By Holly Hayes
STANDING NEXT TO A CLIMBING ROSE in her garden one early spring day, Carolyn Parker had a sudden inspiration to clip a little bit of the blossom-covered vine and bend it into the shape of the letter "R,'' for rose.
Turns out, the little pink miniature's name was ROULETII, another R. Parker took it as a sign. The only other rose in bloom that early was Banksia Lutea, also known as Lady Banks. Out came the pruners and she quickly had a B.
"It turned out beautifully,'' says the gardener, writer and photographer who had been searching for an idea for a new book. "And I thought, `Well, I really have to make the whole alphabet.'"
Several years later, the sumptuous R Is for Rose: Reflections From a Passionate Rose Lover is in bookstores. Parker will show slides of roses and arrangements from the book on Thursday as the star attraction of the five-day "Flowers in the Home'' event at Filoli in Woodside. Participants also will be able to take an after-hours tour of the historic estate's expansive rose garden.
Initially, Parker says, the idea of coming up with a rose for each letter of the alphabet was "kind of intimidating.'' But the project fell together with an amazing swiftness.
"I immediately thought of all my favorite roses that were right outside the door,'' says Parker, who has between 250 and 300 roses ("I stopped counting'') on less than a third of an acre at her Lafayette home.
"I filled up half of the letters of the alphabet with just those,'' Parker says. The first slots went to Foetida Bicolor, Moss Rose and Sweet Surrender. Then she added "royal members in the history of genus rosa '': ROSA RUGOSA ALBA , and MADAME X, a rosa multiflora. GRAHAM THOMAS, ICEBERG and JUST JOEY won spots for their vigor and beauty. And so on.
"When the list was complete, I was completely stunned to find that my very own garden contributed 22 roses to the group,'' Parker says. She had to purchase only four roses -- those representing the letters K (KATHLEEN), N (NEVADA), V (VIOLETTE) and Z (ZEPHIRINE DROUHIN) -- to add to her collection to complete the alphabet photographically.
"What's amazing to me about the list is its diversity, and I did not do that consciously,'' she says. It includes old roses, English roses, climbers, ramblers, singles, you name it. "One of the main things I really wanted to share with readers is how diverse roses are. They're not just the hybrid teas everyone is so familiar with.''
Parker's background as a fashion designer influenced the way the book went together.
"In the fashion magazines, I used to be miffed if I couldn't see the whole outfit. The models would always be jumping or diving or whatever,'' Parker says. "So for my book, I wanted to do straight-on photos.''
Accordingly, each chapter has not only the expected lush close-up of the rose bloom, but also a photo of the plant growing in her garden -- so you can see its size, habits and foliage -- and images of each rose used in arrangements. The containers range from striking pottery made by her husband, artist Leroy Wheeler Parker, to mayonnaise jars and pieces of antique crockery.
The text for each chapter includes information about the rose's parentage and its history. But Parker also pours a lot of herself into the writing.
"You know how when you first meet your best friend, your boyfriend, your husband -- whatever -- you remember how you came upon them,'' Parker says. "This forced me deep into my own personal stories. In the process, it seemed like one chapter just made the way for the next.''
There are stories of roses encountered in parking lots. Of roses met in friends' gardens. A whole new world discovered at Roses of Yesterday and Today, the Watsonville business that offers old, rare and unusual roses. And an even larger world Parker entered after visiting her first Celebration of Old Roses, an event held each May in El Cerrito.
And then there is the story of how Parker came to know MADAME X, a petite white single rose she purchased at Filoli in 1989 after seeing it used in a glorious arrangement at a flower show there.
"Someone had made the most stunning bouquet and I thought, `I have to grow a garden that great to provide endless possibilities for presenting roses.'
"It would be so cool if the person who made that arrangement all those years ago is in the audience for my event at Filoli,'' Parker says. "I would like to say thank you.''