More than pretty petals

Expert says roses are historical artifacts

Expert says roses are historical artifacts

October 20, 2007|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

CLEAR SPRING - Sure, they look pretty and they smell good, but the virtues of roses far surpass mere aesthetics and aromas for the Rev. Douglas Seidel.

To Seidel, roses provide a unique narrative of history itself, from Greco-Roman times through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and beyond.

"Roses draw parallels to the growth of human civilization. The story of the rose is more complicated and convoluted than the plot of a racy soap opera," Seidel said Oct. 13 at St. John's United Church of Christ in Clear Spring, where he presented a lecture and slide presentation on heritage roses for the Clear Spring District Historical Association.

David Wiles, president of the association, said a heritage rose is any rose that predates 1900. Wiles, 51, of Clear Spring, said the association has been working to authenticate the gardens at Plumb Grove historical home, which was occupied by Jonathan Nesbitt Jr. during the 1800s.


"We want to create an outdoor museum for heritage horticulture," Wiles said.

Group member and rose enthusiast Mary Haines, 79, of Clear Spring, is spearheading that effort. After reading the book "In Search of Lost Roses," which featured Seidel, Haines decided to look him up and give him a call.

"(Seidel) helped us so much," Haines said. "He helped us choose historically accurate roses and gave us roses."

Wiles said while contemporary roses have been widely hybridized, heritage roses are genetic descendants of original wild roses and a tangible connection to the past.

"We have some roses at Plumb Grove that are more than 400 years old. They are always from a cutting, so what we have is a piece of that original rose," Wiles said.

Seidel said he began gardening with his family as a 3-year-old boy. By age 12, he was tending to his own herb garden in the backyard of his family home in Easton, Pa. He went on to amass a considerable collection of roses, and his hobby became a passion, he said.

"I've loved growing things since I was 3 years old, and I have a love of history. These interests overlapped when I found plants were important in history. I began propagating (roses) and working with groups that are interested in propagating them," Seidel said.

Seidel holds degrees in classical languages and divinity. A minister in Bucks County, Pa., he also serves as a rose consultant at Monticello, the historic Charlottesville, Va., home of Thomas Jefferson. Seidel regularly speaks at the home and helped to establish an on-site early-19th-century rose garden as well as the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.

Seidel spoke of heritage roses with a wide-eyed intensity and zeal.

"Rosa Mundi was named for the Monica Lewinsky of the 12th century. Fair Rosamund was the paramour of King Henry II. When the queen had her poisoned, an admirer planted a rose on her grave. It mutated to a striped form that has become legendary," Seidel said.

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