Where we’ve come from . . . where we are now. You can help!

To comprehend the struggle The Friends of Vintage Roses face working to save 3500 old rose varieties, we offer this aerial view of the garden, the pots and roses we must care for, and pass along to others who’ve volunteered to help us preserve.

This image comes from 2 years ago, just prior to our work to remove blackberries from the garden and from swallowing 4000 roses in containers. Around the perimeter of the 3 acre site are rows and rows of roses in plastic pots.

Your donations will aid us in weeding, repotting with fresh soil, feeding and mulching these roses. Many will be adopted by groups assisting the Friends. Others will bear new growth this summer that we will use to strike cuttings from, to share with others, and pass on in our yearly sale to supplement donations that keep us going. Step back to the 1990s for a glimpse of that beauty with me!

—Gregg Lowery, curator, The Friends of Vintage Roses

In 1992–3 stage 3 of this garden was developed and planted: 983 Hybrid Teas and Floribundas in an amphitheater, surrounded by 300 Hybrid Perpetuals, Bourbons, Ramblers and species roses. At the top a long arbor with three pergolas and parallel walls of old climbing roses.

Friends have been a part of this rose collection from the start. Here in about 1992–3, James Sagmiller helps with the las of the planting of roses.
The rose walls in about 1993–4. A great collection of old Tea and Tea-Noisette climbers have stood the test of time, and even held out against gophers!
Iris and perennial companions in the early garden, 1993, filled beds of Tea roses.
The Damask Perpetual section of Portland roses.
Amphitheater beds with their background walls of climbers, mid–1990s.
May, 1996. The lovely Joy Wolfe among the Gallicas, before hedges and cypresses had grown up.
The old European rose section at the top of the hill. Historic iris, white foxgloves and a mass of old roses. Time stands still and the air is alive with fragrance.
The Garland, a rambler favored by Gertrude Jekyll, grown in the faded frame of an old Gravenstein apple tree, inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst Castle garden.
1996, old roses and a bright horizon.
A young gardener imagines the future . . .
Open garden and the first great plant sales, 1993–1995

An explosion of roses, 1994. A young nurseryman answers questions.

A stream of visitors, with Dr. Gene Peck in the lead—the man who lent a hand to help us grow the collection, 35 years ago.

The Celebration of Old Roses in El Cerrito, California brought together a great community of lovers of old roses when it began in the 1980s. That community embraced the Vintage collection of historic roses and supported the building of a garden to display these living treasures. The many friends we made back then have continued to the present to make a difference. Dr. Gene Peck of Oakland stepped up to make certain we got a start with a site for the roses to live. It is fitting that today this collection belongs to the world, to all of the Gene Pecks in it, the friends of vintage roses.

Hark! The roses are calling…

Please note: our Dirt Day for April 7th has been cancelled due to heavy rain and flooding. Our next scheduled date is Sunday, June 15th. 
Next Saturday, April 7th will be our first Dirt Day of 2018. I am very excited to have your help in continuing our work.
The rose adoptions project was very successful last year. On March 1st, just one month ago, we sent more that 250 roses on a truck bound for Southern California and the California Coastal Rose Society, a group that has dedicated itself to preserving roses for generations to come. They agreed last summer to adopt our entire Hybrid Tea collection. This winter we were able to pass to them all of the roses that we had growing in containers. In May we’ll begin rooting varieties from the garden that did not go to them.

This project underlined the massive amount of work we have in caring for several thousand roses in pots. Enlisting others to care for them makes our work here much easier, and fewer roses will suffer and be lost because we cannot care for them well.

Old Rose Gdn long
The Old Rose Garden in Renovation
Our first work will be to apply organic fertilizers and compost to the pots that we have cleaned in the container collection. It’s a job we can do without getting very dirty, or very wet if the predicted light showers actually happen on Saturday. Good news it that it will be cool for our work.
We begin at 10 am, so do try to be early. Parking is a bit tight, but we always make it work.
You’ll want to bring a lunch; we stop at 1 pm and eat on the deck or in the house. Coffee will be ready for those who wish when you arrive.
A few tools will be useful:
Hand pruners
Garden shoes and clothes
Kneelers for those who are helping to weed
I can’t wait to see you on Saturday!
PLEASE PLEASE email me to confirm you plan to come. It helps me to be prepared for the tasks. volunteercoordinator@thefriendsofvintageroses.org
Your friend and rose curator,
Gregg Lowery
PS: before we begin I’ll show you our amazing progress on the old rose garden. We have been planting like crazy!

