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Alexandra Booke’s Roses

A stroll through Alexandra Booke’s front yard rose garden. (All photos by Devon O’Brien)


Editor’s Note: Mother’s Day and a feature on roses seemed perfect timing to us! Our thanks to writer Devon O’Brien for this lovely feature on Alexandra Booke’s exuberant rose garden, just in time for this special day. Happy Mother’s Day from the Buzz! 


Wandering along a Larchmont sidewalk on a recent afternoon, I was overtaken by a pair of women in athletic attire. 

“Man,” said one woman to the other, breathless on their power-walk, “There’s so much beauty around here.” 

I had been thinking the very same thing. This spring, roses are exploding throughout our neighborhoods — yellows, oranges, peaches and reds, pinks, purples, whites and stripes — like small, still fireworks set on a stem. They dazzle in yards and on parkways, and even burst through concrete in the occasional forsaken lot on Beverly Boulevard. 

Slowing down and taking time to appreciate a rose — its color, fragrance or unfathomable beauty — is relaxing, transporting. Is there a better de-stressor than a rose? Appreciating how much these plants offer us, I decided to learn more about them and visited Alexandra Booke in her garden in Windsor Square. 

Alexandra has 50 rose bushes, including 35 varieties. Many she planted 27 years ago, when she and her husband moved to their house, and most of them live in her front yard. Alexandra has a relationship with each rose. She spends time with them every day, watches them, noticing their reactions to sun, shade, heat and water. She shifts them around. Digs them out and relocates them. She pulls them out if they “give up the ghost.” She talks to them, encourages and coaxes them to be their best blooms. It seems they speak back to her. Walking with Alexandra, sometimes she channels them, and speaks their thoughts. Like, her robust Altissimo rose and her immense Golden Celebration say, “Yay! Look at us. We’re here!” 

Trudging through mulch and dirt, Alexandra introduced me to 27 magnificent bushes in full bloom. Some are her original plants. “Middle-aged roses,” she calls them. Some, she added five years ago. She has a few toddlers, too. They are different classifications. Some are hybrid teas, some are Grandiflora, some are climbers, and some are single petals — the blooms sit on the bush like a flock of visiting butterflies. Alexandra is humble — yet she has an instinctive and dizzying knowledge of her roses, and the perfume from her petaled population is positively heady. 

Tell me how you started your rose garden.

The minute we got here, 27 years ago, I made room for roses. I hired a designer. She made the whole yard into quadrants. There are pebbles here now; but before there was grass, where my children played. When they got older, nobody played out here. I wanted to save on water, got an allowance from the DWP, and took the grass out. I moved the hedges to make room for more roses. The roses are set behind the hedges, so it’s called ‘a sunken rose garden.’ This is a fantastic area because it gets so much sun. And the soil seems to hold the water. It’s not sandy, I guess you could say it’s more clay. The light is a little south and a little west. They love it out here. These roses have to be very heat tolerant. These roses love the sun; if they get too much shade, they don’t do as well. They just want sun. So when I shop, I have to buy varieties marked ‘drought tolerant’ or ‘heat tolerant.’ 

There are so many roses. Portland has an amazing rose garden, but they’re probably not the roses that do well here. Sometimes I go to the Huntington, and we will have the same rose. I think, ‘Huh, that’s your French Lace — mine’s better!’ It doesn’t happen all the time. But that’s how it can feel to me, because I know them very well. 

Each rose has a way it grows. A way they shape, and how you take care of them, and how much you prune then. I learn that by just watching them. I come out all the time. Season after season. Sometimes I move them. I’m like ‘this gets too much sun,’ so I have to move it.

I don’t know every rose, I can’t say that I do. I am not a rosarian. I’m not a rose expert. I’ve been to classes with people who think about roses all day long. That’s their life. They have 90 rose bushes. They tend to them probably better than I do. They do everything by the book. I am much lazier. I have several books, but I haven’t looked at them in a long time. I use the Internet.  Sonny Estrada, the landscaper, helps me with my roses. My first year here, the Altissimo grew so beautifully. He pulled up in front in his truck, leaned out and said,  ‘Wow that’s a great Altissimo.’ That’s how we met. He’s remained a friend ever since. Sonny and I talk and debate about roses.

Where do you get your roses? How do you choose them?

