The Rose King's Legacy Lives On

The Rose King's Legacy Lives On
Jacob Maarse at his flower shop in Pasadena. (Photo courtesy of Pasadena Tournament of Roses)

He was often called “The Rose King,” and his florist business has been described as the “Tiffany’s of the stem world.” President Richard Nixon praised Jacob Maarse for his “superb” floral arrangements for Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev’s visit to the Nixons’ “Western White House” in San Clemente in 1973.

If florists were royalty, Jacob Maarse would be among their pantheon. After Maarse passed away at the age of 82 last December, it seems only fitting that the Rose Parade’s Directors’ Trophy has been named in honor of this icon of Southern California horticulture. Gene Gregg, chair of the Tournament of Roses judging committee, declared, “We cannot think of a more fitting individual and former float judge to honor with this award.”

Born in 1928 into a family of flower growers in Alsmeer, Holland, Maarse moved to Pasadena in the 1950s, opening Jacob Maarse Florist on Green Street in 1966. He supplied his shop with roses and other flowers grown on the thousands of bushes of his three-acre Sierra Madre home garden. The garden had begun as a birthday present for his wife, Clara. Word soon spread that Maarse’s homegrown flowers smelled better, lasted longer and were more gorgeous than any others from the region. Through the ensuing decades, countless weddings, birthdays and corporate events followed, including arrangements for film productions and the Hollywood Bowl. But it was the Rose Parade that was closest to Maarse’s heart.

“He was involved in some capacity for almost 40 years,” said Maarse’s son, Hank. “He judged the parade one year in 1985. He used to help his Dutch friends who came from Holland each year to decorate the official VIP auto entries in the parade, including the car for the Grand Marshal. That went on for 20 or more years.”

Maarse also helped supply some of the 18 million flowers used to decorate the parade’s 40-plus floats. Despite computerized animation in the parade and online voting for best float, the event’s old-school guidelines remain, dictating the use of solely natural materials and no artificial flowers or artificial colors.

The first Rose Parade in 1890 featured horse carriages festooned with fresh flowers, patterned after the floral festival known as the “Battle of the Flowers” in Nice, France. By 1954, Pasadena’s Rose Parade was famous enough to merit its debut as the first-ever coast-to-coast program televised in color. Now 75 million viewers tune in around the globe, and last year over 700,000 spectators came in person to see the event snaking five miles along Colorado Boulevard.

Hank remembers his family bringing him to the parade as a toddler, along with a Thermos of hot chocolate and doughnuts. He describes his father as a “very personable man, a ‘people person.’ He could talk to total strangers for hours and come away with a great story. Jacob told me when I first started in the business there are a few organizations you need to take special care of in Pasadena. The Tournament of Roses was one on the top of his list!”

Hank now oversees Jacob Maarse Florist along with his mother, and some of their staff have worked with them for over 30 years. They still grow roses in Jacob’s Sierra Madre garden and follow his tradition of cutting them in the morning for use that afternoon, allowing the buds to last longer than shipped varieties.

A rose is a rose is a rose, but Maarse’s favorite was the Yves Piaget, a hot-pink variety with a bold scent. “It’s a rose that wants to be a peony,” he once told the Los Angeles Times. And just like peonies, after Maarse established his roots, he kept blooming.

Matthew Link
Custom Publishing Writer