For years, Tom Carruth pursued Julia Child (yes, that Julia Child), telling her that he wanted to name a rose after her. And for years, Julia—who was well-known for being opposed to having her name attached to commercial ventures, a value that the Julia Child Foundation still upholds—politely refused him.
Until, that is, she saw a golden-colored rose in gardens of a family friend. As Tom told me, "The daughter of some family friends of hers in Santa Barbara was a rose producer and would sell these really unusual roses at the market." Tom, a former rose hybridizer for Weeks Roses (one of the largest wholesale rose growers in the U.S.) and now the curator of the rose garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, would occasionally send the rose producer clippings for her to plant, and one of them was the rose Julia spotted in the producer's garden.
"We'd been after Julia for quite a few years to name a rose after her, but she always said I'm not worthy of that, in typical Julia style," Tom said. But as he tells it, Julia mentioned to the producer that if she were to ever have a rose named after her, that would be a nice one. The producer called Tom the next day and they set to work immediately cultivating the rose.
That was in the early 2000s, just before Julia's death in 2004. Usually, Tom told me, it takes about 10 years to breed a new variety of rose—but the Julia Child rose was ready for market (and already an award-winner) by 2006.
Now, though he's developed over 100 new breeds of roses over the course of his career (many of them also named after celebrities, like Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Rosie O'Donnell), he counts the Julia Child rose among his top 5. This is in part because of the rose's strengths: It blooms almost continuously throughout the summer, is very disease-resistant, and grows well in almost any climate (and thus has been sold and grown all over the world, which, Tom said, is unusual for many roses, since they tend to change their performance based on where they're grown.) He tried to work as many food words into the rose's description as possible: Julia specifically wanted a single, even color—and this one is butter-colored. The scent? "Strong sweet licorice & spice."
But it's also one of Tom's favorites because "Julia is the one I would love to have met the most," he said. A home cook himself, "I came to know her, as many people had, through her wonderful cooking show, and now I know her story and love it. And I live in Pasadena... She was a Pasadena debutante."
Tom called the rose "she" the whole time we were talking. She's planted in the rose garden Tom now curates at the Huntington, which is home to over 1250 different rose varieties, but she's also planted in the herb garden—where else?
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