Sometimes I buy them in dirt in a pot. Sometimes I buy them ‘bare root” from a nursery. They arrive all wrapped up, but the roots have to look a certain way. I unwrap them and stick them in water. If the roots just don’t look right I go, ‘No. Return! Refund!’ Most of my roses are Grandiflora.  Roses from a florist are usually hybrid teas; a single stem shoots up a single bloom. Roses of the Grandiflora classification turn up a whole mass of buds and multiple blooms. I find these more natural and they look good in a garden.

Any regrets? Roses you’ve lost?

Yes. I have had roses stop working and I’ve had to pull them. I had a Double Delight that I worked on for so long and it just gave up the ghost. I had The Pilgrim and it didn’t do well and I had to just give up. Maybe I just got a bad one, or wherever I put it didn’t suit it.

How did you get into roses?

Since I was really little, I’ve been attracted to them. My cousin once had all these silk roses in a bowl. Somebody gave them to her, they were probably sachets. We were so little. I was, like, three. But when I saw them, I wanted them so much that … I took one. I got home and felt so guilty that I hid. My mother found me. “I took one of her roses,” I said. Funny, but that sort of started it. 


Alexandra’s Roses, Class of 2022


Cha Ching: A hybrid tea, so it sends up a single bloom. Yellow. Its got color, scent, staying power. It’s disease resistant. This rose is the whole package. Not all my roses are like that — I don’t want them all like that. It took three years of coaxing, ‘You can do it! You can DO it!’ And now look at it: BOOM! The rose can’t be stopped.


The Mary Rose: This is a more delicate rose, so you have to work on it more.  That’s just how it is. It’s fine.


Iceberg: This bush is as popular and common as the lettuce, and white like its namesake.


Sun Flare: A lemony-yellow bloom. The bud begins as an orange-yellow and as it blooms it turns into a fluffy yellow.


Caribbean Breeze: It really changes color. I don’t know this one that well yet. It’s only two years old. A toddler.


Chicago Peace: This functions more like a hybrid tea. It becomes huge, it just bursts out. It’s giant. This, to me, is crazy it’s so beautiful.


Sexy Rexy: This is a beautiful petal. Crazy. I love this. It’s 27 years-old.


Edith Darling:  This is a Downton Abbey Rose that I fell for. Named after the second daughter. To me, it like an egg.


Ambridge: I die for this rose. It smells like licorice. Put your nose in it. Incredible! It’s five years-old.


State of Grace: It starts so peachy, and moves to pink. I just love the smaller ones of this. When you cut them and put them in a vase, it’ll take a week or two to bloom. Peachy-pink is my new color.


Distant Drums: It’s beige and pink. It’s only a year old. This one is turning into my favorite. I mean I am just talking to it all the time. “Oh my God! You can do it, you can do it.”


The Alexandra Rose: It’s a climber and a single petal that changes from pink to white. It’s sort of raggedy. You can’t prune it to look a certain way. It’s very willful — it’s this, that, then it turns white.


Anna’s Promise: Another Downton Abbey rose. It gets really orange. It’s like 5 years old and has never gotten very big. It’s kind of a drag.


Tournament of Roses: Look at these. Check it out. I love that. This bush is 27 years-old.


Gertrude Jekyll: This is the best fragrance of any rose in my garden. It’s another one that moves fast. It’s in full bloom now and just about to drop the petals. It’s 27 years old. Sometimes people lean over from the street to put their face in it.


Altissimo: It’s a giant rose bush. I have to beat it back. It’s huge on either side. It bloomed early. Boom! It’s really a vigorous rose. 27.


Golden Celebration. It’s an immense rose. You can’t even control it. It wants to be enormous, on either side of the front fence.


Crush on You: A red rose. Look at it. It’s so great. I am not crazy about red roses. Originally, I just wanted Altissimo for red. Then I want to connect Altissimo to something — so look at it. I have only had it a year and a half. Boom. It’s like, ‘I love it here!’ That’s how you know it’s a winner.


Moments before posting, Alexandra texted to say that she and her advisor, fellow rose-enthusiast, Sonny Estrada, had just visited a nursery in Fillmore. Alexandra came home with ten new rose bushes — like Twilight Zone, Easy Does it, Sweet Mademoiselle and Lady of Shallot. Thank you, Alexandra, for beautifying our neighborhood. We look forward to another stroll with Alexandra Booke next spring to meet and celebrate the Class of 2023.


Devon O'Brien
Devon O’Brien


Devon O’Brien is a Larchmont resident whose work has appeared in Vogue, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Larchmont Buzz. She currently holds writing workshops for writers or all levels and genres, and works with students on their essays for college. For more info visit Feather

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