State Library of South Australia

The Genus Rosa

Date: 23 September 2015

It's Spring time and roses are blooming in gardens all over Adelaide. But did you know that you can find blooms in the State Library any time of the year? Glorious images and stories of their heritage are waiting to be unearthed in our extensive collection of books and periodicals from the botanical genre.

Our friendly Ambassadors Barb Doug and Di
Our friendly Ambassadors Barb, Doug, and Di

Members of the Barossa and Beyond Branch of Heritage Roses in Australia discovered this on a recent visit, when Librarian Rose and Ambassadors Doug, Di and Barb time-travelled with them into rose gardens of long ago.

Gardening in colonial times

In the delightful surrounds of the Circulating Library Rose shared historical books and gave a talk reporting on the origins of gardening in South Australia:

Vegetables and fruit, lack of water, vines and olives were foremost in the South Australian gardening agendas from 1836 when settlement occurred. Eventually cuttings of flowers and shrubs were brought on pioneer ships.

Those of you who despair at the ravage of thrips, strong northerly winds and water restrictions in the relative comfort of Adelaide today, may commiserate with rose growers in colonial times facing similar issues:

The First Horticultural and Floricultural Society Exhibition occurred in 1854. Thursday 6 November 1856 was the third of these. It was held at Mr. White's Assembly Rooms in Adelaide which was their equivalent of our Adelaide Festival Centre. Apparently the date was a fortnight after the best days for roses, with "scarcely a specimen in a really fine edition": complicated by the ravages of Thrips. Fine specimens noted were "Cloth of Gold", a vigorous and healthy South Australian favourite of the time. On Saturday 20 November 1858 the SA Weekly Chronicle (p2) again reported on the exhibition in this venue as a good collection of fine specimens which "seem to have suffered a little from the heat." No rose shrubs were exhibited.

On 20 January 1860, a drought year, the SA Advertiser (p3) reported that on Thursday 19th at White's, the best roses winners were James Curnow, W. Lucas and S. Glenn. The astronomical prices of a bunch of roses demonstrated just how difficult it was to cultivate them in early Adelaide. On 17 November 1860 the Society exhibition demonstrated the great variety of roses from Mr. C. M. Ware of Clifton Nursery. Mr. S. Glenn of The Reedbeds (Henley Beach) showed the best roses yet. On 23 March 1861, the SA Weekly Chronicle (p7) reported that no new roses were exhibited. On Thursday 16 October 1862 the "First Grand Annual Exhibition" [of roses] was held in hot and windy conditions before the white roses were ready so they were poorly represented whilst other varieties of roses were numerous, the best being Devoniensis and Aimee Vibert.

The Symon Library

Following discussion with Rose on the books and her talk, Doug, Di and Barb hosted the group on a tour through the magnificent Mortlock Wing to Sir Josiah Symon's Library, a fine example of a gentleman's library from the Victorian era tucked away on the second level of the building. Sir Josiah Symon (1846-1934) bequeathed his literature collection of over 7,500 books to the State Library, along with furnishings from his library at Manoah, his Upper Sturt estate. This included the desk on which he wrote the first draft of the Australian Constitution.

The group enjoyed browsing the collection, including 'The Genus Rosa', a series of journals held within this special library.

Members of the group have since expressed their appreciation, writing that 'it was one of the best things we have done!' One of the gentlemen has returned a number of times to consult a particular book he discovered in the Symon collection. The volume features pictures of an English garden in Essex, his home county in England and lists the roses growing there. Sadly the property is now in ruins so being able to enjoy the garden as it once was is very nostalgic for him.

Whether you share the Heritage Roses group's passion for the Genus Rosa, or whether you would enjoy spending time in the special ambience of a gentleman's library from an age long gone, our friendly Ambassadors would be delighted to share Sir Josiah's story and his collection with you.

The Sir Josiah Symon Library: open most weekdays 12 to 2pm (excludes public holidays).

For information about tours at the State Library or how to join our Volunteer Ambassador Team please email Jo Chesher or phone (08) 8207 7215.

Story by: Rose Wilson

Back to extra - Spring 2015 - the stories

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