Restored Central Park Rose Garden is flourishing delight

Gazette Gardener Natalie Walsh says that if you love roses — the fragrances, the fancy hybrid teas,
The Rose Garden in Schenectady’s Central Park is not to be missed.
The Rose Garden in Schenectady’s Central Park is not to be missed.

If you love roses — the fragrances, the fancy hybrid teas, the fabulous colors — don’t miss seeing the roses in bloom in Schenectady’s Central Park Rose Garden. The flowers are in their glory.

Last week, I stopped by the garden, which is at park entrance near the end of Wright Avenue, to say hello to the volunteers and the 4,000 roses. And now, whenever I think back to wandering between the beds, I get a big smile on my face.

It is hard to imagine that this garden was near ruin in the 1990s, for now it is a showplace. It’s all through the efforts of the Rose Garden Restoration Committee, an amazing and tireless group.

Up to a dozen volunteers meet each Tuesday at 6 p.m. to tend to the roses. Newcomers are welcome, and you don’t have to know about roses. The experienced mentor the newcomers.

If you want information on the roses that grow best in our area, which roses are the most resistant to disease, or if you want to see a particular rose you are considering for your garden, this is the place to visit.

You can’t get more expert advice. Dave Gade, past president of RGRC, is a master rosarian with the American Rose Society, an honor that takes years of dedicated service, continued education in the field of rose care and a willingness to share knowledge with others. There are only a handful of master rosarians in New York state.

Volunteers at work

On a recent Tuesday night, the volunteers were deadheading roses. A new volunteer asked for a demonstration of what she was to do and Gade explained not only what to do, but why it was done that way and the consequences — for the rose — if other pruning methods were used.

You learn by doing with this friendly group. By the way, prune a spent rose at an angle down the stem just above the first five-leaf cluster.

“We try to keep the rose garden clean,” Gade said. Pruning also gives a rose incentive to produce more flowers.

One of the volunteers was Sid Brown, former photo chief for The Gazette. His ties to the garden date from 1959, when his father, Charles D. Brown, designed the rose beds. In the years that followed, hundreds of hybrid teas, floribunda and grandiflora roses were introduced to the garden until in the 1970s there were 7,500 roses bushes.

The garden was one of 125 sites nationwide where the All-America Rose Selection group test grew new rose varieties before they were released to the retail market. The garden was also honored as the first recipient of the American Rose Society newly created award for “outstanding public garden” in 1970.

In spite of those accolades, times changed and the rose garden fell upon hard times.

The Schenectady Rose Garden Web site explains: “During the 1980s, as businesses and residents moved to the suburbs, city budgets were stretched to the breaking point due to a reduced tax base. As a result, gardeners and park personnel were laid off or retired. Because of this, the garden suffered a severe decline until it hit bottom in 1993.”

Gade said that rose bushes suffered from the lack of care and many died. The beds were full of weeds. “The weeds were up to your waist,” he remembered.

To the rescue

Because of the garden’s condition, the All-America Rose Selection group put it on probation as a test garden. This was when concerned citizens and rose lovers came together. And after a meeting with the parks supervisor, Gade became the first president of the Rose Garden Restoration Committee, a position he held until 2005, when he stepped down to assume the role of Garden Operations Supervisor.

Since the mid-1990s, the rose garden has seen continual improvements, including a watering system and the addition of 3,000 new rose bushes, concrete benches and four cedar rose arbors.

In addition to volunteers, today there are three part-time gardeners paid through money provided by the Carlillian Foundation, which was established by the late Charles W. Carl, Jr., former owner of the Carl Co. He was a dedicated rosarian and became a major benefactor of the rose garden in 1996. Other funds are raised through an annual garden party, the sale of memorial bushes and engraved memorial bricks. The city does not financially contribute to the garden, Gade said.

The improvements are dramatic and the garden is no longer on probation with the AARS, but now has an “outstanding” garden status and is the test site for up to four new roses each year. It is one of eight AARS-accredited public rose gardens in New York state.

Depending on when you visit, you may see a wedding party, young mothers with strollers or office workers eating lunch on one of the benches. I can’t think of a better place to stop and smell the roses.

Happy gardening.

Categories: Life and Arts

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