Roses rule the state: the famous flower is well adapted to the South Australian climate

I remember that even Kerry Packer wasn’t able I to suggest who might have been running New South Wales -and he would have had even more trouble on that score in the past few weeks – but South Australia is a bit different. Here, it is possible to know the answer.

There are many theories, and in the years since I arrived here I have heard most of them. The possibilities include Parliament (although no-one has actually suggested this to me!) and various other shady organisations. I also have it on good authority from a former Archbishop that the brass cleaning roster at the Cathedral and the Friends of the Botanic Gardens exercise significant influence.

While any of these suggestions seems plausible, my own theory leans towards the Rosarians, who at various times have effectively controlled both sides of Parliament, have headed up industry, and of course have effectively invited themselves into our front and backyards. While we are emphasising the power and influence of Rosarians, it is important to remember the significant distinction between Rosarians and Rosucrucians (apparently a secret society of mystics founded in late mediaeval Germany that advertised regularly in the daily newspapers when I was a kid). I’m not for a moment trying to suggest that the Rosarians are a (particularly) dangerous or mysterious cult. However, it is a fact that South Australia is home to a disproportionate number of internationally respected Rosarians. In other societies, these Rosarians might be appropriately categorised as living treasures. This is also a home for an abundance of roses well-suited to Adelaide’s Mediterranean climate, and even, in many cases, remarkably well adapted to summer drought.

It’s almost surprising that the Rose Society of South Australia was only founded in 1908. This important milestone will be celebrated by the Society hosting the World Federation of Rose Societies Regional Convention later this month. The Convention provides a wonderful opportunity for rose-growers, or others who are thinking about it, to visit rose gardens rarely open to the public and to see and hear some local and visiting world-renowned Rosarians. Well upon the billing will be David Ruston OAM, winner of both the TA Stewart Memorial Award and the National Rose Award. David started planting roses at Ruston Roses in Renmark in 1948 and has expanded to an astonishing collection of more than 4,000 varieties and 50,000 bushes. Walter Duncan is a winner of National Rose Award and has a sublime rose garden at Sevenhill in the Clare Valley ( Walter will celebrate 50 years membership of the Rose Society of South Australia this year. The beauty of a convention like this is to both to hear the Rosarians speak passionately about their first love and to see them in their natural habitat of rose gardens and collections. In this context you can access their knowledge and experience to guide your own choices. While there might be a significant gap between your expectations for your own garden and the Rosarians’ discerning, and even judgmental, eye for the show bench, the translation is an easy one.

Both Ruston’s Roses and Walter Duncan’s rose garden will be on the program of organised visits during the Convention with the gardens of fellow South Australian Rosarians. Convention speakers will include Maureen Ross from Ross Roses and Kelvin Trimper. The Ross family is now into the fourth generation of rose growers in South Australia: Alex Ross received the TA Stewart Award as long ago as 1964. Kelvin and his brother Merv also have a family Rosarian heritage, so it perhaps no surprise that their parents produced blooming Rosarians. Their father, the late Eric Trimper OAM received both of National Rose Society awards and their mother Myrtle received the Australian Rose Award). Dean Stringer OAM, another dual award winner, will be hosting the visit to the National Rose Trial Garden and the International Rose Garden at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

Why roses in our public gardens? Their beauty provides a starting point for the relationship, but, as with any relationship, the connection goes further. Clive Armour was Chairman of the Board of the Botanic Gardens & State Herbarium from 1995 to 1999 and variously Chairman and Managing Director of the ATCO Group in Australia up until his death in January this year. He was one of the most decent and generous men I’ve known. Clive wasn’t by any means a Rosarian but Clive’s experiences in exploring the richness of the heritage rose collection at Mount Lofty with my predecessor as Director at the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, Dr Brian Morley, was a profound one that he remembered and wanted others to share. Clive recognised the beauty of the rose and the story of the endeavours of rose breeders as a universal one, melding culture and nature in an endless search for perfection. Through Clive’s vision and commitment and the generosity of the ATCO Group, Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens’ 250,000 visitors will be able to share Clive’s experience with the enhancement of the important heritage rose collection over the next few years.

Our seduction by roses started long ago. At Knossos on Crete, Sir Arthur Evans excavated a tiles decorated with roses from a frieze dating back to the sixteenth-century BC. Emporer Nero is supposed to have spent four million sesterces on roses for a banquet. (the exchange rate is apparently four donkeys to a sesterce although this isn’t a currency that features in the current finance round-ups.)

The relationship with the rose has fluctuated over time. While the Greeks and Romans dedicated the rose to the goddess of love and the goddess of wine, early Christians saw the rose as a symbol of debauchery. Much later Martin Luther (and the Rosicrucians) made a connection between the rose and the cross. These days we sometimes invoke Chatham House rules. In Roman times the term sub-rosa was applied. As one authority explains, ‘… the wearing of a rose chaplet or a garland of roses hung over a dining table meant that every word uttered there was said ‘subaosa“- under the rose. According to the Roman code, no gossip, information or confidence made under the rose could honourably be repeated outside. And of course the stylised ceiling rose traditionally performed – and, we hope, still performs – a similar function to remind guests of their responsibility to their hosts.

Its impossible to do justice to roses and to our relationship with them in a short article – but you now have a once in a century opportunity to register for a gathering of rose cognoscenti – Rose Adelaide 2008!

The Regional Convention titled ‘Rose Adelaide 2008 – a Centenary of Roses’ will be based at the Stamford Plaza in Adelaide from Thursday October 23 to October 30 and includes tours to rose collections near and far – links are on the
Rose Society of South Australia website:

The Rose Adelaide 2008 – Convention Chairman, 29 Columbia Crescent, Modbury North 5092.
Fax: +618 8264 4602

Originally published in The Adelaide Review on 1 October 2008.

For more information about the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, visit the website.



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