberries and raspberries, also have prickles.

Thorns, as defined by botanists, are hard, woody outgrowths of branches.  Plants with thorns include hawthorn, barberry, gooseberry, bougainvillea and pyracantha.

 

Spines are modified leaves of many species of cactus. 

 

Roses with “thorns” have long been a symbol of adversity, as well as sacrifice. 

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Prickles, thorns and spines are nature's way of protecting the plants' flowers from consumption by animals.

Rose prickles may seem harmless, but have been known to cause serious infections. The elderly and those with immune system disorders are most at risk.

Abraham Lincoln: "We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."

 

In Oscar Wilde's famous work, "The Nightingale and the Rose," a nightingale pierces its breast on a rose thorn so a lover may have a red rose for his beloved.

Another element of Gregg’s rose passion is the intellectual challenge of  horticulture in general and rose cultivation in particular.  Among other things it involves the daily inspecting of the bush and blooms, managing nutritional additives (which varies during the growing season), ensuring the proper soil environment and sun exposure, and protecting them from pests and disease.   

 

“I very, very rarely use chemicals.  I grow disease resistant varieties.  With lots of sun, sufficient water and occasional fertilizer I am pleased with my roses and they have few problems.  

 

Some people can’t stand to see any damage to their plants.  A little damage is okay with me. It’s part of growing roses in the most naturally possible way. I would rather have a garden with healthy soil full of worms, lady bugs, spiders and syrphid flies than a sterile place with ‘perfect’ roses.” 

 

Exhibiting roses at a competitive show takes the passion it to an entirely different level.  For Gregg, it was a natural progression.  

“The editor of the East Bay Rose Society’s newsletter wrote a note on my copy to remind me that their rose show was approaching.  She invited me to bring some flowers to the show and offered to help.  I happened to have had one nice looking rose.  It was a Wedgwood Blue which, ironically, is the same species as that first bush I received from the monthly plant club that started me on this path.  I was told that the correct name was Blue Girl.  She showed me how to properly prep it and display it.  I filled out the exhibitor’s tag and put it in the novice section of the show.  I won a blue ribbon and that was that.  I was an exhibitor!”  

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Gregg gave me a sense of how intensely competitive some exhibitors can be in competition.

“I’m not a hard core exhibitor. Some people take their cut roses around the country or the world to exhibit. They have special rose boxes that they can check in to the airplane or carry on board.   They cut them days ahead of the show and put them in special refrigerators.  They have special cases made to transport their roses to shows in their specially fitted van. While I might show maybe 20, others might show 400 different roses.”    

Gregg describes his approach as being somewhat relaxed.  The more he explained it to me, the less “relaxed” it seemed (but “everything’s relative” right?).

“I look at the garden to determine if there are any roses worth presenting.  If so, I’ll cut them the morning of the show, put them into buckets and take them to the show.  When I get there I choose a spot, get bottles and other supplies and start grooming.  

 

I’ve got a small tool box with my show supplies.  I have cuticle scissors, small paint brushes to remove something in the blossom or to brush off pollen. I’ve got velvet to polish the leaves and clean them and tin foil to use as a wedge to hold the rose straight in a vase. I use Q-tips to open the bloom more or in a more symmetrical way.

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If I’m lucky I’ll just need to clean a bit of dust off of the leaves.  Other times I might need to trim part of a torn leaf using a pair of deckle edge scissors that can remove the torn edge and leave it like it was always perfect.  

Even with all that, which is allowable, the grooming must not be noticeable or artificial.  Things can be taken away but not added.  For example, I’ll use a piece of velvet to polish the leaf but I must not use oil.  The shine on the leaf must be natural.”  

 

I wondered if there was more to the experience of exhibiting and competing than the prospect of winning ribbons or trophies.

“It’s very emotional.  Of course there is the stress associated with the prep, the anticipation and all else that is involved, but it is also exhilarating. We work to grow good roses, plan the exhibits, fret about the weather, cut and prepare the roses and get to the show. Then we put our entries together all the while looking at what the competition is doing.  At least for me, this is after a night of waking up every hour in anticipation.

