Roses Galore From the Gilded Age to San Marino Ranch

by Nancy Armitage

A lovely addition to a tea party, crystal vases of colorful fragrant roses. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

The roses at the Huntington Library are amazing. They have been growing strong for over 100 years at the San Marino Ranch. I was always curious to find out about the history of the Huntington’s rose garden. What did it actually look like when Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Arabella) lived there? What kinds of roses did they have? Was there multi-color roses in 1914? A multi-color rose is what I call any rose that has 2 or more colors in it: roses like “Double Delight” or “Peace”.  So here’s what I found out in my rose gardening research. Here in sunny Southern California, we get at least 6-7 flushes (sets of blooms) of roses each year. Each of the rose plants can yield up to 40 or more roses to each “flush”. With literally 100’s of rose bunches in each rose plant, they had 1,000’s & 1,000’s of roses for Mrs. Huntington’s flower arrangements. You will see below of just how many rose plants (especially pink & white) that they bought for the Ranch. Remember these are only a handful of rose receipts I found from the Huntington’s rose purchases. Enjoy the rose tour & rose fads through the decades.

Rose Galore, ready to make rose flower arrangements!!

In the early 1900’s, the Huntington’s had a gigantic rose arbor just outside the Huntington Mansion. It was located to the west of the Mansion, just outside of the Bowling Alley & Billards Room (now the Tea Room). The Rose Arbor tunnel was made of metal to support the heavy weight of the climbing roses. It ran from the mansion’s terrace all the way to the Japanese Garden. The Rose Arbor got so very large & out of hand, so Mr. Hertrich had to have it cut down; putting in the green lawn that is off the Huntington’s Dining Room & Terrace, now. Document: HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 (SMR papers, roses purchases.)

So Mrs. Huntington loved her roses in the garden & in the Huntington Mansion. She also loved a rose motif on many of her fine bone china plateware patterns – dinner plates, tea plates, & tea cups.  Here are a few plateware we know she owned: Homer Laughlin “Angelus Rose”, Haviland “Nappy” (multi-color rose), Dresden “Empress” or “Chateau” or “Marie Antoinette” (probably all of the Dresden), Whieldenware “Pheasant” (whole set) & “Pink Pheasant” tea plates, & her French Sevres pink & gold plates, too. We know she had “Old Paris or “Vieux Paris” plates, many the “Old Paris” patterns had pink roses on them. She might have picked them up in her travels to Paris & Europe. Through this blog you will see more examples of Mrs. Huntington’s pretty rose motif plates.

We know that Mrs. Huntington owned Dresden plates at the San Marino Ranch & Chateau Beauregard. She owned 3 sets of Dresden plates at Chateau Beauregard. There was “Empress” (which is above), “Chateau”, and “Marie Antoinette” (more elaborate with initials in the middle Dresden patterns. It looks like there is a yellow rose in the middle. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

So many delicious rose tea parties foods were made in the Gilded Age & Victorian times. There was rose petal jam – delicious on a cream scone, rose petal tea, or rose petal punch. I even found a “rose petal sandwich” recipe made in 1912!! I am inspired to have a Victorian tea party & here are some great ideas. Some are historical & some are modern. Try “Chantilly Cream” (whipped cream with a little superfine sugar) with chopped rose petals sprinkled on the top with a Johnny jump up flower on top (all edible). 

[1896 Victorian Pink Teaparty] 

The idea for a “Pink Tea” is quite Victorian, indeed. On May 15, 1896 in the Los Angeles Herald Newspaper they reported on a lovely ladies pink tea party. “The Ladies of the Stanton W.R.C. gave a delightful afternoon & yesterday evening at the home of Mrs. McKinnie on Bellevue Avenue. Invitations were extended to attempt a Pink Tea & the rooms were well filled with guests from time to time in the afternoon until late in the evening. The decorations were all in pink sweet peas, & [pink] roses being used with much effect. The refreshments were served on dainty china decorated in pink & each guest carried away with them very pretty souvenirs of small T’s [tea roses, I assume] of rough pink paper, tied with narrow [pink] ribbon & bearing the date “May 14”. The latter part of the entertainment was devoted to charades & an impromptu musical program”.   

