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The Promise Of A Rose Garden

New Heritage Display Begins To Take Shape At Elizabeth Park


September 17, 2010

"Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz…"

Elizabeth Park's rosarian, Marci Martin, sang along with Patti Curtin of Wethersfield as they dug big holes last week in the hot sun.

Mike Fuss of Bloomfield joked that everyone else was doing the hard work; "I just showed up to prune."

They were among a group of volunteers who replanted about two dozen of Elizabeth Park's collection of old roses, all developed before 1867 — Madame Zoetman's, Tuscany Superb, Henri Martin, Empress Josephine, Rose du Roi and Camaieux among them — in the newly redesigned Heritage Rose Garden.

"It's not a good time of year to plant roses, but we're planting them deep so the crown is protected over the winter," Martin said, adding that the soil — a sandy loam mixed with compost — was perfect for roses.

Re-creating the garden is the Connecticut Valley Garden Club's centennial project. The centennial isn't until 2017, and by then the roses should be settled in and glorious.

Beth Montgelas, the club's president, said the group originally planned just to restore the garden, "but we discovered it was not restorable. And the beds were not big enough, so the scope of our project has changed."

Alice Prescott Whyte, an old-rose enthusiast who is heading up the project, designed 10 raised beds edged in stone walls that form the outline of a five-petaled rosette. The rosette symbolizes a centifolia — a 100-petaled rose — to represent the garden club's centennial, and Whyte said 100 old roses eventually will be planted there. Some will be planted on umbrella trainers so they cascade over like fountains, and others will be pegged to the ground to form more mound-like masses of blooms.

Montgelas said the new garden will be accessible to people with disabilities, and the club also plans to include signage that is accessible — in Braille and possibly with bar codes that can be read by smart phones.

Dave Peterson, president of the Friends of Elizabeth Park — and third-generation owner of Peterson Landscaping, which his grandfather, who had been a gardener in the park, founded in 1929 — said the Heritage Rose Garden is in one of the more intimate corners of the park, but it was long underused. He's confident that will change.

Whyte said the project will accept donations of older roses from the Hartford area next spring. She also hopes to get cuttings of antique roses from historic landmarks, abandoned gardens and graveyards.

While many people think roses are a lot of trouble, old roses are far more forgiving, Whyte said, pointing out a few tough stragglers that were re-emerging from underneath one of the new stone walls. "They're vigorous. They can withstand winters. They've survived wars."

Whyte, author of "The Roses of Elizabeth Park," said there are very few heritage rose gardens in the country. She hopes to amass as fine a collection as can be grown in this climate and has lined up Stephen Scanniello, president of the Heritage Rose Foundation and former rosarian at the Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, as a consultant on the project.

Companies she enlisted to do the construction work have been generous, Whyte added, including American Materials Corp. in Bloomfield, The Bros. Landscaping of West Hartford, Rainbow Sprinkler in Simsbury and Jimmy's Masonry in the Oakville section of Watertown.

The recent advent of long-blooming Knockout roses has knocked a lot of older roses out of favor, and Whyte said nurseries that specialize in old roses are having a tough time.

The park's original Heritage Rose Garden was created as a test garden for the AARS in 1938 and mostly planted with hybrid teas from the 1930s. The new garden will go considerably further back in time and include the Apothecary's Rose, which was developed before 1240 and thought to have been brought to France by a returning Crusader.

"We're saving history," Whyte said, "one rose at a time."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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