A Phoenix Rises

Old Rose Gdn 3.18
The garden of Old European Roses emerging from a year-long renovation.

Over the past week we’ve measured 4 inches of rain here in the Friends’ garden of old roses. That drenching bodes well for the year to come as the old European section of the garden has come full circle from a tangled, secret garden to a bright open haven for flowers. Our 2017 Blackberry eradication project has been a great success, supported by the help of many volunteers, and brought to fruition with the donations of many, including some very large gifts.

This May and June I hope you can come to visit the old roses. We have laid out more than 90 plants of rose varieties we had lost or nearly lost, and to their numbers have added new companion plantings the likes of which this old rose garden has never seed. We are fighting the incursion of weeds and berry plants by covering the earth with plants. We expect an explosion of blooms, and you should not miss this.

Though I will not host an open garden, I hope you can come on the weekend of the Celebration of Old Roses, held this year in Albany, near El Cerrito. The Bay Area Heritage Roses Group has been helping me for more than a decade to cut blooms for display at that wonderful event. Saturday, May 19, will be our flower picking day in the old rose garden. Please come join us then and share the beauty with us.

—Gregg Lowery, Curator, The Friends of Vintage Roses

Gertrude Jekyll as scale for the old Scots roses
Cut roses from TFoVR for Celebration
Cut roses under an arbor in the old rose garden, headed to the Celebration of Old Roses, 2017 

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done—then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
—Frances Hodgson Burnett,
The Secret Garden

Please note: our first Dirt Day will be Saturday, April 7th. Check our Dirt Days page for the full 2018 schedule.

A Noah’s Ark of Roses

A Pots Before

In late May this year our collection of roses faced a new peril. Funding for hired help had diminished just at a time when we most needed the extra help. As I dragged hoses through the container plants to water—the start of a long, dry summer—I realized just how fragile those plants were.

Three thousand nine hundred eighty. That is the number of potted of roses I counted as I watered one day in early June. In 2014 the Friends’ work focussed on potting up small rose plants to larger pots. By the end of that process we faced the maintenance of what may be the world’s largest collection of roses in pots. Through the winter we dug another 400 roses from the Old Hybrid Tea beds where gophers were damaging so many…and the pot collection grew!

Three thousand nine hundred eighty. I’ll keep repeating that number. It is a very large quantity of roses which require scrupulous daily attention. Many will simply not survive the summer without my personal intervention. Absent the hired help, I determined that somehow I would make the time and patch up the holes in this very leaky Noah’s Ark of Old Roses.

In those six weeks things have begun to turn around. In upcoming ‘Curator’s Notes’ on our website, I’ll share with you an amazing process that I set into motion. I’ve learned a lot about microbes and mycorrhizal fungi, and the plants are beginning to wake up and grow!

But back to this “Noah’s Ark”. The flood waters are rising around the world of old roses. The Friends have built a boat to hold this collection and carry it to the future. But, it’s a leaky boat at the moment, and needs a lot of fingers plugging the holes. We can do that…all of us, together.

I wonder if you won’t consider joining me in this simple effort. Many of our members choose to be sustaining members, stretching their donation out over a year in monthly gifts of $10 or more. That helps us to budget, so that we know when the next load of mulch will arrive for the volunteers to top dress pots and feed the soil.

Three thousand nine hundred eighty. In case you’re wondering which of these are really, really rare and in jeopardy, here follows a short list.

—Gregg Lowery



above: Café

A Few Really Rare Roses, Really in Jeopardy

Omar Khayyam D

Cymbaefolia A

James Veitch M

Harison Salmon Spin

Papa Vibert P

Queen of the Bedders B

Thomasville Old Gold T

Caecilie Scharsach HP

Café Fl

Victoriana Fl

Angele Pernet HT

Demain HT

Golden Emblem HT

Mme. Chiang Kai-Shek HT

Rosa alabukensis flore plena Spx

Nigel Hawthorne S

Tigris & Euphrates S

Rosa hugonis flore plena Spx

Rosa alabukensis flore plena

above: Rosa alabukensis flore-plena