Mrs. Huntington favored fine bone china plates with roses. My sketchbook painting is of Homer Laughlin “single pink rose” plates. Mrs. Huntington also owned Haviland, Haviland Elite (many footed pieces), Limoges, & Minton. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Best Rose Petal Tea Blend (Victorian America) – Recipe

This is a fabulous blend of rose-scented tea. The more scented the rose, the more scented the tea, like the “Mr. Lincoln” rose. This tea would be perfect to serve at a “Victorian Pink Tea party”; The Victorian rose is the flower named “Queen of the Garden Party”. Just the smell of this tea, brings one back to the garden. French Lavender blossoms could also be added, too. Mrs. Huntington would have used her favorite tea blend of ½ India tea with ½ Ceylon tea making “Orange Pekoe” her favorite tea blend.. 

1 c. black tea (Earl Grey, Oolong, Darjeeling or Rose Congou)

1 c. rose petals, dried

1 lb. Jasmine tea with Jasmine blossoms

10-20 drops or more rose essential oil

Put dry ingredients in a bowl. Drop rose oil on top & stir. Add tea blend to a several 1 qt mason jars. Label. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Haviland, “Nappy” pattern, one of Mrs. Huntington’s numerous rose motif plates; she often ordered service for 12 guests. I discovered that in 1914 , they did have multi-color roses, a 100 years ago. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Rose Tea” Recipe (A tonic made in 1899)

I found this recipe in a wonderful old rare book of Mr. Huntingtons called Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, dated 1899. It is a great cookbook & really educated me on how they cooked & ate in the Gilded Age. One thing that was difficult to read was each recipe was written in long form.

“Pour a pint of boiling water over an ounce of red rose-leaves [petals]. Cover the infusion & let it remain for 10 minutes. Filter it, sweeten it with honey, & drink a glassful cold the first thing in the morning. Fine to infuse, 10 minutes. Rose tea in some complaints is a useful tonic”.

The former rose garden curator, Claire Martin, at the Huntington Library told me a great rose secret. He said in the old days, the Huntington’s ranch hands would throw down chicken poop mixed with soil on the roses. This gave the Huntingtons bigger, and happier roses at the San Marino Ranch.

Roses — Miles & Miles of Roses (SMR) running the length of Huntington Drive, through San Marino Ranch, CA. A tribute to Arabella D. Huntington from Mr. Huntington & Mr. Hertrich; a treasure for Mrs. Huntington who loved pink & white roses. She adored pink fragrant roses especially “Cecil Brunner” or Mlle. Cecil Brunner (was a tea rose & a rose climber) & Pink “Killarney” (HT) (Hot pink or deep pink) & Mr. Huntington & Hertrich purchased 100’s of  “Gen. MacArthur” (HT) bright pink & very fragrant rose at a time. See below.

A Rose Luncheon or Pink Rose Teaparty or a Pink Tea is always a fun & elegant theme to use for entertaining. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

1907 “Rose Luncheon” I found this great explanation for a “Rose Luncheon” in one of Mr. Huntington’s rare books called: Dame Curtsey’s Book on Novel Entertainments (1907) for every day in the year by Ellye Howell Glover: 

“One of the prettiest functions imaginable is a rose luncheon. Pink is the color scheme always satisfactory both to the hostess & guests. The table may be covered with a lace cloth over pink or remain bare with individual plate doilies….Centerpiece – square basket … with pink roses & suspend over chandelier broad streamers of tulle [fabric] or ribbon. Use glass or silver candlesticks with shades of pink silk roses. The place cards are charming, done in watercolors, a rosebud cut out the original shape…write half the rhyme of mother goose; in the Drawing Room give the other half written on bits of paper to the guests. In this way seats at the table are found. As American Beauty rose…The Bonbons [French chocolate truffles] & Ices [molded ice creams] may be served in exquisite rose shaped cups, the cake trimmed in candy roses [frosting made of pink roses], & even the salad may be brought on in rose cases set on a stand & of three rose stems wired together & wound with dark green tissue paper. These cases may be found at the caterers or made at-home if one has the time”.

All great ideas & we also find out how very fancy a 1907 “tea luncheon” was. But they do mention in the end, they might have used caterers. In 2020, this would be a special Pink Bridal Shower or a fancy fundraiser luncheon at a fancy hotel. Another idea for a Pink Tea or Pink Luncheon is to serve Pink Lemonade or Rose Lemonade. My mother used to serve pink lemonade & chocolate covered mint cookies at her bridge parties; I thought it was quite elegant even as a little girl. With the smell of Shalimar perfume in the air & the sound of the clinking of gold charm bracelets.

