The Alcatraz Rose
Mystery author’s rose garden blossoms…
In mystery writer Anthony Eglin’s Sonoma, California garden, roses clamber up trees, transform encompassing fences into trellised patterns, fill angled corners with billowing color, offer whiffs of fragrance at house and garden entryways.
Eglin happily admits to a passionate love affair with roses. “they come in many colors, blossom in many shapes, and are imbued with a history that dates back through the ages,” he says. “The more I began to learn about them, the more important they became to my gardening life.”
Given that, it is no wonder that roses enter Eglin’s who-dunnit imagination. In his latest novel, number six in his series of English Garden Mysteries, the plot deepens as Eglin’s botanist-sleuth Lawrence Kingston dodges pruning shears and bullets in a fog of deadly duplicity centered on the mystery of how an English rose thought long extinct found its way to a remote corner of the Rock.
Titled, “The Alcatraz Rose,” it comes full circle on the rose theme to his first in Eglin’s series, “The Blue Rose.” While the stories follow different twists and turns, both are firmly rooted in rose horticultural reality. “Fact blurred with fiction,” Eglin calls it.
Mystery based in fact…
“The Alcatraz Rose,” is based on a 1989 visit to Alcatraz Island by a group of Bay-area rose aficionados that included George Lowery, a Sebastopol heritage rose cultivator. Lowery spotted a deep-red rose struggling through brambles behind the house by the first warden of Alcatraz, James Johnston, who was known to have loved roses. Lowery took cuttings to propagate and, with research, identified it as a ‘Bardou Job,’ among the rarest of about 100,000 known rose varieties.
Although an enthusiastic gardener, today, the British-born Eglin remained ambivalent “to the hands in the soil sort of thing,” as he puts it, for many years.
That changed when a flood hit the Marin county town where he lived, destroying his “postage stamp-sized, miserable excuse of a garden.” When the water subsided, he stuck in a few culinary herbs. One herb led to another until the tiny area was completely carpeted in green, inspiring him to add a rose for a bit of “up and color.”
One rose led to another and another ….
That led to another rose and then another, so many that his wife began to complain that he’d taken on a second job – deadheading – in addition to the San Francisco advertising firm that carried his name. In 1995, Garden Design magazine honored his now lushly landscaped postage stamp with its Golden Trowel Award for best rose garden.
Eglin’s Sonoma garden is quite different in from his Marin garden. Not only is it much larger, at one-third acre, but is Mediterranean in its geometrical design, with decomposed granite paths, raised beds edged in stone, pots planted with sculpted greenery. Rose, however, remain the stars.
At a time when drought-resistant California native plants, not roses, are high on gardeners’ radars, Eglin says “It boils down to choosing the right kind. Many of today’s roses are disease resistant and require no special treatment beyond minimal regular watering, occasional feeding and annual pruning.
Given that, it’s no mystery as to why his Sonoma garden remains a showcase of roses – rambling, climbing, billowing, brightening the garden with color, whiffing it with fragrance.
Anthony Eglin’s Rose Picks:
Along his rose-centric say, Eglin found himself drawn to English hybridizer David Austin’s roses, which capture the character and fragrance of the old garden roses he admires but with the repeat flowering ability and wide color range of modern hybrid teas and floribundas.
Sweet Juliet – Upright arching bush with creamy apricot blooms. Delicious fragrance. Repeat flowering.
Carding Mill – Sturdy bush covered with apricot color blooms much of the season. Lovely myrrh fragrance.
Wollerton Old Hall – Chalice shaped blooms of delicate peach, turning to cream. Strong, distinctive scent.
Sombreuil – Tea rose with creamy white blooms tightly-packed with as many as 100petals. Subtle tea fragrance, repeat bloom.
New Dawn – Vigorous flowering, with soft pink, cupped blooms fading to white. Nice glossy leaves. Fragrant. Repeat bloom.
Iceberg – Pure white clusters of blooms in early spring, repeating all season. Reliable workhorse for a variety of situations.
Bobby James – A prolific bloomer with large sprays of small creamy white flowers almost hiding the leaves. Moderately fragrant, grows to 30 feet, one long bloom per season.
Albertine – Red buds open to exquisite coppery-pink blossoms with curled edges. Perhaps the most romantic looking of all roses. Three week blooming period, good fragrance.
Leontine Gervais – Loose formed, delicate peachy blooms tinged with copper. Lightly scented, grows to 25 feet.