Coming up roses

Al­most ev­ery inch of space in rosar­ian Elizabeth Perks’s Som­er­set home is filled with rose-re­lated mem­o­ra­bilia – and that’s on top of her col­lec­tion of more than 550 rose-re­lated books


Rosar­ian Dr Elizabeth Perks loves all things rose re­lated and has built up a rose li­brary of more than 500 books

The day I visit Dr Elizabeth Perks and her Rosar­ian Li­brary in Som­er­set is a wet one. As I pull up the drive, I spot her at the win­dow. The out­line of her frame blurred by the rain. Inside, she guides me to take a seat in the liv­ing room. The fire is lit and the warm glow picks up lines of gilded book spines and or­nate frames. As she makes tea, I take in the room. There are roses ev­ery­where.

This is her win­ter rose gar­den. A col­lec­tion of books, paint­ings, fab­rics, ce­ram­ics and other rose mem­o­ra­bilia lovingly dis­played through­out her house. The books started it all and Dr Perks has around 550 in­di­vid­ual ti­tles in to­tal. She col­lects books ded­i­cated solely to the rose and has scoured var­i­ous rose bib­li­ogra­phies and cat­a­logues from The Bri­tish Li­brary and RHS Lind­ley Li­brary to hunt them down. She has now com­piled a list of over 1,000 book ti­tles and in­tends to ac­quire them all.

Her love of rose books, stems from a love of grow­ing roses. A pas­sion she in­her­ited from her fa­ther who loved to grow red roses. She has one of his favourites, Rosa Papa Meil­land (= ‘Meisar’) a deep-red, vel­vety hy­brid tea rose, grow­ing in her gar­den. Elizabeth once grew over 400 roses when she lived in France, sell­ing home-grown flow­ers and other rosy items from her small busi­ness Tou­jours les Roses. Now, with limited out­door space, she has turned her at­ten­tion to col­lect­ing books about roses, rather than the flow­ers themselves. “I had an epiphany and thought I wouldn’t mind a few more rose books and so I got hooked, see­ing how many I could find.” Many of her books were bought from the Royal Na­tional Rose So­ci­ety. Oth­ers she picked up at sec­ond-hand book shops and in­ter­net sites.

Read­ing th­ese books has led Elizabeth to go into re­search­ing rose lit­er­a­ture full time and her favourites are those writ­ten in the 19th cen­tury. “It was a time when a lot of things came to­gether that made it im­por­tant that peo­ple wrote about roses.” She ex­plains how im­ports from China, hy­bridised with Euro­pean roses, gave a greater range of colours and an ex­tended flow­er­ing time, and the peo­ple who had ben­e­fited from the agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion could buy homes with gardens and be­came in­ter­ested in grow­ing roses. This cre­ated a prime busi­ness op­por­tu­nity and two great rosar­ian’s of the time, Thomas Rivers and Wil­liam Paul, started to sell hy­bridised roses they had grown themselves.

Rosar­i­ans past and present are a source of huge in­spi­ra­tion for Elizabeth who ad­mires the work that went into pro­duc­ing their books. “Some of th­ese rosar­i­ans were out in the fields do­ing their

rose prop­a­ga­tion and then they came in and wrote their books by hand. I think they were amaz­ing,” she says. “Now we just type, we can delete and print off.”

Elizabeth has be­come well known in the rose world and is of­ten asked to as­sist in other peo­ple’s research, most re­cently to find in­for­ma­tion on the roses Agatha Christie wrote about in her Miss Marple nov­els. She has also been ap­proached by the Na­tional Trust which has asked her to look into Maud Mes­sel and her in­volve­ment in the rose gar­den at Ny­mans’ in West Sus­sex. “I love when some­one asks me to do an in­ter­est­ing piece of research.”

The his­tory of the rose and rose sto­ries cap­ti­vate Elizabeth more than books on rose cul­ti­va­tion. When I ask her to choose her 12 favourite books, I press her, to nar­row it down to just one. “Im­mor­tal Roses by Jean Gordon,” she replies. “I love it be­cause I didn’t re­alise any­thing like it had been printed. It’s just a lot of lit­tle rosy sto­ries and one of the sto­ries is about her rose mu­seum.” As we go through some of the other books in her li­brary, Elizabeth com­ments on the beauty of the cov­ers, the hand­writ­ing and the del­i­cate spines and wax slips that cover the botan­i­cal il­lus­tra­tions within the pages. She ap­pre­ci­ates ev­ery lit­tle de­tail and it’s clear the research and her col­lec­tion has be­come her rea­son to be.

It seems ec­cen­tric, but there is a strong sense of pur­pose in what Elizabeth does. “It’s such an in­ter­est­ing sub­ject and I feel it needs to be doc­u­mented,” she ex­plains. “To me it’s part of our so­cial his­tory and our her­itage.”

I ven­ture back out into the grey light of the day, wish­ing that in­stead of a long drive home I could spend the rest of the af­ter­noon next to Elizabeth’s fire with my nose in a book.

USE­FUL IN­FOR­MA­TION Vis­its to Elizabeth’s Rosar­ian Li­brary are by ap­point­ment only, but you can find in­for­ma­tion on many as­pects of rose research through her web­site therosar­i­an­li­

Above lef t to right Rose trin­kets fill Elizabeth’s shelves – although when younger she hated them. Elizabeth with a frac­tion of her rose book col­lec­tion. Many paint­ings of roses line the walls of Elizabeth’s home.

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