Jacob Maarse grew his prized roses at his Sierra Madre home. (Robert Lachman / Los Angeles…)
Gertrude Stein may have felt that a "rose is a rose is a rose," but not Jacob Maarse.
Maarse, the venerable Pasadena florist, knew the particular pleasures of thousands of roses, from the innocently pink Bride's Dream to the flamboyantly red Dolly Parton. His favorite was Yves Piaget, a frilly, hot-pink number with a powerful scent. "It's a rose that wants to be a peony," he once told The Times, speaking with the familiarity that came from decades of nurturing two huge beds of the variety in his three-acre Sierra Madre garden.
Maarse, 82, who died of a stroke Wednesday at Pasadena's Huntington Memorial Hospital, was famous for his home rose garden, filled with 3,000 bushes representing 50 varieties. The bounty wound up at his shop in a former Cadillac showroom, where he sold them alongside ones imported from Ecuador and his native Netherlands.
Wise customers preferred Maarse's home-grown flowers; they said they were prettier, smelled better and lasted longer. "Don't give us those damn greenhouse roses," they told him, and during the April-to-December bloom season, he was happy to oblige.
"He created an institution," Jim Folsom, head of the botanical gardens at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, said of Maarse's business, which has catered to a high-end clientele for more than 40 years with elegant floral designs that reflect his Old World roots.
"The arrangements are carried by Tournament of Roses queens, and few self-respecting debutantes go without them," Los Angeles magazine wrote in 1999.
Maarse was born Sept.16, 1928, into a family of flower growers in the Dutch city of Aalsmeer, home of the world's largest flower auction house. He came to New York in the late 1940s on a work permit as a horticulture specialist. By the early 1950s he had settled in Pasadena and worked as a floral manager at the now-defunct Preble's Produce for 15 years.
In 1966 he opened his own florist shop on Green Street where the Pasadena Convention Center now stands. In 1973, he moved to the current location, next to the Pasadena Playhouse. For 10 years he operated another store at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles, but he closed it about four years ago.
He ran the business with his wife, Clara, and son Hank. They survive him along with three other children, Glenn, Karen and Mona; and eight grandchildren.
His home garden started as a birthday present for his wife almost 30 years ago. He ordered 100 bushes, mostly of the classic Mister Lincoln variety because they were his wife's favorite color, red. When he brought a bowl of the cut blooms to his shop, his customers began clamoring for them. Gradually, his lawn shrank as he planted more roses to meet the demand. At the height of the cutting season in April and May, his staff cuts 500 to 1,000 stems a day to sell in the store.
He was a vigilant rosarian, spraying regularly for mites and running up a water bill of $600 a month in the summer. But he cut the plants back hard in the winter and didn't hesitate to yank out any that didn't perform to his standards.
"If it's not enjoying itself," he said some years ago, "out it comes. I don't run an infirmary for sick roses."
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 8, at All Saints Episcopal Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena.