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The Rose: An Illustrated History

The Rose: An Illustrated History
Peter Harkness
Firefly Books
Publication Date: 

cloth, 336 p., $60

Peter Harkness combines his love of history and roses in this intriguing story of the one of the best-loved flowers in the world. He traces its global evolution from the earliest evidence in the 16th century to today’s hybrids, using superb illustrations from the collection of artworks and rare books of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The preface, written by Graham Stuart Thomas, the distinguished Gardens Consultant to the National Trust in Britain, indicates that this work provides “a firm historical base” on the subject. Harkness proceeds to follow the rose through its many connections — pictorial, religious, political, romantic, literary and commercial. He also touches on its association with decadent extravagance, in contrast to its use as a symbol of honor, purity and love.

The bulk of the pages are devoted to oversized illustrations of roses in their breath-taking beauty by renowned artists. Two drawings of Rosa arvensis (Field Rose) demonstrate how different artists depict the same rose: One has careful botanical detail, while the other is presented for overall display. Although the stunning floral drawings tend to dominate the publication, their accompanying texts, though brief, reflect the author’s breadth of knowledge of the subject. Highly recommended.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden