The Celebration of Old Roses is coming up soon! Mark your calendars for Sunday, May 17, 2009, from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will be held at the Community Center, in El Cerrito, California on Moeser at Ashbury. For those of you who live in far off places like Louisiana, Australia, India, I hope this post gives you a sense of how fun it is.
Here is an excerpt from my book R is for Rose about my first visit to the Celebration in 1989.
A carnival atmosphere swung me into a throng of Old Rose lovers. Plant vendors lined both sides of the walkway outside the entrance. The delectable roses and perennials tempted me to stop, but I had to see what was going on inside.
At the entryway, stood a tall basket that looked like a wicker wedding cake. Packed close together on three tiers were numerous and varied Old Roses in their well-known pinks, mauves, and deep violets.
Walking past raffle tables displaying tempting prizes of superb rosebushes, I tried to contain myself as I entered a scented sea. A rectangle of long tables in the large room displayed a vast assembly of roses. Arranged by family, the roses were all carefully labeled in clear glass bottles. Even though I was by myself in the large crowd, I started laughing – overwhelming beauty had me laughing! I perused the roses intoxicated by fragrance and splendor. Taking reference notes was useless – I wanted every rose.
This is a close-up of two little bouquets that I brought to the Celebration from my garden, in 2006.
At the back of the room, artful arrangements of Old Roses waited to be judged. Additional vendors had display tables against the walls. You could purchase a dollop of rose jelly on a cracker, accompanied by a recipe for 10¢; a flower-shaped cookie with rose flavoring for 25¢; china hand-painted with roses; rose clothing; rose greeting cards. A tiny lady who must have been 90 years old, stood waving an astonishing sphere of pale peach petals, like a flag. It was a poppy. She offered to send seeds when the pods were ready. I signed my name and address on her seed list and gave her $1.25. When I was able to tear myself from the room, I walked by the plant vendors again. I purchased two roses I had been looking for, 'Belinda' and 'Ballerina' and what looked like a darling mini rose labeled 'Rouletii'. I left the memorable event in great happiness.
In 1975, Miriam Wilkins founded The Heritage Rose Group. She lives on a hill above the El Cerrito Community Center, overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The Celebration of Old Roses, held at the center the first weekend after Mother's Day, was her idea and is the group's labor of love to introduce Old Roses to a wider public. The members focus on the preservation, history, re-introduction, and identification of these roses.