From Paris with love – 100 years of roses in Montevideo, Uruguay

Michael Berger knows about roses.

He has been a member of the French Rose Society and is currently a member of the American Rose Society. When his work took him to Washington D.C., he became the President of the Potomac Rose Society and the vice president of the Arlington Rose Foundation.

Here in Uruguay, Michael is a member of the Comision Directiva de la Asociación Uruguaya de la Rosa (Board of Directors of the Uruguayan Rose Association).

As well as being a Master Rosarian of the American Rose Society, Michael consults about roses. He also works with a US hybridizer who sends roses to a nursery in the Uruguayan Department of Canelones, Vivero El Campo, which reproduces the roses and pays royalties to the  hybridizer in the US.

Michael began this work with the objective of introducing American varieties of roses, especially miniature and miniflora roses, which were new to the Uruguayan rose growing community.

A love for roses is born in Paris 

Michael was raised in middle Manhattan. Retired from government service, he divides his time between the U.S. and Uruguay. In the early part of his career, he spent time in Uruguay where he met his wife, Ema. Then, one of his assignments took them to Paris.

In Paris, the couple rented an apartment that happened to have potted roses on the roof. During their first winter the roses all died. Since they were his responsibility, Michael set out to replace them. In the process of doing so, his interest in roses budded and bloomed.

He continued working with roses long after he had replaced the ones that died. He ended up with 70 rose bushes on the roof of their Paris apartment.

La Rosaleda del Prado (The Rose Garden of the Prado)

 La Rosaleda del Prado (The Rose Garden of the Prado)

But what has recently held Michael’s attention in Uruguay’s world of roses is the 100-year anniversary of La Rosaleda del Prado (The Rose Garden of the Prado), a beautiful rose garden in Montevideo’s Prado neighborhood.

In the 1980’s, Michael wrote an article for the magazine of the American Rose Society about Montevideo’s Rosaleda del Prado in honor of its 75th anniversary.

In 2011, a year before the Rose Garden of the Prado turned 100 years old; Mercedes Drever de Villar wrote an article in the 2011 bulletin of the Uruguayan Rose Association. The article provided a short history of the rose garden in France, and went on to explain how the concept of a rose garden came to be realized in Uruguay.

How the rose garden developed in France and came to Uruguay 

Between 1804 and 1814, Empress Josephine, who had been the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, became fascinated with roses. She started by collecting varieties from China and England.  Not getting her fill, she had the French navy confiscate any rose plants or seeds they came across and bring them to her.

She built up the largest collection of roses in the world at Malmaison, her estate south of Paris. With the great influx of roses, French hybridizers and nurseries got to work making and reproducing new varieties. By 1830, France had 2,500 varieties of roses.

The first true rose garden (a garden completely dedicated to roses) was Roseraie de L'Haÿ, in the suburb of L’Haÿ, five miles south of Paris. The garden was completed in 1899 and had 1600 types of roses. Roseraie de L'Haÿ was the project of landscape architect Édouard François André and Jules Gravereaux.

As well as being a rose aficionado, Gravereaux was one of the founders of the Bon Marché department store in Paris. At age 50 he retired, dedicating his time to roses and the creation of the garden. He created his own rose varieties for the purpose of making rose oil perfumes. In 1910 'Roseraie de L'Haÿ' had every known rose, with a total of 8,000 plants.

French influence strong in Montevideo, Uruguay
In the early 1900s French cultural influences were strong in Montevideo. Educated people spoke French, wore the latest French fashions, listened to French music, and in their delight of all things French, knew about the large garden near Paris dedicated solely to roses.

Andre Charles Racine, a Uruguayan of French heritage was the director of Montevideo’s public parks. In 1902,  he established a botanical garden. Racine then formed a vision of Montevideo having its own public rose garden.

Racine dedicated himself to the task. Work on the rose garden started in Montevideo's Prado neighborhood  in 1908. In 1909,  the first roses from Europe started to arrive. On November 17, 1912 The Rose Garden of the Prado was opened to the public.

Pergola at The Rose Garden of the Prado

Four pergolas form the garden’s rectangular perimeter. The pergolas, columns, and their beams support climbing Roses.It has a circular center composed of a pond surrounded by columns.   Among the open paths there are beds of rose bushes. Most of the roses that came from Europe were climbing varieties with yellow and white flowers. The large trunk diameters suggest that many of the rose plants along the pergolas are the originals from 1912.

Rose cuttings were given to the public during pruning. In this way roses spread to every corner of Uruguay.

Uruguay National Symphony Orchestra Performing at the 100-year anniversary
of the Rosaleda del Prado  (The Rose Garden of the Prado)
The 100-year anniversary celebration of the Rosaleda was held December 12, 2012. At this event the Rosaleda del Prado was declared a national treasure. The celebration was attended by the granddaughter of Andre Charles Racine and included a performance by Uruguay's National Symphony Orchestra.

Right: Image taken at the 100-year anniversary of the Rosaleda del Prado. From left to right:
  • Mabel Mederos de  Franchi, member of the Comision Directiva de la Asociación Uruguaya de la Rosa
  • Mercedes Drever de Villar, member of the Comision Directiva de la Asociación Uruguaya de la Rosa 
  • Helene Racine de Etcheverry, granddaughter of Andre Charles Racine
For more information about roses in Uruguay:
Asociacion Uruguaya de la Rosa
Casilla de Correo 18914 Dto. 9
11500 Montevideo, Uruguay

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