For a “pink tea” one must have some pretty pink plates, tea cups, & saucers. A nice rose color combination is yellow with pink roses with a little hot pink (very French). Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

1907 Huntington Rose Hothouses – Propagating Roses (SMR): On the San Marino Ranch, Mr. Huntington had 3 glass houses: one rose house(s), one orchid house, & one green house beside the large Lath House. At the beginning of the botanical gardens: I think Hertrich & the rose men were involved in the propagation of the Huntington Roses. The employees in charge of the roses were J. Jackman & Carl Mark, called rose men. Document: HEH Coll. 8/9 uncat SMR papers/ 1921 SMR Map Cal Tech [Elevation] map. 

1912 “Rose Petal [Tea] Sandwiches” Recipe

I found this interesting Edwardian tea sandwich recipe in one of Mr. Huntington’s rare books called The Book of Parties & Pastimes by Damson & Telford, 1912. You can really taste the rose, if you use fragrant rose petals, free of rose fertilizer.

“rose perfumed unsalted butter

rose petals [most fragrant are best]


“Flavor fresh unsalted butter, if you can get it, with roses, by packing a closed vessel surrounded by a thick layer of rose leaves [petals]. The most fragrant, the finer the flavoring imparted. Allow them to remain overnight. [one could just mince the rose petals in the sweet butter & layering of roses project]. Cut the bread for these dainty sandwiches in thin strips or circles, [with heart or round cookie cutters] spread each slice with the perfumed butter, & place several petals from fresh roses between the slices, allowing the edges to show.” [If you go with the minced rose butter, it is really beautiful with bright colored roses].

1914 For the pink roses: the Huntington’s Formal Tea Rose Garden Hybrid Tea Roses -“HT”; was in the same place it is located now. In 1914, they ordered a enormous amount of roses: 280 “General MacArthur” roses plants described as the best hot pink & red rose ever. “Gen’l MacArthur” rose was invented in 1904 & had a strong damask fragrance. In September of 1915, Huntington & Hertrich ordered 315 more “General MacArthur” rose plants which was colored a beautiful hot pink to red color) 220 “Mrs. George Shawyer” rose plants; a bridal pink color blend invented in 1911. Many more roses ordered to please Mrs. Arabella Huntington. Also, 20 “Alice Roosevelt” roses (Hot pink or deep pink hybrid tea rose) & 2 Gainsborough roses a light flesh pink HT & ages white with a moderate fragrance & was invented in 1903. 

Mrs. Huntington’s Homer Laughlin scalloped plates with pink roses was called “Angelus Rose”,. Each year, Parmelee-Dohrmann had a lovely different version of the “Angelus Rose”; but they all seemed to match, if you were entertaining. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Season of 1915: Fragrant Cut Roses & Fragrant Flowers (SMR): “Mrs. Huntington’s fragrant flower garden” which was located were the herb garden is now at the Huntington Library. An enormous amount of roses & flowers were cut for very large flower arrangements (100-250 flowers for a large foyer flower arrangement).

From Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s flower gardens for the Season of 1915: There were 3,900 pink glass house roses, 3,000 white glass house Roses, & 2,800 Rose garden roses. Also, lists with 1,000 each of these other flowers like, Narcissuses, Lilies of the Valley, Sweet Peas, Gladiolus, Daffodils, Red Amaryllises, Dutch Iris, & Spanish Iris, Stock, Cyclamens, Yellow Acacia branches, Watsonians, & Anthuriums. Document: HEH Coll. HEH MS 8/9 (SMR papers)

Rose Petal Punch Recipe:

This punch would be perfect for a “pink tea” or a Victorian theme afternoon tea. 

8 Earl Grey tea bags

2 qt.  boiling water

1 c. Raspberries, 

½ c. Sugar

2  c. Fresh spearmint leaves

4 lemons, juice

3 oranges, juice

½ c. Rose Syrup (below)

Garnish with fresh rose petals

Make tea with Earl Grey tea & hot boiling water. Let cool. Add spearmint leaves. Strain well.  Add sugar, rose syrup, lemon & orange juice, & stir. Serve in a large silver punch with floating rose petals or sprinkle rose petals on the tray that the punch bowl is placed on. In each guest’s punch cup or champagne glass, add raspberries & ladle punch into cup. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Rose Syrup Recipe:

4 c. 1 qt. water, boiling

8 c. rose petals 

4 c. sugar

6 drops red food coloring

Pour water over fresh rose petals (free of systemic, etc). Add sugar until dissolved. add food coloring. Let sit 1-2 days. Strain into a clean mason jar. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

1914 For the White Roses (SMR):  In 1914, the San Marino Ranch ordered 120 “Dbl White Killarney” white rose plants, also “Double white Killarney” roses 100’s were ordered; it was the most fragrant of the roses in 1915 & 1916; he planted so many roses to please Arabella. Document: HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 uncat (San Marino Ranch papers)

Large amounts100’s of Rose plants ordered  – 1914-15 Huntington’s Formal Rose Gardens (SMR): 

Roses plants were sent to the San Marino Ranch/ Los Robles Ranch: [these are lists of massive quantities of rose plants purchased 100 to 220 rose plants of the same rose plant.]

