SCHENECTADY – Weeds once overtook the roses at the Central Park Rose Garden. The group that tends to the garden, the Rose Garden Restoration Committee, is worried that might happen again if more help doesn’t come on board.
“Our biggest concern right now is we can’t get enough volunteers and we are so afraid [of] what’s going to happen, come the next 10 years. What’s going to happen to the Rose Garden?” said Sharon Gade, who, along with her husband Dave, has been a longtime member of the Schenectady-based committee.
The garden’s history reaches back to 1960 when 400 rose bushes were planted at the Central Park site designed by Charles D. Brown, a Schenectady Rose Society member. In the following year, several hundred additional hybrid teas, floribunda and grandiflora roses were introduced to the garden.
Other bushes were added as the years went on and, by the 1970s, the garden featured an estimated 7,500 bushes. However, in the 1980s, as more city residents moved to the suburbs and the city’s tax base was depleted, gardeners and park personnel were laid off or retired and the Rose Garden went into decline, said Gade. Many of the bushes died, some choked out by the encroaching weeds.
Gade remembers a 1995 story in The Gazette that drew attention to the garden’s plight, stating, “Weeds win the war of the roses.” That’s right around when the Rose Garden Restoration Committee was founded.
“Just in a matter of days, we set up a volunteer work session in the Rose Garden,” Gade said.
“I think our first work session, we probably had 20 people there. At that time, the Schenectady Rose Society was active so there were quite a few members from there. There were some city employees and just concerned neighbors,” Gade recalled.
In the ensuing years, the Rose Garden was revived thanks to volunteers. It was named the third-best rose garden in the country by the American Rose Society in 2010. Volunteers have continued to care for the garden each year, planting new bushes in the spring, clearing weeds and deadheading as needed. However, the number of people at the committee’s biweekly work sessions has dwindled, creating quite a challenge for the small team.
“There’s 6,000 rose bushes there that have to be taken care of,” Gade noted.
She and her husband are rose experts; have been planting rose bushes since 1976, and became members of the American Rose Society decades ago. They’re also consulting rosarians with the society.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer, however, isn’t required to have any gardening expertise when they start.
“It’s hands-on. That’s how they’re going to learn this and we supply the tools,” Gade said.
They plan to start working in the garden this month, with a Tuesday morning session and a Saturday morning session starting at 9 a.m. In a few weeks, they’ll plant more than 200 new rose bushes.
“It’s a good way to meet new friends. My husband and I have made great friends doing this,” Gade said.
For Lynn deForest, a committee board member and longtime friend of Gade’s, who has been volunteering for more than a year, working in the Rose Garden is a relaxing experience.
“I get out of my house, I get out of my own garden, and I go someplace else,” deForest said. “It’s such a peaceful, relaxing environment when you work.”
She also noted that volunteers can give as much or as little time as they want to.
“Volunteers [can] come for 20 minutes or come for two hours. Come whenever you want. You don’t have to know anything about growing roses. We’ll teach you,” deForest said.
Since she began volunteering, she’s been surprised by the number of people who don’t realize that the garden is cared for and funded by volunteers.
“So many people think that the city pays for that. Nobody really realizes that the city is not paying for this . . . It’s all from donations and volunteers,” deForest said.
For more information and to sign up to volunteer, visit schenectadyrose.org.