At the end of the judging period and the results are known I’ll feel joy or disappointment or acceptance depending on how strong I believe my entries are in comparison to those of others.  Even if I’m disappointed with the results I tend to find enjoyment in the success of other exhibitors I know or other rose entries that I like.  It was the roses that were judged, not me.”

As hard as Gregg tries to be humble, the fact is that he has been quite successful in competition despite his modestly sized home rose garden.  He’s won numerous awards and trophies at both local and regional shows against exhibitors from multiple western states. 

Knowing that Gregg’s rose garden is modest in size (as compared to others who have more land than he) I wondered how fair it could be to compete on such an uneven “playing field”.  Gregg acknowledged that it is a factor.  To address this, the president of the American Rose Society created the President’s Trophy at the annual National Rose Show specifically limited to exhibitors who have smaller gardens with no more than 50 rose bushes.    

“One of my greatest achievements was winning the President’s Trophy at a National Rose Show in 2002. My entry was three stems, each a different color and type.  I was the only person in our local society to have won a national prize until I helped a friend make a winning entry in the same class in a later year. “ 

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Cultivation History

30 million years ago roses existed only in the Northern Hemisphere with approximately 300 species.  They were first cultivated in China about 5,000 years ago.

 

It wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries that breeding began, most notably by the Chinese and the Dutch (as seen in many still life paintings of the era).

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Gregg’s winning entry of the floribunda “Pride of Oakland”

 

It was a natural progression for Gregg to become a horticultural judge at formal exhibitions.  

“After exhibiting roses for a decade or so I decided that I wanted to be a judge.  I figured that it would make me a better exhibitor.  It would allow me to learn even more about roses and to educate the general public and help exhibitors.

To become an American Rose Society judge you must attend a judging school, take a written and a challenging practical test and serve an apprenticeship. To pass the practical test you need to judge a rose show and justify your scoring.  You need to correctly spot faults and assign points accordingly.  Accurately identifying roses that are not labeled or that are intentionally mislabeled is required.”   

Knowing Gregg as I do, it is hard to imagine him judging someone’s efforts given how nice of a man he is, so I asked him about that.

“I try to be a ‘positive’ judge.  I don’t ignore faults but I don’t dwell on them either.  Even if the rose has broken leaves, some torn petals and a short stem there is always something positive to be said. Give constructive criticism and be available to discuss it with the exhibitor when the show is over if they ask. Help them be better.”

I’m a dog lover and have enjoyed attending competitive dog shows so I’ve wondered: Are rose shows structured similar to dog shows?

“Yes, they are somewhat similar to an AKC Dog Show.  A rose of a particular varietal is judged by how close it is to the standard for that varietal.  The judging is subjective.  And, as in a dog show, the winners of each category advance to the Best in Show. So, the six inch Miniature with one bloom might be competing against a Floribunda spray that is two feet tall with 45 flowers. The entry that comes closest to meeting its standard should be declared the winner.”

The Empress Josephine Bonaparte’s Rose Garden

In the 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, the Empress Josephine, gathered the period’s prestigious botanists and horticulturists to build an extensive collection of roses, which is still considered as one of the greatest rose gardens in existence.

In 1799 she purchased Chateau de Malmaison near Choisy, which became her permanent residence after her divorce from Napoleon in 1810 till her death in 1814. It was her dream to create a rose garden which would have specimens of every rose species and every rose variety growing anywhere in the world.

Growing, exhibiting and judging roses seems like a fine hobby, but a "passion"? I asked Gregg if he was passionate about roses and if so, how he experiences it passionately.

“Rose growing has been an essential pleasure in my life.  It defines much of me. It's nearly impossible to think of my life without being a rosarian in one form or another.  My life as a rosarian makes my overall living that much more meaningful.

I love being in my garden or at public rose gardens.  I love the planning, deciding what plants I want to buy for the next year which is good mental exercise.  There is always the next growing season, the next rose show, the next club meeting to see friends.  

All aspects of my involvement in the rose society give me energy and purpose.  I know many rose growers who have lived and remained active in their nineties.     

Of course, there is the pure beauty of the flower, its many varieties and fragrances.  Roses and all aspects of my connection to them take me away from the stress of daily life. I think that I am a happier person, a better person because of roses.”

Rose Societies

There are local and international rose societies across the globe. The Royal National Rose Society in England established in 1876 was the world’s oldest plant society.