Jan. 1914 To: SMR: 100 “Mslle Cecile Brunner” rose plants [pink-salmon color; invented in 1881] from Henry W. Turner, Montebello, CA; May 11, 1914: From Dietrich & Turner Montebello, CA to Los Robles Ranch (SMR) rec’d: 220 Mrs. George Shawyer [Bridal pink to hot pink color], 120 Dbl. White Killarney [white]; July of 1914 from Edward H. Rust, 30 Climbing Cecil Brunner [bridal pink color- small petit flower]; 1914 From: A. N. Pierson, Cromwell, Conn. To: San Marino Ranch 24 K. Brilliant Roses; Sept. 1914: Large amount of rose plants ordered: 280 Gen’l MacArthur [Best rose ever-hot pink to red], 150 Maisrin, 150 Mad. Segond Weber, 100 Geo. Arends, 150 Ulrich Brunner (best rose), 150 Juliet, 100 Melanie Soupert, 100 Lyon [yellow ] rose, 50 RK de Saxe, 65 Gen. MacArthur,…. & 5000 Ranunculus” 

Jan. 4, 1915 French Roses at the San Marino Ranch: 100 Mslle Cecile Brunner [1881] [Bright pink-salmon] from Henry W. Turner Montebello, CA to SMR. April 12, 1915 From: Ed H. Rust to SMR: 21 Roses Cli (Climber) – Cecil Brunner, 4 Roses Cli – Mademoiselle alf-Caviese.  May 21, 1915 from: Henry Turner to SMR:  50 White Roses $2.00; 

My Winter Roses (2019-2020) were extremely large -3 x’s the size as my spring & summer roses. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

April 1916 “Gainsborough Rose” arrives at the Ranch from: Edward H. Rust to SMR:  2 Gainsborough Rose plants [flesh pink & rich fragrance] $15.00 2 Ch. Crochet (white) rose plants Document HEH Coll. HEH 6/15 uncat (San Marino Ranch papers)

We know Mrs. Huntington owned “Old Paris” porcelain plates, we don’t know the pattern. This “Old Paris” is similar to other plates she owned, pink Sevres tea set, Coalport (Blue, gold & white) “Batwing”, & her Dresden “Empress” or “Chateau” with oval shapes on the rim, too. We know Mrs. Huntington owned a “green & pink” breakfast set (tea pot, etc.) It is possibly that one of her breakfast sets was “Old Paris”. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage Huntington journal

Mrs. Arabella Huntington’s Roses: “Hybrid Tea Rose Garden” 1916

May of 1916 (SMR): In the San Marino Ranch ledgers, I was so excited to find this informative rose list, just what I had been curious about! Ordered by Hertrich – To: Los Robles Ranch (SMR) from: Howard & Smith: 

