The Rose Garden was originally created in 1908 for the private enjoyment of Henry and Arabella Huntington. Roses were a particular favorite flower of Arabella's. The garden was designed primarily for display, providing copious quantities of cut blooms for the large elaborate floral arrangements favored in their home. Household records indicate that in one year alone more than 30,000 flowers were used in these massive bouquets, 9,700 of which were roses.
The three-acre garden has gone through many transformations since the Huntingtons' time. It now contains more than 3,000 individual plants and more than 1,200 different cultivated varieties (cultivars). Beyond being a beautiful place to linger, the garden represents an extensive collection enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The spring bloom begins in late March and extends beyond Thanksgiving, thanks to Southern California’s mild climate.
Visitors entering the Rose Garden from the Shakespeare Garden find a winding pathway that leads from a spectacular hillside vista to a recently restored 18th-century French stone tempietto housing a statue entitled 'Love, the Captive of Youth', depicting Cupid and his captor, a fair maiden. Appropriately, the tempietto is encircled by a bed of 'Passionate Kisses' roses.
Each variety in the collection is labeled with its name, class, and date of introduction, offering a wonderful resource for rose fanciers. Visitors love strolling through the colorful beds and arbors, finding favorite shapes, color combinations, and fragrances. "Our most common question about roses concerns fragrance," says Tom Carruth, the E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose Collections. "Even though we can readily say there are fragrant roses scattered throughout the garden, we can now point them to two beds that contain nothing but heavily perfumed varieties. Then they can smell to their hearts' delight."
Roses have been a beloved flower even before the birth of Christ. There are representative varieties from all aspects of the rich history of the rose in the Huntington collection. Beyond a few species, the introduction dates span from 1540 up to the present day, including some roses that have yet to be introduced. The preponderance of the collection spans the 19th through 21st centuries, a time when the rose reached a pinnacle of popularity.
"Our garden serves as an important educational tool to help people learn the versatility of roses," says Carruth. "The rose family is the third largest plant family, offering a broad palette of colors and forms for the home garden. We want to show visitors the many different ways to use roses in the landscape and help dispel the misconception that roses are difficult to grow." An arbor-covered pathway from the Rose Garden to the entrance of the Japanese Garden is a particular photo favorite when the climbers are in bloom.
Bulbs and other companion plants are new additions to the Rose Garden. There are more than 120 bulb plantings within the rose beds, mostly of South African origin. These are all bulbs that readily naturalize in the Southern California climate, coming back each season with very little care. Many of them provide color in the garden when the roses are regrowing from their winter pruning.
The entrance to the Rose Garden Tea Room and Herb Garden are within the Rose Garden. With all the colors and fragrances of the roses combined with the many perfumes and textures of the Herb Garden, it is a sensory delight that brings visitors back time and again.