In 1953, the Wairarapa Rose Society first convened in Masterton.
Its rules of incorporation stated the object of the society was to “implant roses in the hearts of the people and gardens throughout the District”.
It is one of 23 district societies of the New Zealand Rose Society which started in 1931 – and this year the Wairarapa branch celebrates its 70th birthday.
To mark the occasion, local ‘rosarians’ met at the Services Club in Masterton for lunch, at which New Zealand Society president Hayden Foulds gave a speech.
It was an opportunity to recall activities and events the society had been involved in over the years, Wairarapa Rose Society patron Jan Houston said.
Houston’s passion for roses began 20 years ago out of necessity, when she and her husband bought their Masterton home, which had an established garden with 120 roses.
“I knew nothing about gardening,” Houston said. “We came from Wellington, but I hadn’t had a garden. I lived in Newlands, on top of the ridge. Lovely view, all the wind, all the sun, nothing grows.”
Houston’s neighbour showed her the basics of pruning but the larger varieties in her garden needed a little more attention.
“Then I read the Wairarapa Rose Society was having a pruning demonstration round at the hospice in Lincoln Rd.”
</i The pruning workshop was auspicious for the Houstons, as it was here Houston’s husband, Murray, met the late Glynn Saunders, who offered to “pop round” and take a look at their roses.
A former president of the New Zealand Rose Society and Wairarapa branch, as well as an esteemed judge, “what Glynn didn’t know about roses and gardening wasn’t worth knowing”, Houston said.
Saunders invited the Houstons to the next meeting of the Wairarapa Rose Society and “we went from there”.
Although today’s membership of the Wairarapa Rose Society is small compared to its heyday, the 20 or so current society stalwarts are part of a long and illustrious tradition of rose appreciation in the region.
The Wairarapa Rose Society hosted three conventions – 1958, 1970 and 1993 – all very well attended by gardening enthusiasts from across New Zealand.
The Souvenir Handbook and Schedule from 1970 shows the convention was a significant event for Masterton and the wider region.
In between the ‘Official Rules for the Judging of Roses’ and a ‘Pictorial Definition of Roses’ are adverts for Pride Dry Cleaning Services, Hookways’ Roses and Gladys Butcher’s Tearooms [“for quality and service”].
The event ran for six days, from November 13-18, with a full programme every day, including an official welcome from the mayor, a National Rose Show, garden tours, factory tours and an end-of-convention dinner.
Registration was £2 per person [about $20 today].
Today, the society meets on the second Sunday of every month and during the summer – when roses are at their best – members can show their blooms for judging in a ‘show bench’.
Judges are looking for “lots of things”, said Houston, who is an occasional judge. “Freshness, quality of foliage, shape, balance.”
Blooms are organised into categories, including decorative, exhibition, fully open, small stem and large stem.
In competition, the highest honour for any exhibitor is to achieve a ‘champion of champions’ bloom.
“That is the one the judge considers is the best in the show,” Houston said.
While the Wairarapa Rose Society may be a smaller organisation than “back in the day”, roses still fascinate and delight, Houston said.
“They really are so beautiful. You get a lovely rose, and it really is stunning.”
Houston’s favourites are old roses, which tend to have a “glorious scent”.
They also have glorious names like Penelope, the rambling Alberick Berbier and the candyfloss-pink Albertine.
While information available on the internet has, to some extent, replaced specialist societies, the Wairarapa Rose Society still has lots to offer, Houston said.
Those who join a local district get membership to the New Zealand Rose Society and receive a rose annual and rose review, which rounds up information on all new varieties on the market.
National shows and local yearly shows in November give members a chance to demonstrate their prowess at growing winning roses and members can also compete in the show bench at monthly meetings.
But probably the most valuable part of being a member is the access to expertise and experience.
“From our society, people get endless knowledge. Everybody is older and they know so much.”