Originally named The National Rose Society, the name was changed in 1965 when Queen Elizabeth II issued a command to add the "Royal" pretext to the society's title, and the name was changed to the "Royal National Rose Society" (RNRS).

At the height of its popularity the RNRS had 100,000 members and its gardens contained 30,000 rose shrubs. 

Sadly, the organization was dissolved in May, 2017 and the gardens were closed permanently due to financial difficulties.

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Gregg immensely enjoys the social aspects of being a rosarian, the gratification of being with others who love “all things roses”.  He is currently president of the East Bay Rose Society (www.eastbayroses.org)

“I’ve met rose lovers from all over, and quite often from different walks of life.  I’ve become friends with many who I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.  I’ve met people at Rose Society meetings who live interesting lives.  On the other hand, there are many of our members who I enjoy but have no knowledge of their lives outside of their rosarian activities.  Our mutual interest in roses is enough to keep a friendship.  

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Gregg (center) with fellow rosarians

I really enjoy introducing newcomers to the rose world.  I love to teach and guide those who are interested in learning.  

While the rose world can be very large, with rose societies around the world and new varieties being hybridized every year, it can also be a small world.  I’ve been able to tell a top hybridizer that I had just won my first Queen of Show with one of his creations.  That’s like telling Martha Stewart over lunch that you won first prize at the County Fair with her recipe for blueberry pie.  And then she asks for input on how to make it better. 

 

One year I went to Honolulu to teach at the Consulting Rosarian School. What a great time that was. They went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and appreciated.  They threw a luau for us at a member’s home.  It was an experience that a tourist would never have.  Just because we all grew roses.”

Rosarians are generally mutually supportive particularly within memberships of local rose societies.  Gregg enjoys giving and receiving support and also the humor derived from common experiences.

“We all know about “shake the shovel” pruning.  We've all had the underperforming, stubborn rose bush that, out of frustration, we'd shake the shovel at.  We’d be on the verge of digging it out and tossing it but we’d resist.  Wouldn’t you know it, that stubborn bush can later surprise you by producing amazing rose blooms?  Probably out of fear of being shovel pruned!  

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One of Gregg’s rose bushes that barely avoided a shovel prune

I close with reflections about my own history with roses.  In short, I don’t have one!  Well, unless you consider the giving or receiving of the flower, or the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl collegiate football game in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day.

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I recall that the first time I saw a television broadcast “in living color” was as a child, probably circa 1965, at my uncle’s home.  He was the only family member with a "color television", and what better way to be introduced to that technology than to see the splash of color on creative and amusing parade floats?  

I was already a bit of a sports fanatic by then, so the Rose Bowl game between the winners of the Big 10 and Pac 10 conferences was a highlight of any New Years Day.  But that year, for the first time, I saw green (not gray-looking) grass of the gridiron on a television screen.

Chariot Races?

In 1902, the Tournament of Roses decided to enhance the day’s festivities by adding a football game – the first post season college football game ever held. Stanford University accepted the invitation to take on the University of Michigan, and later regretted it.  They were drubbed 49-0 at Pasadena’s Tournament Park.

For years thereafter the football game idea was scrapped in favor of Roman-style chariot races and other spectacles. 

In 1916, football returned to stay and the crowds soon outgrew the seating capacity of Tournament Park.  Inspired by the Yale Bowl in Connecticut, a new stadium was built and its first game was in 1923.  The stadium was named “The Rose Bowl”.   The annual football bowl game has become known as “The Granddaddy of Them All” given its place in collegiate football history.

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I look out my window again and now I see Gregg, in front of a rose bush with shears in his hand. He’s talking to a woman who is with her young child.  I think I’ll go over and chat.

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Appendix

Rose Colors and Meanings

Symbolism Related To Colors Seen In The Rose Flower:

  • Black - The enigma of all roses. The continuous pursuit of the true black rose has led to the cultivation of new roses, just as mysteriously beautiful. This rose color bears both sad and beautiful meanings such as death, tragic love, rebirth, and pure devotion.  [Roses that are marketed as being “black”, or with “black” in its name, are usually an extremely dark red.]