20 Alice Roosevelt [Hot pink], 10 Autocrat [multi color yellow with red reverse], 10 Catherine Simmons, 10 Chieftain, 10 Chadwick Improved (Gratis), 20 Curly Locks, 10 Donald,  10 Dorothy Duggan, 10 Durban’s Price, 10 Earl Kitchener,10 Early Frost, 20 Edgar Saunders, 10 Elsa, 10 Excelsior, 10 F.A. Cobbold, 10 Golden Eagle, 10 Golden West, 10 Golden Eaton, 10 Golden Climax, 20 Good Gracious, 50 F.S. Vallis  5 La Fusion, 10 Irene, 5 Lynwood Hall, 10 Kate Covell, 10 Katherine Livingston, 10 Ladu [Lady] Lu, 10 Lion Grant, 20 Little Bulgar, 50 Mademoiselle A. Marmotel, 10 Mad. Carnot, 10, Mad. R. Obertheur, 10 Mad. Dietericjs, 5 Mademoiselle, H. Delizy, 10 Mademoiselle Jeanne Rosette, 10 Mademoiselle Marie Liger, 5 Mad. Paelo Readelli, 20 Mademoiselle Von Andre, 10 Mendon, 10 Minnesota, 10 Miss Ida Kroseschell, 20 Miss Lucy Evans, 10 Miss Mary Mann, 10 Margaret Sargent, 10 Marion Southerland, 10 Mrs. Buckingham, 20 Mrs. Coombes, 40 Mrs. Dexter, 50 Mrs. F. J.Taggart, 10 Mrs. Geo. Beech, 10 Mrs. J.F. Trantor, 10 Mrs. O. H. Kahn, 10 Mrs. H. W. Rieman, 10 Mrs. Harry Emmerton, 5 Mrs. W. Duckham, 10 Odessa, 10 Naceur Bey 10 Nagoya, 10 Perfect Boncourt, 10 President Taft, 10 Ramapo, 5 R.E. Richardson, 10 R.F. Felton, 20 Roi d’Italia, 5 Satisfaction, 10 Sidonia, 5 Silver Queen, 20 Souvenir De Mrs. Durbin, 5 Surprise, 10 Unaka, 10 White Chiefton (Gratis) 10 Wm. Kleinneinz, 20 Yellow Prince, 10 Yvonne $ 71.40 Document: Found in San Marino Ranch Ledgers

A simple intimate tea party is always fun to host. Have tea cups & saucers already placed on the tea table, ready to go at a moment’s notice. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Rose Petal-Lavender Punch Recipe (1990’s)

A perfect refreshing summertime punch when the roses are in full bloom, and so is the lavender & lemon verbena herbs. Hugo’s in West Hollywood changed my life in the 1990’s, by serving me their herbal tea in a French coffee press. I’ve been using one ever since. Making tea from fresh herbs and rose petals can be a very messy project with a stock pot and strainer; the French coffee press just makes it so much easier!

Make a pretty rose-herb wreath to go around the punch bowl or pitcher. Using trailing rosemary, baby roses, & lavender blossoms with thin floral wire. Bundle together & wind the floral wire around the flowers & herbs several times to make a round wreath. Usually takes a couple of the wires to do it.

Rose Petal & Lavender Tea Recipe:

1 qt. size French coffee press

1 qt. boiling hot water

40 rose petals, fragrant

30 lavender blooms

1 c. lemon verbena leaves 

2-4 drops of rose essential oil or rose water

Boil water, add rose petals and herbs to french coffee press. Let steep for 20 mins. Pour into a pitcher & refrigerate.

Rose-Petal Lavender Punch Recipe:

6 c. rose-lavender tea (above)

30 ice cubes (or ice ring with lavender blossoms & rose petal inside)

4 oz. (12 oz.) Gingerale, iced cold

In a punch bowl, or crystal pitcher, add tea, ice, & gingerale. This punch is pinkish in color. Recipe: Nancy Armitage 

Fragrant rose petal potpourri Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

2015 -The Huntington Rose Potpourri Recipe  (Huntington Library Chelsea Potpourri Jar) 

Upstairs in the Huntington Gallery (once the Huntington Mansion) is a pair of Chelsea potpourri jars. Mrs. Huntington owned a lot of rare Chelsea porcelain pieces. On a plaque next to the jars it states: “Potpourri was often made by women in the 18th Century, a procedure like this one. Place a layer of aromatic plants & a layer of salt into a pot in an alternating fashion until it is full:

Rose [Petals]

Orange flowers [Winter-Springtime]

Lavender [Blossoms]






Laurel [Bay leaves]




Cover. Let sit in the sun stirring the contents every other day. Use after a year.”  Nancy Note: instead of the layers of salt to dry the herbs and rose petals, nowadays they would use orris root.

In 2020, in Southern California some of my “winter roses” were exceptionally large. Like the red “Mr. Lincoln”, 3 x’s the size as the others. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage


Document: HEH Coll. HEH 6/15 uncat (San Marino Ranch papers) Huntington Library San Marino., CA (all rose information & 1916 List of Roses) HEH Coll. HEH 8/9 uncat (San Marino Ranch papers) at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Los Angeles Herald Newspaper Vol. 25, Number 217 May 15, 1896 (“Pink Tea” reported in Los Angeles)

HEH’s Rare book: Dame Curtsey’s Book on Novel Entertainments – for every day of the years by Ellye Howell Glover (1907)

HEH’s Rare Book: The Book of Parties & Pastimes by Damson & Telford, 1912

HEH’s Rare Book: Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery, 1899

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