La vie en rose
It’s hard to imagine now, but Luxembourg was once the rose capital of the world. At the beginning of the 20th century Luxembourg was the world’s largest exporter, shipping in the region of 10 million plants worldwide.
Clientele were prestigious and many of Luxembourg’s roses could be found growing in royal residences, including the gardens of the Tsar in St Petersburg. But, the advent of the First and Second World War drew this chapter of the Grand Duchy’s history to a close.
I met with Claudine Als, president of Patrimoine Roses pour le Luxembourg, to talk about Luxembourg’s rose-filled past, present and future. Like all other members in the association, Als is a volunteer who took time out of her busy schedule as a doctor of nuclear medicine to talk to me about her passion - Luxembourg roses.
The association organises workshops and initiatives such as guided tours of Europe’s rose gardens, training sessions aimed at the amateur gardener and cookery courses focused on the culinary uses of edible roses.
To brush up on your history you can take a tour of one of the many rose walks dotted around the Grand Duchy. The Lëtzebuerger Rosefrënn have created an entire garden at the base of the castle in Munsbach dedicated to Luxembourg roses, while Patrimoine Roses pour le Luxembourg have produced a set of 24 information panels detailing Luxembourg's rose strewn past. These panels can be found outside the town hall at the rose gardens in the commune of Mamer, but they will move to other rosariums during the course of the year.
The Name of the Rose
It can take up to 10 years for a rose to become commercially viable with some growers undertaking hundreds, if not thousands, of attempts to breed a beautiful, but robust new specimen.
Once a new rose is created it requires that most important detail - a name! “When a new rose is being nominated it is linked to a name and the whole meaning of this name,’’ Als explained. And so the roses are baptised with a name, a tradition which began in the 1980s.
Roses were once named after historical events and military triumphs. The Tour de Malakoff, one of the oldest roses in Luxembourg’s collection, is named after a battle in the Crimean war. The Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess baptised the ‘Fräiheetsrous - Rosier de la Liberté’ on May 10, 2015 to honour those who died 70 years after the end of World War II in Europe.
But most of the new commercial roses are named after people who have a role in Luxembourg’s history. Two of the latest roses to have been baptised with the association were named after Luxembourg’s fist secondary school teacher, Anne Beffort, and archbishop Pierre d’Aspelt. There is also a rose named after Grand-Duc Jean, the current Grand Duke’s late father.
A Rose by Any Other Name
It came as a bit of a shock to discover that none of the roses with Luxembourgish heritage sold here are actually cultivated in the country. All the roses and the majority of the rose-derived products are propagated or produced in the surrounding countries.
However, this is a situation the association wants to redress and it now offers young people internships with rose breeders in neighbouring countries, in the hope they will continue rose breeding in Luxembourg.
The last big project the association collaborated on was the publication of a book in 2020 entitled Luxembourg Land of Roses. Yesterday’s Roses Inspiring Today’s Gardens. Author, Heidi Howcrowft, recounts how, ‘‘from her desk…[she] travelled the world with the Luxembourg roses. At a time when borders everywhere were closed.’’ For a multilingual country like Luxembourg, Howcroft felt it was important to have the book in three languages. So, versions were written by Howcroft in English and German and translated into French. The books benefit from photographs by Luxembourg’s internationally renowned photographer, Marianne Majerus.
Luxembourg broke the mould when breeding roses. At a time when roses were believed to be delicate plants, Luxembourg developed hardy hybrids - grafting non-vigorous varieties, such as the tea, Bourbon and Noisette onto the rootstock of the local dog rose (Rosa canina) and, voilà, perfect plant partners were born.
It’s ironic that Limpertsberg - once the centre of Luxembourg’s rose production - is now part of the country’s financial sector. Yet, Luxembourg’s rich rose heritage remains. From the familiar packaging on Luxlait’s Rose butter to the street signs with rose references, like rue des Roses or rue Jean Soupert and rue Melchoir Bourg-Gemen, named after prominent players in the rose industry.
New rose varieties with Luxembourgish references are continually being created. Their presence in public and private rose gardens is testament to the enduring love affair between this country and its emblematic flower.
The Luxembourg rose is resilient. It may have a more famous past, but I predict a rosy future.