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  • Purple - Power · Wisdom · Luxury · Magic · Ambition. Purple roses are given as a symbol of love at first sight. This rose is a new lover’s way to express that they are enchanted by their partner’s beauty and behaviors. This rose color is also traditionally associated with royalty.

  • Lavender - Majestic · Enchantment · Love At First Sight.

  • Peach – expresses gratitude. They are commonly given to celebrate a business deal or arrangement and can be a sign of loyalty. 

  • Pink - Grace · Elegance · Gratitude · Happiness – Sweetness – Gentleness – Sympathy. They are a favorite among debutantes and brides.  

  • White - Innocence · Purity · Sympathy · New Beginnings - Youthfulness. White roses are used to great advantage in the garden as they harmonize with all other colors and help the garden look especially magical at dusk. 'Iceberg' is the best known and used landscape rose. They are also deeply associated with history and literature.

  • Ivory - This color would be a great selection for letting someone know you care, without romantic intentions.

  • Yellow - Joy · Wellness · Cheer · Wisdom · Delight – Friendship – a Warm Welcome. In the Victorian times, they have represented jealousy. 

  • Orange - Energy · Desire · Creativity · Enthusiasm – fascination - pride. 

  • Blue - The elusive ones. They signify the unattainable, the impossible. Breeders have tried to achieve the striking, sought-after color but still fall short. But it also means fighting all odds, giving hope that the true blue rose will soon be created. There are no “blue” roses because there is no gene that governs the production of blue pigments. Yet there are rose names such as Rhapsody in Blue, Wild Blue Yonder, Out of the Blue, etc. [shades of lavender].

  • Green - Green roses may not have the distinct petals of common roses but they are as valuable, nonetheless. They are decorative and unique, symbolizing renewal, harmony, good health, fertility and prosperity.

  • Red - Love · Romance · Beauty · Courage.

  • The red rose has been adopted as a symbol to honor the fallen heroes. “Firefighter” is a red tea rose that honors the 343 firefighters that lost their lives on 9/11/2001.

  • Red roses as a symbol of love: they have stood the test of time across cultures, representing ideals of beauty, love, romance, and even politics.

    • From the Western culture, it has been believed that this type of flower was created by the goddess of love, Aphrodite. According to the legend, her tears mixed with the blood of her lover Adonis which watered the ground out of which the first red rose bush grew. It was then a symbol of love until death.

    • In Roman mythology it was reported and observed that wealthy Romans associated red roses with beauty and love. The Roman nobility pampered their bodies in a warm bath topped with red rose petals. The bedchambers would be sprinkled with red rose petals because of the pleasant smell and softness against the skin.

    • Early Christians – Early Christians believed that the red rose represented the virtue of the Virgin Mary. It is also regarded as reminders of the Garden of Eden.  A red rose symbolized martyrdom or the blood of Christ. Thorn-less roses signified a life without sin.  Roses with thorns represented flawed mortality.

    • Ancient Arabs - Red roses implied love and romance and it was believed that the rose literally effected the heart.  

    • Victorians - Flowers were very significant to the Victorians. They used flowers to express feelings and gave gifts of flowers to celebrants on birthdays and occasions. They were deeply obsessed and affected of the language of flowers, especially roses as a reference to romance and a passionate and intimate kind of love.  

    • Eastern Culture - There are many Eastern cultural beliefs and traditions that link red roses with love and romance. Roses were cultivated largely in China for thousands of years. Aside from that, they also have their own legends and beliefs regarding the red roses as linked to love and romance. 

    • Hindu - According to Hindu legend, Laxmi (goddess of fortune and prosperity and the wife of the significant god, Vishnu) was created using 1008 small red rose petals and 108 large roses. 

    • Modern Age Symbolism – It continues to this day that the gifting of flowers is often a part of dating and courtship. For lovers, red roses in beautiful hand bouquets were meant and intended for intimacy.

Credits: I’ve consulted a variety of open internet sources for general information about the rose plant and flower and their broad significance.  Additionally, I enjoyed consulting the International Principles of Exhibiting & Judging Roses, an Illustrated Approach; Desamero, Luis (editor); Beverly Hills Rose Society of California and World.

 

For more information and excellent resources:

The American Rose Society: www.rose.org

The East Bay Rose Society: www.eastbayroses.org